Actually I’m a fan. Some people want silence in their games, no distractions, abhor the convention gaming hall and anything other than character interaction. I on the other hand like a bit of hubbub. Not to much, so you can’t hear or talking is a struggle, but I like something to be there. I played a game at Conception last year and we got a large room to ourselves. It cut out most of the sound from anywhere else and left us focused on the game. But you know what the issue was? In the words of many a hackneyed film, it was *too* quiet.
If you weren’t involved in the action and someone else was dallying it felt almost like being in the queue at the post office. You took a general interest in what was going on (to see how long it was until your turn at the counter) but largely you were a bit antsy. It also meant that when some people talked off-topic or even asked questions among themselves about rules or setting, or anything really, you couldn’t help but look in their direction to see what was going on. And weirdly, it was more distracting having less going on, than more.
I’m not sure how feasible it is, but with everyone using new fangled gadgets these days, from eee-pc to recording equipment, it strikes me that playing some appropriate background music at a low volume could actually be a good thing, to fill in all the thoughtful silences and add a bit of je ne sais quoi. Its something I’ve done regularly at home games, with full media equipment available and I think it really helps. Of course, if you’re in a room with several other groups that could get in the way…
Another consideration is appropriate noise. Soundtracks are normally a good bet, but the Aliens one for example has a couple of loud piercing moments from nowhere that caused shocks in the cinema – regrettably they make everyone jump in the game too and can break the atmosphere (although they can make it too, by chance). Read a book while you’ve got the music on in the background and if it doesn’t deisturb you then it should be okay.
Something else I’ve tried was having some sound effects to play at appropriate places. I’m not talking creaky doors and bad Radio 4 play adaptations, but I was once in a game that started in the middle of the battle. A short piece of audio with horses screeching, canon going off and the shouts of men (initially loud and then fading to a quieter hubbub) really helped kick off the in media res start to the session. Similarly some low chanting music as we entered the cultist temple was very moody and the weird animalistic noises and dragging chains before a cthuloid monster was described helped fire our own imaginations to wonder what the eff was coming round the corner.