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Video games open portals to fantastic worlds where imaginative play and enchantment prevail. These virtual settings afford us freedom to act out with relative impunity. Or do they? Sound Play explores the aesthetic, ethical, and sociopolitical stakes of people's creative engagements with gaming's audio phenomena: from sonorous violence to synthesized operas, from democratic music-making to vocal sexual harassment. With studies spanning Final Fantasy VI, Silent Hill, Fallout 3, The Lord of the Rings Online, and Team Fortress 2, this book proposes that what we do in the safe and sound spaces of games can teach us a great deal about human values in everyday life.

Foreword by Richard Leppert

Cover image courtesy of Tommy Tallarico and Video Games Live


A major contribution from a bold and brilliant new voice with exceptional interdisciplinary range. Cheng is a serious player: his virtuosic flair is fully matched by his technical rigor and depth of interpretive insight. Sound Play confirms that the New Musicology is truly out of beta.


Brown University, author of Playing Along: Digital Games, YouTube, and Virtual Performance

As addictive and energetically conceived as its subject matter, Sound Play enables even non-gamers to navigate the sonic waves and kinetic pleasures of story worlds that challenge us to rethink the complexities of human agency, identity politics, and embodied performance.


Harvard University, author of Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood

Compelling from the first page, Sound Play is an engaging and sophisticated study of how audio–whether in the form of music, voices, noises, or effects–crucially shapes our experience of video games, and how gaming deeply informs our engagement with sound. But more than that, William Cheng’s excellent new book demonstrates how the interrelation of sound and play in video games challenges us to think deeply about what it means to live in a world in which the virtual and the real are increasingly intertwined.


UNC Chapel Hill, author of Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music

Captivating and inspired, probing and nimbly persuasive, playful yet bursting with profound insight, Sound Play is virtually and absolutely indispensable.


University of Michigan, author of Struggling to Define a Nation: American Music and the Twentieth Century



William Cheng tackles the wild west of game audio and conquers it with a combination of academic scrutiny, coupled by a gamer's unadulterated love of the art. Sound Play could very well be a turning point in the history of video game audio: the day when game audio came of age and inherited the mantle of serious art through the lens of scholarly analysis. With Sound Play, game audio finally has the academic credentials it needs to take its place among the other fine arts.

CHRISTOPHER TIN, Grammy-winning composer

A book that keeps on giving—one whose branches of inquiry seem endless. This combined with Cheng’s penchant for vivid metaphors makes Sound Play an essential (and enjoyable) text for anyone interested in how sound influences not only how we play video games, but also how we view them with respect to the world at large.

ANDREW SCHARTMANN, Journal of Popular Music Studies

Both playfully written and remarkably interdisciplinary, Sound Plays asks readers to reflect on how resonances between music and games can enrich our understanding of each art form.

RYAN EBRIGHT, MAKE Literary Magazine

Cheng's text is extensively researched and intelligently conceived, addressing…violence, nostalgia, horror, authenticity, and gender politics.


Cheng brings a deep knowledge of his subject as both a musicologist and a gamer, and the result is an exceedingly thoughtful and provocative book. Throughout Sound Play, Cheng demonstrates convincingly the importance of video game music and other sound as a locus of player experimentation and imagination, and the value of scholarly attention to this multimedia.

ELIZABETH MEDINA-GRAY, College Music Symposium

With Sound Play, Cheng has set a precedent and a groundwork for future game music scholarship.

HELEN ROWE, ECHO: A Music-Centered Journal

Many great efforts have been made to point out the relevance of game music for both ‘mainstream’ musicology and culture studies, but very few reach the breadth and refinement of William Cheng’s Sound Play.

MICHIEL KAMP, The Soundtrack

Cheng writes with an intellectual flair, referencing Plato, Adorno, and numerous scholarly works yet uses a personable style that makes reading him a delight. Overall, the work is a superb collection of powerful ethnomusicological writings that will undoubtedly become a staple text on the game audio scholar’s library shelf.

MATTHEW THOMPSON, American Journal of Play