We are now accepting proposals for Ludo2020 , the Ninth European Conference on Video Game Music and Sound, taking place at the University of Malta, April 24th-25th next year.
Please share our Call for Papers poster online and around your institutions.
welcome proposals on all aspects of sound
and music in games.
year, we are particularly interested in papers that support the conference
theme of ‘Participation, Performance,
and the Body’. Papers on this topic may include:
of the body through sound and music in games
of gender/sexuality and game sound
interactivity with music and games
and drama as lenses for conceptualizing game audio
and game sound
music and accessibility
should last twenty minutes and will be followed by questions. Please submit
your paper proposal (c.250 words) with a short provisional bibliography by
email to email@example.com by
January 6th 2020. We aim
to communicate the programme decisions by January 20th 2020. If you
require more information, please email the organizers.
encourage practitionersand composers to submit proposals for showcasing
practice as research.
The conference will feature as a keynote speaker:
Prof. Hillegonda Rietveld, Professor of Sonic Culture at London South Bank University, musician and electronic music specialist, co-editor of the special issue ‘Hear the Music, Play the Game’ for GAME.
And more to be
Hosted by Costantino Oliva, Institute of Digital Games, University of Malta.
Organized by Melanie Fritsch, Michiel Kamp, Tim Summers & Mark Sweeney.
Continuing our series of posts about game music research around the world, Ariel Grez gives us an insight into the activities of our friends in South America.
At first glance, the ludomusicological research in Chile is as recent as the foundation of the Chilean’s Research Group of Video game music (LUDUM), at least when it comes to the use of the term ludomusicología (the self-proclaimed translation of the term ludomusicology). LUDUM is formed by musicians and researchers who met at University of Chile. Daniel Miranda is a pianist, composer, producer and researcher, Joaquin Gutiérrez is an electric guitarist and composition student, Guillermo Jarpa is a bassist, researcher and cultural manager, with formal training on audiovisual communication, Ariel Grez is a clarinetist, singer and songwriter, researcher and adjunct professor at the Music Department of University of Chile and Sean Moscoso is a percussionist and artist, and professor at the Sound Studies Department of the same university. We started this group in February 2018, and although we were the first to centralize research and documentation, the work from agents outside LUDUM before and after its beginnings must not be ignored.
That’s why our first assignment was to identify the state of academic video game music and sound research, including the social and cultural reach of its music, and the advances of Chile’s video game music industry.
In 2014 Gerardo Marcoleta, an academic member of the Autonomous Center of Musical Research (CIMA) of University of Valparaiso, presented “Music for Video Games” and other papers about the matter in different instances, including academic ones like the “1st Meeting of Contemporary Music” in Rengo or the “1st International Instance of Music and Audio” in ARCOS’s institute.
The Chilean videogame industry is in an adolescent, but evolving, condition. The Chilean Association of Video Game Development Companies (VG Chile) is a guild of 38 companies (representing more than the 85% of games companies operating in Chile). In regards to the video game music that these companies make, we have observed that the composers of the games with the higher reach, are Chileans who graduated from music-related programs from colleges or academic institutes. Among them we have Francisco “Foco”, Patricio Meneses, Ronny Antares, and others. Since 2015 the 101 Training School of Creative Technologies has offered the diploma of music production for video games, the only program in our country that specializes in music for this media, with “Foco” as their main teacher.
In Chile, Video Game Music is also experienced as a collective cultural experience taken from its original designed setting (video games) to – literally – the streets and festivals. There are many video game music bands and groups of different levels of professionalization that play music of (or inspired by) video games. Ludópatas and Jazztick make regular concerts in the capital Santiago de Chile, with the latter having performed weekly in different streets and venues. The Plasmas have been sporadically playing game music for more than 10 years in Valparaíso. Pokérus and Thennecan have smaller, but growing audiences. The Popular Music Orchestra in Concepción and the Student’s Orchestra of Federico Santa María’s Technical University in Valparaíso have included video game music in their repertoire.
As in other parts of the world, the chiptune scene has developed in our country since the mid-2000s with different waves of artists. First with Una Niña Malvada and Noobelesia, later from 2008 to 2012 with H#xz, Analog and Foco, then from 2012 to 2016 we have Kbt, Utsuho, Clsource and YZYX, and in recent years Jota Capsula and Bluu whose point of reunion in Santiago was the Once Super Portable/Mutante, a regular music festival (‘circlo’) in which chiptune musicians gathered and played among peers and fans. These events are on hold since March 2019, because their point of reunion Casa Ruido recently closed.
