Why Do All Video Game Trailers Do The 'BWAHM' Thing?

How did it begin, that otherworldly horn blast? That exclamation point. The ubiquitous sound that is present — it seems — in all trailers. All of them. Arguably with Inception, I'd say. One thing is for sure we can't get rid of the damn thing.

I'm talking, of course, about the "BWAHM".

Today there was a new trailer for Destiny. Present in this trailer, as you might expect, was the BWAHM. It led me to a question: why do all trailers use it? Why is it ever present? Why is it so effective?

I'd argue it's a combination of things.

To begin with the BWAHM is inherently dramatic. It's big, it's noisy. It grabs your attention. In the cinema in particular it rumbles through massive speakers and literally shakes the chair your butt is placed on. It alerts your brain — this is the thing you are supposed to remember. It almost adds something physical to help augment that memory, to make it easier to recall it. BWAHM is something you can literally feel in your bones, that makes it memorable.

But more importantly BWAHM is punctuation.

Of all the visual media we can imagine, the trailer is perhaps the one that relies most heavily on editing. In all trailers, editing is paramount. Trailers are cut intensive, they must be attention grabbing, they must tell a story, and they must do this — primarily — through the editing. In this sense the BWAHM is an easy shortcut. It's an editing template.

BWAHM... something explodes BWAHM... cut to reaction shot BWAHM... main character runs away from impending destruction BWAHM... slow motion look of concern as camera pans BWAHM... BWAHM... BWAHM...

We recognise this. You can imagine the trailer. You can almost see it. You can almost feel it. Because we are conditioned to the BWAHM. We sub-consciously understand the BWAHM. The BWAHM is comfortable. The BWAHM is easy. The BWAHM is a solid, simply-replicated means of communication that is universal. The BWAHM transcends. Language and cultural differences are crumbling obelisks in the face of the almighty BWAHM.

It's also a sign of the times. The BWAHM is a form of punctuation that fits perfectly into the ways in which we consume media. GIFs, six-second Vines — the BWAHM is a signal that splits a two-minute trailer into a series of GIFs. Trailers are typically silent during BWAHM sections. Silent like a GIF, silent like a Vine before you give it access to your eardrums.

The BWAHM is an invitation to GIF. "Here is the GIFable part of the trailer", it seems to say. This is the part you should be talking about, the part you should be sharing and discussing. In a world where attention spans are already too short to consume an actual two minute trailer, it cuts that trailer into a series of even shorter "moments", the kind of moments we like to talk about and gawk at in endless silent loops. The BWAHM is a shrunken down reflection of how we consume visual content in this day and age.

That's not a good thing or a bad thing, it's just a "thing". Much like the BWAHM itself.


    I'll just leave this here, 'specially for you Mark

    Last edited 08/07/14 11:05 am

      I had it for my sms tone for a while, annoyed the hell out of people.

        Me too. Hilarious when I left my phone in the dock with the volume up high.

      I can't stop pressing it. What new devilry is this?


    Weird thing is, i don't associate it as the Inception noise in a VG context.

    It's the noise the reapers in ME3 make.

      Ohhhh, now I know what ya'll are talking about!

      Yep, that’s where I know this noise from.

      It’s in EVERYTHING now though.

    I read through the whole article trying to figure out what BWAHM stood for... *sigh*

    It'll be a historical marker for movies I reckon. "When was that trailer made?"
    "Well, there's plenty of BWAHMs so I'd say the 2010s, it was popular in that era!"

    Exactly! It is nothing but a prompter in manufacturing consent.

    IDK where it started. All I know was it was cool the first time. Now it's generic.

      The Dark Knight, right? Then again in Inception followed by every other movie trailer that year.

        I can't remember when I first heard it... But it wouldn't surprise me lol.

      it mostly started with the tripods in war of the worlds 2005

        You are wrong. War of the Worlds does not have that shitty bwahm thing in it.

    Hollywood has taken over the big budget gaming space is why.

    Thats why we have these fantastic trailers for games, that cant live up to their own hype.

    They make a crap load of money in pre orders based on these trailers, which make the sales figures look good, so they do it for the next game and the next game.

    And with the online multiplayer aspects of games these days, 6 months after release the servers might be a ghost town, as the multiplayer just is not good, or the player base has moved on to the next game. So its all about making as much as you can within the first few days/weeks of a games release, assumingly before the general public release that the game is a pile of crap rolled in glitter.

    Thankfully someone had already put it on youtube.

    but this is a video that conveys the gravity of the situation. :)

    (Credit to the Wil Wheaton Project - Season 1, Episode 3, 13 minutes in.)

    Homer Simpson had it right. Every video should be edited with star wipes

    First time I heard this, I thought it was obnoxious and unnecessarily loud. Now it just screams "this movie is generic and not worth watching".

    It's not just video game trailers.... Every damn movie trailer does it now. I laughed at the last one I watched because it was something, completely not action related and still had that...

    I really liked its use in Hitman Absolution - it fit perfectly there.

    becuase rimjob

    I'm reading the article at my normal pace (quite fast) but my brain has to stop at every BWAHM and let it sound out in full in my head... Made for awkward reading in the middle there.

    I notice it more in movie trailer than VG trailers. I actually haven't seen it in a VG trailer.

    Video game? Have we not seen any film trailers lately?

    Hitman and Mass Effect both do it in the game and it confuses me because it's at different kinds of moments.

    There's actually a term for this, I can't remember the name but it's two conflicting musical notes played at once. One common example is the tone played at the beginning of every Simpsons episode.

    Right you are, I think it's called Polyrhythm, at least I think that's what it's called >_>

    Last edited 08/07/14 2:56 pm

    Christopher Nolan's Evil Klaxon. It's like an early warning system for bad guys.

    So if we want to know how awesome a trailer is, we can just calculate the BPM? (BWAHMs Per Minute)

      how awesome the publisher thinks the trailer should be would probably be more accurate

    I've never really noticed but now that I've heard the sound i remember it and memories just on the tip of the brain i can hear this noise in every trailer,Mark y u do dis to us

    Speaking of trailer tropes that annoy me, comedy trailers that have a song playing that suddenly pauses when an actor delivers a punchline then music starts blaring again (sometimes a different song) in an attempt to make the joke sound funnier.

    Comedy trailers are literally this one trope, repeated about 6 times. It's a cheap way to make a joke sound funnier than it is, it's especially prevalent in Vince Vaughan movies trailers where the jokes aren't even slightly funny (The Interns is a horrid example). Next time you watch a comedy trailer I guarantee it'll be the only thing you notice.

    I love the bwahm sound in inception trailer. Imo inception has one of the best trailers ever. Dont forget than Hans zimmer is doing the music and well you are not at that level to criticize his work;)

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