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Ludomusicology in Germany: The FVMW Introduces Itself

Authors: Anne Heller, Fabian Müller, Tim Reichert

The European-Western origin of the academic study of music in German-speaking countries, in short musicology (dt.: Musikwissenschaft) as we know it today, can be traced back to Guido Adler’s treatise “Umfang, Methode und Ziel der Musikwissenschaft” from 1885. For him, musicology is divided into two sub-disciplines. Systematic musicology, which includes aspects of the aesthetics of the art of sound, including acoustics, psychology and philosophy, is contrasted with historical musicology. Historical musicology aims to investigate and demonstrate the compositional and historical contexts. In addition to working with sources, the focus is on the analysis of music. Ethnology in musicology was still part of systematics for Adler, who called it Musikologie. It is clear that the methods of musicology have developed further since its foundation and that the subject is now more interdisciplinary. Likewise, the boundaries between the systematic and historical sub-disciplines are less strict than they used to be. In the meantime, musicology has also taken on film music and pop music. In the German-speaking world, the study of video game music has so far only been part of media studies, cultural studies, and game studies. For a long time, there was no study that followed the German-speaking tradition of historical musicology. Fortunately, this has now changed.

In Germany, video game music is moving more and more into the public focus. Since this year, German public-service broadcaster ARD has been hosting the podcast Levels & Soundtracks by music journalist Fridl Achten, in 2022 the contribution “A History of Video Game Music” appeared on the podcast of Bayerischer Rundfunk, and video game concerts have been present in Germany since the first symphonic game music concert at the Gewandhaus zu Leipzig in 2003.

The scientific study of video game music is likewise not a novelty in this country. First publications by researchers such as Axel Stockburger, Axel Berndt, Michael Ahlers, Ellen Jünger, or Martin Pichlmair and Fares Kayali can already be found in the early to mid-2000s. Nils Dittbrenner’s Master’s thesis “Soundchip-Musik: Computer- und Videospielmusik von 1977–1994” (2007) was made available online and is one of the earliest comprehensive German-language studies on the subject.

Melanie Fritsch, currently an assistant professor at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf at the Institute for Media and Cultural Studies, gave a lecture in 2009 entitled “Zurück in die Jugendkultur – die Rückkehr der Musik über Computerspiele” at the alltogether now! Music Fair in Berlin. Since then, over the course of her career, she has published several fundamental German-language essays on the field, and her monograph “Performing Bytes: Musikperformances der Computerspielkultur” (2018). Furthermore, she spoke with then-Chancellor Angela Merkel about video games and was interviewed for several German newspapers. Melanie Fritsch is one of the more prominent researchers in the field, but of course not the only one.

Christoph Hust, professor of musicology at the Leipzig University of Music and Theatre, published the anthology Digitale Spiele in 2018. This volume included a section on video game music of over one hundred pages. Together with Japanologist and game researcher Martin Roth, he hosted the first Ludomusicology-conference in Germany the same year. Since 2022, he also leads the DFG project “Kulturen der Heimcomputermusik”, which has overlaps with video game culture as well.

Many German as well as scholars from German-speaking countries such as Austria and Switzerland have also participated in the Ludomusicology conference, such as Hans-Peter Gasselseder in collaboration with Maria Kallionpäa (“Re-Orchestrating Game Drama: The Experience of Dynamic Music in Videogames”, 2012), Fares Kayali (“Abstracting Music to Game Mechanics”, 2015) and David Roesner as the keynote speaker. In more recent years Reinke Schwinning (“Sense and Meaning in Video Game Music – Music as Information Carrying Part of the Game Inter-face”, 2018), Laurentius Alvin (“Introduction to Javanese-Balinese Gamelan music in video games”, 2022), Stefan Höltgen and Thomas Fecker (“From Daisies to @;&?$: Computer Voices in Early Electronic Games”, 2023) and Manuel Becker (“‘Donasdogama Micma’: Music from Hell in Dante’s Inferno (2010)”, 2023).

Therefore, it was about time that a German-speaking community is founded to offer a place for scholars to further their researches and interests in Video Game Music.