These musicians have been building
networks of social interchange to promote their music and create financial
opportunities of collaboration between each other, as seen with the chiptune scene, the collective of game
music “Pixel Quemado” and the Ñoño Party (the word ñoño is used colloquially to describe
someone who pertains to geek culture). This last event aspires to congregate
players, who want to have fun while listening to the video game bands of the
capital. After a successful first Ñoño Party,
that took place in April 2017 in Santiago de Chile, there was a second
version of this event in October 2018, and the Ñoño Party 3 will be held in November
2019. But, that was not the first time that this kind of event was held in our
country, as in May of 2014 the Festival
of Video Game Music was held in our capital.
Three international video game
music ensembles have come to our country: Symphony of the Goddesses (2015),
Distant Worlds (2014) and Video Games Live (2012), all of them with excellent
Chile is a highly centralized
country, both in politics and economy. Our work as game music scholars is
dedicated mostly to uncover the state of video game music in our close
environment: the capital, Santiago de Chile. This is because our members are students,
graduates and/or workers of the University of Chile and are all living in
Santiago. But, there is still a lot to unravel in other areas of our country.
Our research group started with
seminar activities that consisted of getting an overview on the state of the
art of the discipline by assigning readings and making summaries on each
reading. Here, we read some of the seminal works on video game music, and came
to realize the first and most important challenge to disseminating our interest
in video game music research: the lack of research in Spanish on the topic.
So, in an attempt to activate the academic community, we organized our first public event. We held the 1st National Meeting of Ludomusicology in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Chile in November of 2018, with the sponsorship of its Music Department, and the Latin American Aesthetics Research Centre, with the support of the “Espacio Elefante” Cultural Center. Even though LUDUM is an independent research group, we are working to strengthen our bonds with different institutions, such as the University of Santiago de Chile or the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso.
The meeting’s program consisted of
three days with academic, artistic, formative and musical activities open to
the public: A daily session consisted of seminars, where papers were presented,
and different activities with artists and video game music producers. A forum
of productive experiences was held the first day, with the Creative Director of
Niebla Games Nicolás Valdivia and
Composer René Romo. A Workshop on interactive music was held the second day
with the composer Francisco “Foco”. Musical performances were realized every
day, with arrangements of video game music made by students of musical
composition David Bustamante and Joaquín Gutiérrez, the latter being a member
of our group and also director of the ensemble composed by students of the
University of Chile. Foco also performed his chiptune project and Ludópatas
closed the last day with a concert, where a full Sala Elefante danced and jumped to some classic video game tunes. A
review of this concert? was published in the Chilean Musical
Also, LUDUM members have presented
papers at academic conferences. Ariel Grez has presented papers both at the
Ludo2018 and Ludo2019 conferences, using different analytic approaches to video
game music, aesthetic, semiotic, ludic and ethics fields, bringing the input of
Latin American thinkers like Katya Mandoki and Enrique Dussel to the
ludomusicological field, to deepen our understanding of the reception of video
game music, aiming to finally being able to characterize the specificity of
Latin-American gamers experience in the complexity of the geopolitical problem
of distribution of video games. On the other hand. Daniel Miranda presented a
paper in the Third Chilean Congress of Popular Music in Alberto Hurtado
University. In this paper entitled A
Contained Princess: a Vocal Analysis of Super Mario 3D World’s Characters
he proposes a methodology to analyze these voices comparing the pitches and
sentences used by each character, doing a gender performance reading inspired
by Butler (1990) and also studying the reception of Princess Peach’s voice,
categorizing popular comments of an online viral video. He concludes that the
Princess’ voice responds to a voice direction that overcaricaturizes her among
other characters through a process of infantilization that is increased over
time in the games she appears in and by using a template of an already
caricatured version of a sexualized woman (Betty Boop, Marilyn Monroe). A
continuation of this research was presented at Ludo 2019, in which the
reception of Peach’s voice was studied through Philip Tagg’s methodology of
semiotic analysis, categorizing different profiles of gamers that responded in
different ways to her voice, suggesting that experienced male gamers were more
likely to refrain from playing with her character because of her voice.
