Gaming with Headphones

Remember when Mark Cerny dropped that very strange/boring technical video about the PS5 last year (or was that this year? I don’t know anymore. 2020 feels like it’s taken five years of my life). Back to the video: it had an audience of strange, shadowy paper cutout figures? Recently, I thought about when he was talking about the new audio enhancements coming to PS5, and how they would feel while gaming with headphones on.

I remember thinking, gaming with headphones on? Who does that? The answer: lots of people — I later learned.

I posted in a Facebook group and received many replies with many different reasons for why gaming with headphones is great and sometimes necessary. Lots of people do it for their kids, spouse or family. Others do it for better sound than their standard TV speakers. Some people do it for the chat. And others just love using headphones, and these are all great reasons.

I have never really played games with headphones on. I mean I’ve tried it out on my Nintendo Switch in handheld mode a few times just to see what it’s like. I’ve also tried it out with some iPhone games, although I may have been doing it more to listen to music while playing a game on my phone. I do use a custom soundtrack for sports games (Gran Turismo and NBA2K) either on my console (Spotify) or my Sonos speaker, but never with headphones on.

I rarely chat with other players, but when I do I usually have the game’s sound on the TV. I will either have one side of my headphones on while listening to the game’s sound with my other ear, or I may just let people talk to me through the TV. I usually mute my teammates, because I don’t want to hear what they’re saying or their scratchy background music. I would say PC gaming is where I do most of my chatting with friends while playing, but I very rarely play games on PC. And the times I do play on PC, I would say about 1/3 of them are with friends.

I recently tried out gaming with my new Anker noise canceling headphones (while my girlfriend was doing some work one weekend). Sometimes gaming with headphones unlocks a whole new world of sound. When sound design is done right (as in Ghost of Tsushima) it really works and helps with every aspect of a game. You know exactly where the enemy is coming from, just by where the sound is coming from. You can even hear the subtle changes in sound while playing with the camera, based on the current view. You may even feel the intensity of the music build up as you find yourself in a large battle.

Scary games are a different animal though. I don’t want to play Resident Evil with headphones on. I can barely handle it on my TV’s sound bar. The first time I tried out P.T. at my friend’s house was with headphones on. I ended up getting so spooked that I threw the controller on the ground, and curled up into a ball. I began crying after laughing uncontrollably for a few minutes. I downloaded P.T. on my PS4 later that night, but opened it less than a handful of times and barely played. It’s now gone, but I kept it until I upgraded to a PS4 Pro.

I don’t think I will become a pure headphone gamer anytime soon. But I am curious to try out headphones with different games now. I’ve had good experiences with Ghost of Tsushima so far. Some games may just be easier to focus in on with headphones, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer and other rhythm games. I’m sure there will be some next-gen games that are absolutely necessary to play with a good pair of cans. And I may just give them a try.

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