The foundation of the FVMW goes back to 2019 in Tübingen at the Institute for Musicology, when Manuel Becker held a seminar about music in video games. The seminar was one of the most well-attended ones at the institute in a long time. Thus, it is no wonder that many students showed interest in engaging with the topic even outside the curriculum. This seminar is also the place where the four founding members of the FVMW, Manuel Becker and the three students Anne Heller, Tim Reichert, and Fabian Müller, met. The novelty of the discipline impressed them, and made it clear to them that video game music should form a part of their own academic curriculum vitae. Therefore, the three students chose different aspects of this subject for their theses, which discussed the reception of Wagner’s music in video games, the technical developments in the Final Fantasy VII Remake and an answer to the difficult question of citing video game music. The search for usable literature that came from the musicological tradition we are familiar with was a challenge. Even while working on our theses, we met regularly to discuss the recent publications in the research field of Ludomusicology. It quickly became clear to us that the biggest problem in German-language musicology is probably the lack of an introduction to the subject area that is also aimed at researchers who do not otherwise deal with video games. Writing this introduction became our primary goal. We thus began to look into topics commonly found in ludomusicological studies and to work out the aspects that were important to us. During this time, we made contact with different researchers in this field, among them Melanie Fritsch. Following her advice, we started working on our secondary goal in 2022: the development of our own website where essays and other forms of contributions can be published.

The aim of the research community for video game musicology is to get to the core of the music and to classify the compositional aspects of the music historically. Likewise, we treat the video games as musicological sources. The methodology will be presented in an introduction to the new sub-discipline of video game musicology (Videospielmusikwissenschaft).

With our website we are trying something similar to LudoBande, an interdisciplinary community of students interested in the study of games. We want to provide a platform where students, scholars and people interested in musicology can come together and exchange ideas about the discipline. We’d like to help this research area grow and establish itself.

If you want to follow, support, or contact us, you can do so via the following links:

Across the big Pond: North America’s Expansion of Ludomusicology

Continuing our ludomusicological journey around the world we hear from Hyeonjin Park (@jinsnocture) who is currently a PhD student in musicology at UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. By outlining their own journey into the field of ludomusicology, Park provides an overview on the development and current state of the field in North America.

For more information and the CfP 2021 see the NACVGM webpage.

There is much to be said about the kinds of research being conducted in North America. Before jumping into this, I wanted to start with a personal anecdote. I came across the term “ludomusicology” when I stumbled across this very blog in February 2014. At the time, I actually had no idea that the North American Conference on Video Game Music (NACVGM) held their inaugural conference just one month before at Youngstown State University in Ohio until later in the year. It wasn’t until late 2014 that I realized ludomusicology wasn’t just a European thing when a professor in my undergraduate music department brought up NACVGM. This professor mentioned there would be another conference in January 2015, this time at Texas Christian University. A few other professors encouraged me to go to get a sense of what an academic conference was like. It was also to encourage me to gather more sources for my senior thesis since I complained that I couldn’t find much scholarship to support my research.[1] So, with the help of a small grant, I found myself in Texas, meeting some of the most welcoming scholars who I have the pleasure to call my colleagues now.

I still remember a handful of the papers presented: Enoch Jacobus’ on “Lighter Than Air” from Bioshock Infinite and the influences of Charles Ives; Neil Lerner’s on teaching game music in the classroom; Julianne Grasso’s on performance and play; among others. One that left an impression on me was Karen Cook’s paper on the music from Civilization V. It was by chance that I wrote an entire chapter on that game’s music for my senior thesis, relying heavily on her Civilization IV chapter in Music in Video Games. I also remember the keynote speaker, Winifred Phillips, presenting a composer’s perspective on game music, which made it clear to me that our field can (and should continue to) develop a symbiotic relationship with the industry.

Excerpt of Winifred Phillips’ keynote at NACVGM 2015

I start with this because, at the time, I didn’t realize I was witnessing the seeds planted the prior year growing to become what is North American research today. Since 2014, NACVGM has held a conference every year. A study group in the American Musicological Society (AMS) was formed in 2015 and they have had a session every year as well. Many of our American colleagues have gone outside of academic spaces and presented at events such as GameSoundCon. An advantage that scholars based in North America have is the ease-of-access to more industry-focused events due to the sheer amount of activity that occurs in the United States alone. By attending these conferences, they give more opportunities for us to form bridges between industry and academia. It shows, too, looking at some of NACVGM’s keynote speakers and presentations.

Marty O’Donnell giving his keynote during NACVGM 5 in 2018. (Source: Matthew Thompson)

On the publishing front, some of the most formative works in our field come from North America, most notably Game Sound by Canadian scholar Karen Collins, which was published in 2008. Since then, the number of articles, chapters, and books published by North American-based scholars has grown exponentially. Some include but are not limited to Music in Video Games edited by K.J. Donnelly, William Gibbons, and Neil Lerner (2014); Sound Play by William Cheng (2014); Unlimited Replays by William Gibbons (2018); Playing Along by Kiri Miller (2012); Keys to Play by Roger Moseley (2016); and A Composer’s Guide to Game Music by Winifred Phillips (2014). There are numerous contributions to various academic journals including but not limited to Music and the Moving Image (from Karen Collins and William Gibbons), Ethnomusicology (from Kiri Miller and William Cheng), Bach (from Dana Plank), and The Computer Games Journal (from Peter Smucker). Of course, I can’t forget the number of North American scholars’ contributions to the Journal of Sound and Music in Games (JSMG) since its inaugural issue, published in January 2020.

