Video game music can be a crucial piece of the playing experience, often as important as graphical style or UI layout. Super Mario Bros. would not be the same without its iconic “Ground Theme.” Still, there are times when muting a game’s music can improve play – not always because the music is bad.
In a game where situational awareness is paramount, turning off the music can give players a competitive edge. There’s a reason games like Fortnite and PUBG don’t include in-match music, as it’s much more important that players hear enemies footfalls and gunshots than any kind of background soundtrack. When playing any player versus player games that do include music, turning it off could lead to better results.
Some games want to transport the player into their worlds. For these, there is nothing more important than immersion, but having a disembodied soundtrack playing can break that feeling. In games like Skyrim, shutting the music off can really help players sink into the game world. An even better option would be to use diegetic music, as the Fallout and Grand Theft Auto games do with their in-game radio stations. Music being played from an in-game object lets the player listen to music that their character can also hear, helping them feel like they can truly inhabit said character.
For more casual games, such as mobile or idle games, players may want to consider turning the music off in favor of listening to a podcast or audiobook. In the media-rich and demanding world of the 21st century, multitasking has become a must. People are always looking for ways to maximize their time. Playing a few hours of Pokémon GO or Candy Crush may not be considered a good use of time, but the same might not be said for doing so while getting some “reading” done.
Finally, turning the music off in games that have a lot of audio-visual feedback can make them more enjoyable. A game like Diablo that constantly has a ton of special effects and sound cues going off can be overwhelming, especially if there’s a grand soundtrack playing over the top of all those other noises. Simplifying the game by turning off the music (or muting the game in favor of listening to a player-made playlist) can make it easier to tolerate long play sessions.