Welcome back to the PC Gamer Q&A. Every weekend, we ask our panel of writers a question about PC gaming. This week: what do you listen to while playing games? It can be podcasts, music or whatever. We’d love to read your suggestions in the comments, too.
If I’m playing something that doesn’t require much attention, like grinding in an MMO or running trade routes in Elite, I’ll always stick something on to occupy my mind. Often I’ll dive into Red Letter Media’s archive on YouTube and pick out random Half in the Bag episodes or Plinkett reviews. I could listen to those guys talk about movies forever.
If I’m playing Euro Truck Simulator 2 I’ll use the in-game radio tuner to listen to a station from whichever country I happen to be driving through. It just adds an extra layer of immersion. And if I’ve had my fill of German folk music, I can always rely on the Adam Buxton podcast to provide entertaining accompaniment on those long hauls.
Tom Senior: Arrow, The Expanse and other shows
I think of some games as second-screen games, and some films and TV shows as second-screen films and TV shows. Put two of these side by side on a monitor each and they improve each other.
Diablo 3 is a great second screen game, for example. It’s lots of satisfying clicking, looting, shopping, looting and levelling up, but you don’t need to pay attention to its plot or process any lore bombs, it’s just war with endless demons. The trick is to pair this with terrible yet entertaining television, or interesting television that is too slow because it wishes it was Mad Men. Shonky superhero shows from the former camp are perfect, like Arrow. Turns out Arrow and Diablo 3 go together like peanut butter and jelly. I wouldn’t have made it through The Expanse’s scrappy first season either without a game in support, and now in S2 it has graduated to a single-screen show. Well done, The Expanse.
This has done dreadful things to my attention span.
Tim Clark: Bloodlines, Parade’s End and other shows
I’m absolutely with Tom on this. Some of my favourite games—Sim City then, Destiny 2 now—are undemanding enough that I can watch entire TV series while playing them. I tend to favour middling quality shows, which are ideally quite talky, over visual feasts with a lot of action. Notably well-suited series I’ve watched have included Parade’s End, an elegiac WW2 thing, while playing Diablo 3, Florida-based Netflix potboiler Bloodlines while grinding The Division, and every single series of Vikings, Mr Robot, and The Americans while no-lifing Destiny 1 and 2.
Weirdly, my other perennial game Hearthstone isn’t suited to having drama on in the background. Even podcasts have proved completely impossible to follow, because if you want to win you really do need to focus on the game and think about possible plays, which isn’t conducive to keeping up with b-grade melodrama. So instead I listen to music, which I also find helps massively with ladder anxiety. The more high energy the better for my brand of patented midrange, get ’em decks.
For a brief, beautiful moment this summer I was playing Killing Floor 2 exclusively to “The Final Bell” from Rocky. On repeat—the whole song is like 100 seconds. It didn’t get old. Something about rapid-fire bongos and the elegant chaos of Bill Conti’s ’80 orchestral theme made KF2 more delightful. It made me play the game more desperately: I’d try to line up slow-mo RPG shots to the beat of the song, or time a grenade to explode just as the song crescendos.
I got the idea from this amazing clip from livestreamer MoonMoon_OW, which is easily the best moment I’ve ever seen in Darkest Dungeon.
Jody Macgregor: Hello From Magic Tavern, tabletop RPG podcasts
‘ve played Diablo 3 so much it doesn’t need any of my attention now—it’s just a fancy podcast visualizer. The improv comedy Hello From the Magic Tavern, about a modern-day podcaster recording from fantasyland, is a decent replacement for the chattering friends I used to play Diablo 2 with. The mix of grim and silly you get in Warhammer audio dramas is also a nice match for Diablo (Slayer of the Storm God is my favorite), but I mostly listen to actual-play podcasts, where people record their tabletop RPG sessions. Right now I’m working my way through Campaign, a Star Wars: Edge of Empire game about the crew of a ship called the Mynock.
Chris Livingston: Nothing
I typically don’t listen to anything. It’s a concentration thing: I am nearly incapable of listening to something while doing something else. Even before there were laws about it, I never talked on the phone while driving. I just found it too distracting. And I can’t listen to podcasts or even music, really, while playing games. I often turn down (or off) the game’s actual soundtrack.
It’s a big reason I don’t play many multiplayer games that have voice chat. Trying to listen to teammates while also trying to also not suck at the game I’m playing with my teammates is a real challenge for me. Incoming words seem to require way too much of my brain’s processing power, which means less concentration on the game itself. When playing games, I like silence (except for, like, the explosions and stuff in the game itself).
Andy Chalk: Nothing
I’m more in Chris’ corner. I can watch TV or I can have a conversation or I can play games, but any attempt to mix them always ends badly. So I’ve never seen the point in putting on anything other than the native soundtrack, because it’s not like I’m going to be paying attention to it anyway. And maybe I’m lucky, or maybe I’m a philistine (or maybe both, let’s not close any doors here) but I’ve never encountered a game soundtrack bad enough to need “replacing.” Most of it is forgettably serviceable, but occasionally I’ll hit something that I really like— like Cradle or Max Payne 3, off the top of my head—and it ends up in my ‘real world’ music.
The first time I played Dark Souls, I found the eerie silence between boss battles too much to bear. So naturally I resorted to the first obvious choice for dark fantasy musical accompaniment: Tolkien-inspired Austrian black metal. In particular, the album Stronghold by Summoning, which sounds quite grim and depressive if you don’t know anything about it. Read the lyrics though, and it’s all about The Lord of the Rings. Black metal may sound grim but it’s actually created by utter nerds, and this album managed to take the edge off the tension of crawling through Blighttown. Otherwise, I like to have faith in the artistic vision of creators and let the game’s music direct the atmosphere. Unless it’s Forza Horizon 3. I also listened to black metal while playing that, to sandblast the terrible bro-down atmosphere of its summer festival conceit.
Samuel Roberts: Iron Fist
I don’t often listen to stuff while I’m playing games, mostly because there aren’t many repetitive games among my favourites, like Diablo, Destiny and so on. I’m always bouncing between new games that tend to be story-led, and I like to hear the music and enjoy the sound design of the world. Rocket League is an exception, though, and so is GTA Online.
For GTA, with its unfortunately long loading screens between multiplayer games (playing these modes is how you earn double experience points and cash), I watched Netflix’s critically slated Marvel show Iron Fist on my second screen earlier this year. While watching Iron Fist was one of my great regrets of this year (especially as the follow-up team-up show, The Defenders, turned out to be a complete non-event), combining it with GTA meant that my mind was just occupied enough not to be bored.