Despite being from the United States, I had little idea what my North American colleagues were up to between 2015 and 2017 because I was in Europe. I started my graduate studies in the United Kingdom and, inevitably, was more familiar with what was happening on that side of the pond. It wasn’t until 2019 when I attended NACVGM and presented at the Ludomusicology Conference that I realized there were distinct trends in North America that differed from Europe when it came to paper topics, research interests, and even the types of questions asked during Q&A.

The most immediate difference is the significant presence of music theory in North America, which inevitably impacts the kinds of questions and research scholars were interested in. In addition, three particular topics of interest to scholars are transmedia, analyzing performance/performativity in games, and exploring the relationship between Western art music and game music, reflecting the prominence of historical musicology here.[2] One analytical framework that I find has a strong presence here is semiotics, which I would say is a reflection of how music theory and musicology evolved in North America—more specifically, the United States.

These are a few examples that stick out to me when I think of what North American scholars have shown interest, which, while important to have, outweigh the research that has been done on topics such as identity or fandom; or methodologies that use sociocultural or ethnographic frameworks. In other words, there is still a need for more interdisciplinary and methodological approaches. That said, there has been an increasing interest in this realm. One example in recent memory is the NACVGM 2020 conference, which had not one but two panels that focused exclusively on gender/sexuality in game musics and sounds using different frameworks. In addition, the “sounds” in “game music and sounds studies” is becoming more important as more scholars venture into topics on the voice, sound effects, and soundscapes. For example, at the AMS conference in 2019, the Ludomusicology and Ecocriticism Study Groups held a joint session that took an interdisciplinary approach to game sounds with themes on the (post-)apocalypse and environmental catastrophe.

Some of our North American scholars eating lunch together at AMS San Antonio 2018. (Source: Dana Plank)

With North American scholars’ numerous contributions to ludomusicology, I would like to finish with a contemplation on what we mean by “North America.” This is an ongoing problem across academia, which is the dominance of Anglo-American, English-written scholarship. I bring this up for North America, though because, when we mention this continent, it really ends up being a shortening of the United States and Canada. Of course, this is not to say that American and Canadian scholars are excluding others from contributing to discourses in game musics and sounds, but we should consider what happens when over twenty independent countries are absent from our definition of North American scholarship. Which raises two questions: Who are our speakers? Who is our audience, really?

There are myriad issues that our field inherited (though every academic field is grappling with them). It would be a herculean task for us to even try and resolve them all. This isn’t to say that we should ignore them. With hope, I would say we are conscious of these issues and show an eagerness to do as much as possible to break patterns found in music studies. As I shared in my anecdote, there is a particular warmth that this field’s scholars (especially here) exude that I have never—and honestly, still haven’t—experienced anywhere else.

[1] Of course, there was a fair amount of publications by 2014 as I’ll point out later. At the time, though, I was interested in nonwestern music traditions in video games. There was (and frankly, still is) a dearth of scholarship then.

[2] A notable example is Music Video Games: Performance, Politics, and Play edited by Michael Austin (2016). Most of the contributors were based in North America.

“To Love and Learn Game Music in the South”

Crest of the Ludomusicology Society of Australia

In this chapter of our ludomusicological journey around the world we hear from Barnabas Smith, the founder and President of the Ludomusicology Society of Australia. Smith prefaces his commentary on the LSA, developments within the Australasian academic community, and game music culture projects with a brief assessment of the reason we are all here – the compositional landscape itself.

Composing for Games

Despite enduring a distinctly strict digital game classification regime for many years – or perhaps because of it – Australia’s most vibrant and successful development models are found in the indie game sector. One of the earliest games to receive industry recognition was The Hobbit, a 1982 game developed for the ZX Spectrum. This recognition has continued through to today, with several recent indie titles receiving notable acclaim. Untitled Goose Game (2019) won Golden Joystick, D.I.C.E.[1] and NAVGTR[2] awards, while Hollow Knight (2017) was added to the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia in 2019. The scores for these two games were created by Dan Golding (Melbourne) and Chris Larkin (Adelaide) respectively. Both continue to work and live in Australia, as do composers Amy Bastow and Belinda Coomes. Along with Jeff van Dyck (Total War series), Mick Gordon is perhaps the most internationally recognised Australian game composer, known for his signature scores and sound design on titles in the DOOM, Wolfenstein, and Destroy All Humans series.

