PhD Thesis Captivating Sound: the Role of Audio for Immersion in Games

PhD award

PhD award

The word is out: I hereby present you my PhD thesis! After the final writeup in 2009, it took some time to get my viva arranged in August 2010. Sorry to keep you waiting…but now, it can be downloaded via this blog.

This thesis addresses the role of audio for immersion. Yep, the I-word…almost just as Impossible as it is Irresistible to designers. Yet, I’ve tried to come up with some useful theory for those who want to know more about the design of sound, music and speech in games and the conceptual decisions that are involved.


Let’s get things straight. This thesis does not:

  • tell you which frequencies to amplify in order to make your music more immersive or explain you how to record immersive voice recordings (it’s not a cook book).
  • provide you an answer to the question which psychological processes can be linked to immersion. There’s a lot of valuable literature available that investigates this subject.
  • give you a final answer what to do when your game isn’t ‘immersive enough’. Game design is a discipline and you normally can’t fix game design flaws with audio!

Now what does it do? This work addresses the design decisions with respect to audio and immersion. I hope it offers audio designers, game designers and design researchers that are interested in the conceptualisation of game audio some illuminating insight into this matter.

Now go and create some Captivating Sound!


This thesis explores the relation between game audio and (computer) game immersion. The main contribution in this research is a framework for the conceptual design of game audio in relation to immersion. A model for game audio is presented defining the communication by means of game audio during active gameplay. This model, named IEZA (Huiberts & van Tol, 2008), defines four conceptual domains of communication of game audio. IEZA was developed to enable a more detailed and consistent investigation into game audio and has been evaluated as a design resource in educational, academic and practical settings.

Immersion is considered to be one of the key factors making games worthy to play. The unity that seems to exist in the fact that many parties value this phenomenon is more apparent than real: there is a lot of dispute on the scope of immersion. Several classifications of immersion are compared for a better understanding of the nature of an immersive experience. The three‐dimensional SCI‐model by Ermi & Mäyrä (2005) is considered as valuable representation of the multi‐dimensional character of immersion.

Audio is an important constituent of most games and its role for immersion in games has hardly been investigated. In this thesis, audio is studied using the IEZA‐model and the SCI‐model, and several design issues are described. This yields a conceptual framework that describes various audio design issues that can be used to reflect upon conceptual decisions relevant for the design of audio in relation to immersion. This framework can be used for a conceptual analysis of design and is relevant for audio designers as well as game designers.

My PhD was a part-time PhD study at the University of Portsmouth in collaboration with the Utrecht School of the Arts.

Get it!

Download the PDF here.

View the video files.

Read it online


Huiberts, S., Captivating Sound: the Role of Audio for Immersion in Games. Doctoral Thesis. University of Portsmouth and Utrecht School of the Arts, Portsmouth, 2010.

A notification about your experience with this subject is warmly appreciated. Please send me a message using the contact form or use the comment form below.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all who supported the writing of this thesis: Jan IJzermans, Richard van Tol, Barbara Lotti, Tony Kalus, Adriaan Braat, Chris Creed, Han Onno ter Hoor, Micah Hrehovcsik, Rens Machielse, Paul Newland, Dan Pinchbeck, Dick Rijken, Hans Timmermans, Gerard van Wolferen, the other members of the Music Design Research Group, the gamers and moderators from the forums (Tweakers Forum, the 3Dgamers Forum, the Insidegamer Forum, the Gamers‐Forum, AudioGames Forum), the participants of PUGS, Espressofabriek and Hans and Riet Huiberts.


  1. admin says:

    In dit onderzoek wordt de relatie tussen gamegeluid en immersie (betrokkenheid bij een computerspel onderzocht. De belangrijkste bijdrage in dit onderzoek is een raamwerk voor het conceptuele ontwerp van game-audio in relatie tot immersie. Een onderdeel van dat raamwerk is een model voor game-audio waarin de communicatie door middel van game-audio tijdens de actieve gameplay wordt beschreven. Dit model, genaamd IEZA (Huiberts & van Tol, 2008), definieert vier conceptuele domeinen van de communicatie van de game-audio. IEZA is ontwikkeld om een meer gedetailleerd en consistent onderzoek naar game-audio mogelijk te maken en is gebruikt als een model in educatieve, academische en praktische toepassingen.

    Immersie wordt beschouwd als een van de belangrijkste factoren die computerspellen het waard maken om te spelen. Veel partijen discussieren over immersie: er zijn meningsverschillen over de scope van immersie. Verschillende classificaties van immersie worden vergeleken voor een beter begrip van de aard van immersie. Het drie-dimensionale SCI-model door Ermi & Mayra (2005) wordt beschouwd als waardevolle representatie van het multi-dimensionale karakter van immersie.

    Audio is een belangrijk bestanddeel van de meeste spellen en de rol van geluid, muziek en spraak voor immersie in games is nog nauwelijks onderzocht. In dit proefschrift is dit onderzocht met behulp van het IEZA-model en het SCI-model. Diverse cases worden beschreven. Dit levert een conceptueel kader op dat kan worden gebruikt om na te denken over conceptuele beslissingen met betrekking tot het ontwerp van audio in relatie tot onderdompeling beschrijft. Dit kader kan worden gebruikt voor een conceptuele analyse van het ontwerp van game audio en is relevant voor audio zowel de ontwerpers als game designers.

  2. Miguel says:

    I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I hope I can do it as soon as possible and give you some feedback.

    This is actually a very interesting topic for me, because I’m writing my own Thesis on a similar subject (videogame music and storytelling).

    Thanks for sharing!

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