The audio Uncanny Valley: Sound, fear and the horror game

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The 1970 proposition that there is an Uncanny Valley which man-made characters inhabit as their human-likeness (both appearance and movement) increases has been a growing topic of debate in the fields of robotics, animation and computer games particularly since the turn of the century. However, what the theory and subsequent related writings do not account for is the role of sound in creating perceptions of uncanniness and fear, a particularly useful attribute in computer game genres such as survival horror. This paper has a dual purpose: to explore diverse writings on the uncanny as they relate to sound and to prepare the groundwork for future work investigating the possible relationship between sound and the Uncanny Valley. The paper comprises, in large part, a survey of selected works on the uncanny and the Uncanny Valley from a variety of disciplines. It emphasizes the link between uncanniness and negative emotions, such as fear and apprehension, and discusses the genesis of the term uncanny in early psychoanalytical writings, relating this to more modern theories on human emotion. Writings on the uncanny, or related emotional states, from psychoacoustics, textiles research, films and computer games are assessed as to their validity and potential application to the fostering of an aural climate of fear in computer games and, where such writings do not explicitly deal with sound, attempts are made to apply the ideas contained within to sound as it exists within computer games. In dealing with the theory of the Uncanny Valley, the paper points out the theory?s focus on appearance and movement to the exclusion of sound and suggests that there is an uncanny in sound that might, in future, be used to modify the Uncanny Valley theory. Throughout, there is the suggestion that the uncanny (and any future theory of an audio or audiovisual Uncanny Valley) can be harnassed to the design of horror computer games. Ultimately, it is hoped, such work will be of use to computer game sound designers who wish to create a greater perception of fear and apprehension through the canny use of uncanny sound. Some of the design tips presented at the end of the discussion are already used instinctively by sound designers across a range of media, including computer games, whereas others are less obvious in their origin and affect. Recently published empirical data is provided to strengthen the case for the latter. In some cases, the design tips must await the coming of procedural audio to computer games.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAudio Mostly 2009
Number of pages7
Publication date2009
Publication statusPublished - 2009
EventAudio Mostly - Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 2 Aug 20093 Aug 2009


ConferenceAudio Mostly
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

Bibliographical note

This is an electronic version of the paper published in the proceedings of Audio Mostly, 2-3 September 2009, Glasgow.Audio Mostly can be found here


  • First-person shooter,sound,acoustic ecology,Computer games


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