On the pedagogical side, there now exist a number of game composition, recording, and engineering study opportunities across the tertiary and vocational education sectors. Courses at the University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, Australian National University, James Cook University, and the Queensland University of Technology are enhanced by a regular series of game culture events. Melbourne, in particular, is a national game music industry leader and education hub. Each year the city hosts the Melbourne International Games Week (MIGW), which is the largest games festival in Southeast Asia, and hosts the only PAX festival held outside of the USA. Since 2017, music rights body APRA AMCOS has presented High Score, an event hosted in Melbourne and yoked to the MIGW. Part conference, part showcase, and part Q&A session, High Score offers a superlative opportunity to engage with game composers, producers, and audio designers. International guests such as Neal Acree, Manami Matsumae, and Takahiro Izutani have been featured guests, in addition to some of the aforementioned Australian composers.

Valuable as these events are, they are not structured to foster scholarly endeavours relating to game music. Such early forays can be found in independently published dissertations and occasional computer culture conference programmes. An instructive example is “Game/Music Interaction”, featured in the Eighth Australasian User Interface Conference (2007), and whose second author, Burkhard Wünsche, remains at the University of Auckland. However, it is within the last five to ten years that a corpus of journal articles focusing critically on video game music has emerged.

Academic Research

Articles such as Iain Hart’s 2014 “Meaningful Play” in Musicology Australia and 2015 critique of L.A. Noire’s soundtrack in Screen Sound Journal heralded a more ‘ludomusical’ approach. There followed more articles offering distinctly varied avenues of inquiry, in tandem with a broadening appreciation of the subject matter. In 2017, Jessica Crowe analysed Nintendo Music by Australian composer Matthew Hindson through a postmodernist lens, while the same year saw New Zealand scholar Ivan Mouraviev’s syncretic evaluation of music, narrative, and emotion in Journey published. Sebastian Diaz-Gasca, whose 2013 PhD was concerned with the consumption of video game soundtrack, continued this line in 2018 with “Super Smash Covers! Performance and audience engagement in Australian videogame music cover bands” in Perfect Beat. “From Skyrim to Skellige” saw Musicology Australia once again showcase game music scholarship, and this 2019 evaluation of RPG and fantasy music’s neo-Mediaevalist aesthetic was co-authored by Brendan Lamb and Barnabas Smith.

Many of these authors have also been active proponents of sharing game music research within different professional groups. Evidence of this can be found in conference proceedings that see publication, such as a paper on the soundtrack for DOOM (2016) featured in the 2017 Australasian Computer Music Conference. Yet like so many other fields of music research, papers on game music delivered at musicology, music education, popular music, and computer music conferences on both sides of the Tasman Sea have tended to be experienced only by those ‘in the room’, as it were.

Ludomusicology Society of Australia

In response to this need for a single and dedicated group, the LSA was launched in 2017 at the conclusion of the Ludomusicology Easter conference in Bath, UK. Indeed, the LSA’s genesis was inspired by the activities and ethos of the Ludomusicology Research Group. It was founded with the aims of unifying isolated study groups, communicating individual scholars’ research, and connecting academics and enthusiasts within Australasia.

The LSA’s Inaugural Winter Symposium in 2018 provided an opportunity for delegates to share their research through the Society for the first time. This event saw scholars travel from across Australia to congregate in Adelaide, with remote papers also delivered from the UK and US. A panoply of topics ranged from cut-scene narratives and participant agency in music games, to non-Western notation analysis and thematic nostalgia, through to evaluations of fantasy game and RPG scores. Acclaimed composer Neal Acree delivered the event’s keynote presentation and Q&A session, offering insight into his composition process and creative stimuli. The final programme can be viewed and downloaded here.

The roundtable discussion session was a particularly memorable opportunity for delegates to exchange views freely on concepts and challenges associated with ludomusicology. This activity will now be programmed during every LSA conference as a counterpoint to the primary formal paper delivery process. Its recapitulation at LSA Symposium 2019 was similarly positive and informative. Held within the castellated Sydney Conservatorium of Music, this event saw a marked increase in attendee numbers and remote delegate involvement from across Australia and the US. Among the distinguished attendees was Scottish expatriate and field leader Kenny McAlpine, who delivered the symposium’s keynote. This event’s programme can also be viewed and downloaded.

Delegates a the 2019 LSA Symposium

The intention to build on such positive progress remains an exciting priority for the Society. Of course, along with most other groups across the world, the current global health climate and subsequent restrictions of movement and congregation are predominant determining factors.