Our objective is to consolidate a
space of debate and knowledge building on video game music, articulating the
Spanish-speaking community, while also connecting with the academic and
professional field and the public in general. To that effect, we are preparing
several investigation projects, ranging from characterizing the local video
game bands scene, to analysing the Chilean production of video game music, and
continuing to test different analytical methods to investigate the experience
of listening while gaming. Last but not least, we are currently preparing our
second academic event, the Second National Ludomusicology Gathering, here in
Santiago de Chile.
This is a guest post from Vivaswath Rao. Viva is a postgraduate student at Royal Holloway, University of London. He recently hosted and chaired William Gibbons’s guest talk at Royal Holloway, which was part of the inspiration for this essay. Here, he investigates how classical music interacts with the idea of ‘The Grotesque’ in games.
Content warning: violent images.
The Save Room in the horror video game Evil Within, is a place of contradictions. A washroom within a mental asylum, the safe haven of the game, the room is crawling with cockroaches and pullulating flies. In the midst of the grungy and decrepit enclosure, a large grandiose mirror gleams out with extravagant beams of white light, leaving the protagonist Sebastian silhouetted. What stands out about this mirror is that its prophetic light is accompanied by a looped version of Debussy’s Clair De lune. The situation brings up an interesting prospect, one that extends far out into the real world. Video games have long attempted to push boundaries towards increased player engagement, along with greater intellectual and emotional reward. As illustrated by Michele Dickey, a careful blend of physical, environmental, temporal, ethical and emotional dimensions enable “…a sense of suspended disbelief and provides players with a sense of immersive engagement in the gameplay environment”.
One of the ways by which games have done so is to utilize real world subjects and objects to create intertextual systems. The above scene is one such example. In a world torn apart by bloody conflict, supernatural forces, and exaggerated violence, Classical music is an uncanny misfit. It stands at odds with its surrounding predilection for death, symbolizing on the contrary serenity, virtue and peace. It is this fascinating co-existence of the ‘grotesque’ with ‘Classical music’ in video games that I seek to understand further. Given that terms such as ‘grotesque’, ‘classical music’ and ‘video games’ rest on a shared cultural definition, it is worth investigating what its reactionary cognitive dissonance might suggest about us, or our relationship with the game on a psychological level.
The term ‘grotesque’ has for very long elucidated various explanations and definitions. An idea emergent from European Renaissance interest in antiquity, the term has itself drifted along etymological tides from era to era.
Franz Kafka’s novella Metamorphosis (1915) begins with the main character, Gregor Samsa, waking up to find that he has been transformed into a giant insect. The book is at once surreal in its premise, yet set in an otherwise apparently realistic world. Kafka’s creation is often judged as a benchmark of the modern ‘grotesque’. Describing Samsa’s transformation as ‘grotesque’ reveals not only what the term approximates but also where it is ambiguous. This story that takes place in a strange world that for the most part, appears natural, Kafka’s subject of mutation displays tensions that mingle together horror with humor. While the protagonist insect represents an amalgam of unsaid fears, nightmares and biological deviations, it remains unclear (perhaps intentionally) as to what definitively marks out the grotesque. While some argue that the grotesque lies in the construction of the symbol itself, i.e. ‘the grotesque’ (giant insect), others argue that the identification of ‘grotesque-ness’ depends on its affective response. Following Kafka’s odd and unsettling combination of fantastic and realistic elements, we might consider grotesque to be partly a result of our psychological reactions to juxtaposed, ‘dissonant’ elements.
Cognitive Dissonance in Video Games
A new field of empirical psychological research (VGTx) has begun to explore the potential of commercial video games as therapy, resulting in a growing body of literature that studies relationships between gamers and how they view the game themselves. Anthony M. Bean’s book Working with Video Gamers and Games in Therapy looks into this area of study with the primary theoretical framework being that of a Humanistic and Jungian/Archetypal paradigm.
