What that content analysis revealed was an increase in female vocalizations over time, but we noticed a marked quality shift as well - a move from synthetic grunts and shouts to more hyper-real, dramatized and feminized vocalizations. This is where a spectrographic analysis, as a subset of digital audio tools, offered a rich perspective from which to compare and qualify female voices in games. Using a combination of SpectraFoo (for real-time analysis), Sonic Visualizer, and Adobe Audition I did a kind of ‘close reading’ of several game instances. You can see in the annotated screenshots, the female vocalizations are longer and literally take up more sonic space even if they are equal in frequency to the male battle cries. More importantly, they are much more intoned, inflected, with a dynamic envelope and pitch profile, and often - particularly at the end of fighting sequences - feature added reverberation with a very long tail. In combination with reflective accounts of player experience, digital audio tools and visualizations allow us to access gendered sonic tropes in novel ways. Looking at the spectral gestures and textures of character voices in the game soundscape begs questions about how we think male and female (as well as agender, atypical or non-human characters) ought to sound like, and why. In that, such tools allow us to pinpoint persistent stereotypes encoded in the very design of games and by extension - other popular media texts. I’m excited to see where research and analysis will be able to go with the help of emergent multimodal toolsets and novel digital methodologies.
Image credits from top to bottom: Street Fighter II (Honda vs Chun Li); Soul Calibur V (featuring Ivy); Tomb Raider 2013 (Lara Croft, opening scene);