Next Steps

The future is bright for the LSA and ludomusicology more broadly in the Australasian region, despite the uncertainty of these times. This significant sub-discipline continues to be not only accepted but also embraced by those in established popular music research fields and conventional musicology spheres. This might manifest in a Musicological Society of Australia award, an article in the popular and contemporary music journal Perfect Beat, or a conference hosted by Music EDnet, the premiere music technology education group across Australia and New Zealand.

Moreover, as game music studies undergo natural field maturation, the LSA continues to forge and nurture connections with non-academic game music enthusiasts, professionals, and groups. The Society’s President was featured recently on Game Composure, a podcast run by South Australian musician Angelo Valdivia. Valdivia’s cover outfit 17-Bit Band is also one of many popular groups performing game music live throughout the country. Another of Valdivia’s guests is composer Meena Shamalay who hosts Game Show, a weekly national ABC Classic radio program broadcast out of Melbourne and featuring an extensive game music catalogue.

The LSA is exploring collaboration options with many of these outfits, and exciting Society publication projects will be announced soon. Hosting composers will also always remain part of future conference activities.

As a proud member body of the SSSMG, the LSA aims to continue offering scholars, composers, and enthusiasts from Australia, New Zealand, and across globe, a unifying home for connecting, communicating, and celebrating game music research – that is, AMARE ET COGNOSCERE LUDUM MUSICA AD MERIDIANAM – to love and learn game music in the south.

[1] Design Innovate Communicate Entertain

[2] National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers

Rhythms of (Extreme) Play

A guest contribution by Stefan Greenfield-Casas.

Stefan is a PhD student in music theory & cognition and affiliate of the Interdisciplinary Program in Critical Theory at Northwestern University. His research focuses on the intersection(s) of music, myth, and media, especially through the concertization and “classifying” of video game and film scores. He has presented papers at various conferences, including meetings of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, the Royal Musical Association, Music and the Moving Image, and the North American Conference on Video Game Music.

Here, Stefan is in conversation with the world-ranking gamer Norris Joosakunwijit as Norris competes in a global competitive event in the rhythm game BanG Dream!

Content Warning: This post includes some strong language.

Towards the end of 2019, I was fortunate enough to have an on-and-off informal interview with globally ranked mobile gamer Norris Joosakunwijit over the course of about a week. During this time, he was trying to rank within the top 10 (and eventually top 3) players of the mobile rhythm game BanG Dream! during its “Steadfast Pride Piercing Sunset” event. In the game, players tap the scrolling rhythms of the played song, akin to the mechanics of games such as Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution (an example of Joosakunwijit playing is embedded within the body of the interview).[1]  During the week, Joosakunwijit kept me updated on his rank as well as his thoughts on how the event was progressing. Noting that this is (in theory) a so-called “casual” game—a genre in which players can play on-and-off at their leisure across a day—it may surprise some readers how intense the strain was on Joosakunwijit. He took off from work for the week to entirely devote his time to the game, playing around 15 hours a day for the majority of the event.

Joosakunwijit’s weekly Screen Time results during the event.

By the event’s end, however, Joosakunwijit noted that he couldn’t keep up anymore and that he didn’t play at all for the last day of the event in order to recuperate. As shown in his Screen Time capture above, Joosakunwijit played almost 110 hours of BanG Dream! across the week of the event, averaging about 15.4 hours a day on the game. This directly challenges the idea that BanG Dream! is simply a casual game.

To frame this interview, I consider the potential contradictions of casual games and the time (and monetary investment) top players will spend on them. In particular, I extend Aubrey Anable’s writings on the “rhythms” of life that casual games engender to consider what happens in extreme cases that Anable does not take into account—that is, when the games actually disrupt the rhythms of life. Further still, I consider what role a game based around music and rhythm plays in this kind of disruption. In other words, is the fact that BanG Dream! is a rhythm game part of what allows it to take over the rhythms of life?

In Aubrey Anable’s 2018 monograph, Playing with Feelings, she suggests that casual games (and mobile games in particular) provide a punctuating rhythm to our lives, organizing the larger, work-based cycles of the day to include short, quasi-escapist interludes of play.[2] And yet, Joosakunwijit’s experience in ranking among the top players in BanG Dream! demonstrates an extreme which complicates Anable’s rhythmic analysis. With Joosakunwijit and these other top-tiering players, the schema is inverted such that play takes over the majority of their respective lives (at least for a time), and other elements of life instead provide brief moments of time away from the game. This isn’t even necessarily accomplished within the idealized state of what Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi has famously termed “flow,” as Joosakunwijit noted at one point that he was “pretty fucking braindead” most of the time he was playing. This is not to say that I believe Anable’s rhythmic reading is incorrect, but rather that I am pushing her theory to also consider extreme affective states of play—extremes, I might add, which are not at all uncommon in gamer culture.