In this tradition, we can consider video games as a medium of a controlled confrontation of the unknown, which involves frequent instantiations of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is defined as a psychological state where an individual’s cognitions—beliefs, attitudes and behaviors are at odds. This is immediately followed by a motivation to resolve inconsistencies between disparate cognitions. Marc Prensky explains, “Electronic games require active engagement in environments, which supports discovery, observation, trial and error, and problem solving.” While video games have constantly strived towards greater artistic realism and narrative nuance, the importance of ‘accomplishing the challenge’ and ‘undertaking the task’ make for its psychological currency and a medium of positive reinforcement. Research reveals that part of the appeal of video games may be attributed to its relatively risk-free goal-oriented tasks. Thus games might offer grounds for studies on affective responses, not only in psycho-therapeutic endeavors but also ludology and game designing experiments. Where video games align with the grotesque in this sense, is best summarized in Wolfgang Kayser’s view of the grotesque, “The grotesque is a game with the absurd, in the sense that the grotesque artist plays, half laughingly, half horrified, with the deep absurdities of existence. The grotesque is an attempt to control and exorcise the demonic elements in the world”. As discussed by Rune Graulund, the grotesque in some way rests in opposition to sophistication. Sophistication lies in the intellectual validation of the ‘known’, symbolized by knowledge, order, control, balance, life. The Grotesque, however, is the demon from the ‘unknown’ that leaps through the cracks of existence, threatening to topple it, i.e. chaos, disorder, or even death.
Classical Music in Video Games
Classical music has long been frequently invoked as an agent of sophistication in video games. While most commonly Classical music and video games have occupied opposing ends on the cultural spectrum of high art and low art, the relationship between the two is by no means a simple one. To evoke the term ‘Western Classical’, brings along with it the suggestion of a canonic body of works. Most often referred to as works by highly regarded European composers between the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century. These works retain a status in popular culture as unquestioned artworks. In this regard, collaborations between video games and classical music through the last few decades have revealed a multitude of consequences. A recent resurgence in the game Assassin’s Creed due to its representation of the historical Parisian cathedral Notre Dame in the aftermath of its destruction, gives an insight into one such collaboration between video games and a monument of the ‘classical’.
A news report on the story claimed, “With so much details poured into the game, it’s hard not to see the benefits of video games in how they can also preserve history, even in its own way”.
Below, I look at a few examples of popular single player video games where Classical music acts as a propeller of cognitive dissonance in order to intensify player experience of ‘the grotesque’. In all the examples below, Classical music is used as an agent of the civilized, the peaceful, and the victorious. As such, it serves to enhance and articulate the ‘grotesque’ when this emblem of civility is put in tension with other horrific or otherwise dissonant elements. Like Kafka’s juxtaposition and the self-other psychological confrontation that underpins games as therapy, Classical music is here used as a potent agent for forging a grotesque aesthetic experience by representing a symbolic anchor against which horror and irrationality can be contrasted.
The involvement of Classical music in the game is best demonstrated by the above sound disk and artbook cover of the game score.
The game is set around protagonist Vincent Brooks, who is caught between an emotionally dormant long-term relationship with his girlfriend Katherine, and a second new relationship with young, attractive Catherine. He must confront in his dreams the demonic manifestations of his real-life insecurities and win over them in order to wake up alive the next day. As William Gibbons has described, remixes of famous Classical pieces are prominent features of the nightmare stages of the game. A combination of normal life depicted through cut scenes, and nightmare in the form of gameplay, it is the latter in which complete manifestations of the grotesque are revealed. Classical music in the nightmare scenes are marked out through an action-film style of scoring. While the rest of the game features music in a piano based smooth jazz-style, the nightmare remixes feature strings and brass — rock-style arrangements. Irrespective of player knowledge of the repertoire, the element of the ‘Classical’ is made unavoidable through the repeated recurrence of the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus and extensive use of orchestral instruments.
The game’s narrative teems with allusions to psychological theories in its observation of dreams being a mediation ground between conscious, subconscious and unconscious, and in Jungian terms, the dwelling ground for archetypes. Dreams become the playground where the Freudian id, ego and superego must resolve Vincent’s insecurities. The unconscious impulse, the id, is clearly manifested through demons, with Vincent playing the part of the ego, or the decision maker, while the superego, or the moral center remains un-manifested in material form. This void is filled by Classical Music. Remixed nonetheless, it represents that part of Vincent associated with reality, conscience, order, balance and victory. On completion of each challenge, Vincent opens the ‘door of faith’ to the sound of the Hallelujah Chorus. Each demonic form represents a twisted representation of the central subjects of the Vincent’s fears, sexuality, marriage and child bearing. While each of the three form essential symbols of life, joy and pleasure, in other words sources of positive emotions; in Vincent’s dreams they are manifested as enlarged disembodied forces of destruction, capable here, of taking a life. They emerge from within the darkness of the unknown below the surface of reality and wield not only an instinct but weapons to slay – sharp teeth and sharp knives. With contradicting ideas of the sophisticated and grotesque, battling it out, the player is left guard-less in the line of fire, reaping in return maximum psychological rewards.