Indeed, mobile games the world over incite more extremes than might be expected for “casual” and “free to play” games. While this has been covered in detail on the “free to play” side of things in detail (see the links in the previous sentence), less attention has been given to the time and energy players will invest in these “casual” games.[3] Joosakunwijit is a prime example of this. Even though he was able to avoid “whaling” and spending huge amounts of money on the game to rank as well as he did, the level of commitment the game required to rank within the top 3 players was so strenuous that Joosakunwijit physically couldn’t play the final day of the event. In a follow-up conversation, Joosakunwijit noted that by about five days in to the event he was no longer eating full meals and speculated that this was one large part he was physically and mentally unable to play on the last day of the event. What is striking to me is that, even after the event had ended, Joosakunwijit indicated he was considering trying to tier in a forthcoming event as well. This is even after he had stated multiple times across the week that he would never try to tier this high again. This extreme rhythm, then, is pleasurable (or at least worthwhile) in some capacity. Whether or not such an extreme is sustainable and for how long, however, is a different story.

The question, then, becomes how music specifically affects this experience. In his famed video essay Sans Soleil (1983), director Chris Marker notes that video game music helps contribute to the “score” of Tokyo, perhaps in-part alluding to the city symphonies of earlier in the century. He continues on, suggesting that “By listening to them , you can play them from memory.” This speaks to Joosakunwijit’s experience playing the game, even when he was “braindead.” For Marker, video games and their music are ultimately redemptive, offering “the inseparable philosophy of our time.” He finds this philosophy in the arcade: both with Pac-Man and with the white-collar worker playing an anti-corporate variant of whack-a-mole. And yet, that Marker begins his discussion of video games based on their music, I think, is telling. If, as Anable suggests, casual, mobile games provide moments of reprieve from the capitalist cycle of work (and, I might add, the neoliberal sense of selfhood constituted through rhythms of productivity), then—returning to BanG Dream!—it makes sense that a game fundamentally about (not only) music, but about musical rhythms more specifically, might so thoroughly disrupt the neoliberal work paradigm. This is not to say that other casual games (or any other types of games for that matter!), might not also disrupt systems of work or rhythms of life. But to root this discussion in music and memory, as Marker suggests and as I argue Joosakunwijit demonstrates with his “braindead” virtuosity, rhythm games at some level inherently support, or perhaps even afford such disruptions. For Marker, the locus of his ludomusical­­­­ philosophy was in the arcade. In the second decade of the 21st century, however, we find this philosophy readily available to us in our pockets.

Joosakunwijit’s (AKA “PKMN Trainer Sayo”) final event ranking.


What follows is an annotated and edited transcription of our conversation:

[11/10/2019; 4:53 AM][4]

Norris Joosakunwijit:

I’ve been playing nonstop since 7 PM. Time for sleep.

[11/10/2019; 3:19 PM]

I’ve gotta get those numbers up.

[11/10/2019; 5:18 PM]

Stefan Greenfield-Casas: You’re catching up!

NJ: Probably not. Their team is better than mine and I don’t think I want to keep doing 15-hour days.

SGC: Yeah, I believe it.

[11/11/2019; 7:47 PM]


SGC: Good job!

[11/10/2019; 9:14 PM]


“I don’t think I want to keep doing 15-hour days lol” –me, yesterday

SGC: I mean it was “only” 14 hours this time.

NJ: Nah, it ended up actually being 17 hours 😅 I’m never fucking doing this again.

SGC: It’s gotta be brutal.

NJ: My sleep schedule is messed up.

SGC: I believe it.

NJ: Aside from that, I’m still getting my meals in and drinking a shit ton of water.

SGC: Good, good.

[11/12/2019; 11:05 AM]

SSGC: So how exactly does it work? Do you just spam the same song over and over again? Do you need to whale at all?[5]

NJ: So ideally you wanna play songs that are meta since they earn you the most points. But I’ve been playing with randoms,[6] so getting a meta song depends on what other people pick. But yeah, I just play the same song over and over again, from the time I wake up till the time I sleep. Also, I haven’t had to spend any money since I’m using saved resources/gems from over time.[7]

SGC: Do you even pay attention to it [the music] at this point? Or just do it automatically?


I’m pretty fucking braindead half the time I’m playing.

SGC: I believe it. Do you have background noise on or nah?

NJ: I’ve been watching b99 [Brooklyn Nine-Nine] again. Or I’m on X-box talking to my friends.

SGC: Nice, nice.[8]

[11/12/2019; 5:00 PM]


I apparently have a fan 😅

SGC: That’s amazing!

[11/12/2019; 6:51 PM]

NJ: So I’m pretty sure I’m gonna lose my top 3 spot because this guy is catching up relatively quick. Once he does, I can probably stop doing these 15-hour days and just aim for the top 10 like I wanted.

SGC: I’m still super impressed you kept this up as long as you did.

NJ: Tbh same.

[11/13/2019; 10:11 AM]

NJ: This person needs to mind their own business lol.

SGC: What’s “kzn”?

NJ: One of the meta songs. It’s not the best meta [song,] but it’s not the worst.

Also, free advertisement.

SGC: Amazing!

NJ: I got the idea from when I played with a random streamer.

SGC: Makes sense.[9]

[11/14/2019; 10:11 AM]

SGC: How’s your rank doing, Norris? Are you still doing the 15-hour days?

NJ: Yeah, but I fear once the weekend comes I’ll lose my [spot in the] top 3.

SGC: Weekends always mess rankings up.

NJ: Plus, some of the other top 10 players are playing with each other so their efficiency is better than mine by a long shot. And their teams are better than mine.[10] I low-key want t4 to take t3 from me so I can stop playing and focus on Pokémon [Pokémon: Sword and Shield] when it comes out. Until then, I’m gonna make it a bitch to take t3. I’m also pretty low on resources and don’t know if I should drop 100 [USD] to get more stars.

SGC: I know you hadn’t last I asked, but have you whaled at all yet?

NJ: Luckily no. But I’m pretty sure I’m guaranteed top 10 which was my original goal, so I’ll be happy with whatever the end results are.

SGC: That’s awesome. Gratz!

NJ: Wait, never mind. I’m only 2 mil[lion] points above t10 and the weekend is approaching and these people might go nuts because Roselia fans are wild lol. I should’ve picked a band with the least amount of fans.

SGC: It wouldn’t have been as satisfying though.

NJ: Nah, it would’ve just been as satisfying, especially knowing that I got the same rank with less effort.

SGC: Fair, fair.

[11/15/2019; 11:14 AM]

NJ: Wow. How dare they call me a whale?


[11/15/2019; 3:11 PM]

NJ: My lead has increased by a lot but weekend is approaching so anything can happen. I did make a new friend though which is pretty cool.

SGC: Very nice! How’d they find you? (Or you them?)

NJ: His Twitter handle is in his Bandori profile. I looked him up and he was talking about how he was struggling to stay above t10. I messaged him offering to form a small party since it would benefit the both of us. We might try to get this third guy to join since he was also a solo player. I’m honestly surprised us three solos made it this far. [pause] Damn it. Now I gotta worry about [one of these players] taking my t3.

[11/16/2019; 9:06 AM]

NJ: Random, but don’t ever drink energy drinks.

SGC: They’re awful. Haven’t had one in years.

NJ: I had one yesterday when tiering and the aftereffects were horrible. But then again maybe it’s because my current state of body shouldn’t be drinking them lol.[11]

SGC: Yeah, wouldn’t surprise me!


Only two and a half more days left to go. Maybe tonight or even tomorrow in the evening the rankings should be set in stone.

SGC: Ridiculous. What’s your name about? “New Staff”?

NJ: So when I was playing with randoms as “PKMN Trainer Sayo” [his previous name], people would troll me because they knew I was [in the top 10]. They would pick hella non-meta songs that are long and earn no points. Or they would just leave because they didn’t want to lose. So I changed it to “new staff” because that’s the name the game gives you when you first start to play.

SGC: Ahhh, clever clever.

NJ: But it doesn’t matter now because I’m playing with a clan now.

[11/17/2019; 1:33 AM]

NJ: This new t4 is annoying.

[11/17/2019; 8:46 AM]

SGC: ?

[11/17/2019; 10:37 AM]

NJ: The dude below me [t4] keeps playing and earning points even though I can out-pace him. But if I stop then I give him a slight chance to catch up to me. Normally I could’ve stopped playing [this event] because people understand their limits. But this person’s not listening to their limits

SGC: I see, I see.

[At this point I formally asked Joosakunwijit if I could use our conversation thus far and following for research, as well as ask him if he can somehow record himself playing the song he’s been playing.] [11/17/2019; 12:14]

NJ: Yeah, I can do that for you.

SGC: Amazing.