The Evil Within
On few occasions in the game The Evil
Within, the player witnesses chilling occasions when famous pieces of
Classical Music not only meta-diegetically underscore the scene but add to what
would have otherwise been intensely cognitively dissonant.
In Chapter 1, hanging upside down from the ceiling, the lead character
Sebastian is about to be hacked to death by serial killer Sadist. Sadist is a
large and muscular man with a metallic mask, bloody outfit and gory appearance.
Sadist, much like Catherine, represents a human form of a demon except this
time, the weapon is a chainsaw. While Sebastian hangs alongside rotting hacked
bodies and putrid carcasses, a nearby gramophones resonates with an orchestra,
the tune of Bach’s Air in G. Playing on the pun with the name Sebastian, the
music itself has nothing more to do with the narrative than to intensify the
already horrific and disgusting visuals into an articulation of artistic irony.
The music in the scene symbolizes the death of civilization itself. The game
takes place in Sebastian’s home town where all inhabitants have either
perished, mutated or have turned into evil monsters.
In The Evil Within, we see
another common theme across a multitude of video games, including GTA, Fallout,
Bioshock Infinite and the Far Cry series. This is the old radio
machine or gramophone that is the mouthpiece for Classical music. The two
symbolize not only the ‘archaic’ but also something of the prophetic. Seen
across both futurist and historical period games, the radio is something of an
artificial conjunction of human machine and transcendental classical music, in
other words it is the object of grotesque, often tattered in appearance and
giving the sound a distorted and desolate quality.
The grotesque is a term that defies a clear definition. It bears a place
in common usage that stretches across object and subject, noun and adjective,
video game stimulant and human respondent. What may be observed throughout
these cases is that even ‘the grotesque’, exists on a spectrum of
‘grotesqueness’. Outside the question of intention and authorship, lie strong
reasons to suggest that any combination of Classical Music and video games is
in itself something of a “grotesque” and places it on this spectrum of grotesqueness.
Games like Catherine and The Evil Within exploit this triumvirate,
to place themselves higher on the grotesque spectrum. As audiences for video
games continue to grow, with more individuals voluntarily engaging with video
games at deeper levels of emotional involvement; as the influence and usage of
Classical music in/on video games continue to grow; cognitive dissonance
becomes an increasingly important factor in putting each video game on the
spectrum of grotesqueness and thus, putting Classical music itself on various
spectrums of modern human experiences.
Michele D. Dickey, ‘Engaging By Design: How Engagement Strategies in Popular Computer and Video Games Can Inform Instructional Design’, ETR&D, Vol. 53, No. 2, 2005, pp. 76
Geoffrey Harpam, ‘The Grotesque’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Summer, 1976), pp.461
Matthias Jaeger, ‘Commercial Video Games As Therapy: A New Research Agenda to Unlock the Potential of a Global Pastime’, frontiers in Psychiatry 8:300 (2018)
Anthony M. Bean, Working with Video Gamers and Games in Therapy: A Clinician’s Guide (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2018), pp. 2
Michele D. Dickey, ‘Engaging By Design: How Engagement Strategies in Popular Computer and Video Games Can Inform Instructional Design’, ETR&D, Vol. 53, No. 2, 2005, pp. 78
Philip Thomson, ‘The Grotesque’ (London: Methuen & Co Ltd, 1972), pp. 18
William Gibbons, ‘Ultimate Replays: Video Games and Classical Music’, (New York, Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 4
though we’ve not yet posted our customary retrospective on Ludo2019 (it’s
coming!), we have some exciting news to share about Ludo2020.
We’re thrilled to announce that Ludo2020 will take place at the Valletta Campus of the University of Malta, April 24–25th 2020! We shall, of course, circulate a call for papers in due course but we were too excited to keep this information to ourselves and thought it would be helpful for those who want to plan ahead. More information will be shared in due course; in the meantime, look out also for a review of Ludo2019.