NJ: Surprisingly, that video is the ideal perfect run when soloing.

SGC: How so?

NJ: The song selection and my song actually getting picked.

SGC: Ah, right right. So everyone chooses a song they want to do and then it chooses one of those randomly?

NJ: Yeah, but if someone picks “random” then it chooses one of the other songs. Like the song I play is 1:35 long. Actually, 1:32 is the actual length.

SGC: So it makes it worth playing, pointwise, as opposed to other songs?

NJ: Yeah. That and some songs give better scores for whatever reason. If I play any other song, it adds either a second or up to even a minute.

SGC: Point efficiency at its finest then.

NJ: Maybe wait to write the paper when I’m confirmed top 3 lol. Unless you just want a POV from top 10. Like right now sucks because everyone keeps choosing the new song that just came out. It’s a 1:57 [long] song and I get about 400 points less than I normally would [playing a meta song].

SGC: I’m surprised they released a new song during the event? Or is it technically the event song?

NJ: It’s just a new song. This game is just doing what JP [the Japanese server/version of the game] does but with a one-year delay.

SGC: Gotcha.

[11/17/2019; 9:02 PM]

NJ: I think I might give up on t3. My body is too exhausted and I’m only up by 900k.

SGC: How many hours are left?

NJ: About 24 hours.

SGC: Ganbatte![12] You’ve kept up the 15-hour days?

NJ: Apparently I’ve been doing 16-hour days.

SGC: That’s real rough.

NJ: Being up by 900k is only like 8 hours of straight playing too.

SGC: “Only.” That’s still a ton in my book. I’ve never been that high late in an event. Even when I was in the top 3k or so, I could usually play for maybe 1-2 hours and jump anywhere from 500-1000 people in rank. The top is terrifying though.[13]

NJ: I say only because it’s not impossible to do, especially since they seem to earn more points than me.

SGC: Do they have a better team?

NJ: They’re just in a tier lobby.

[11/18/2019; 12:21 AM]

NJ: Yeah, he managed to get 300k points in 2 hours. It’s GG for me.[14]

[11/18/2019; 7:53 AM]

SGC: How’s it going? Where do the rankings stand?

[11/18/2019; 9:10 AM]

NJ: I’ve stopped playing so I’ll either end in 4th or 5th.

SGC: Wait you’re done playing?

[11/18/2019; 10:55 AM]

NJ: Yeah, my body is just way too exhausted and I’m down 400k. My goal of getting top 10 was met, going for t3 was just for the hell of it.

SGC: Gratz. That’s a ton. 

NJ: This will definitely be my last attempt at a top 10 title unless they make another tsugusayo event.[15] Then I’ll be going through this hell all over again. But I know what to expect and how to do things better. I could do that Re:Zero event but that will probably be a bloodbath.[16]

SGC: Regardless, I’m still impressed you did as well as you did. And yeah, I imagine collab[oration]s are especially bad in terms of ranking.

[11/20/2019; 11:30 AM]

SGC: What’d you end up ranking? t4?

NJ: Yeah, I ended up 4th. My body couldn’t do the last day stretch. It was physically and mentally shutting down on me.

SGC: I believe it.

NJ: I actually lost about 10 pounds too.

SGC: How’d you lose that much weight?? Were you not eating? Or was it stress-based?

NJ: I was eating little meals. There might have been a small amount of stress but nothing too big tbh. I think I was intaking only 600 calories a day.

SGC: 600 is nothing.

NJ: Yeah, you don’t get much calories from tuna/crackers and beef jerky lol. But the protein is there. I’m also lowkey thinking about [trying to rank] again when that Re:Zero collab comes out. 👀

SGC: You’re a glutton for punishment…

[End interview]

[1] Part of BanG Dream!’s novelty as a rhythm game lies in its corpus: anime cover songs.

[2] Aubrey Anable, Playing with Feelings: Video Games and Affect (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018), Ch. 3 (71-102). Anable complicates this idea, arguing that we partake in these games partially to have mastery over the schedule within the game itself and thus suggesting they work as a kind of proxy for our everyday working lives.

[3] I’ve also discussed the “free to play” (and “pay to do better than others”) element of mobile games elsewhere. See Stefan Greenfield-Casas, “Between Worlds: Musical Allegory in Final Fantasy X” (MM Report, The University of Texas at Austin, 2017), 33-34.

[4] As our conversation took place over the course of a week, I try the best I can to note when new sets of messages were sent. Timestamps are written in the MM/DD/YYYY format and are noted in CST (the time zone in which Joosakunwijit  was playing).

[5] Whale in its adjectival form (“to whale”) means to spend a vast amount of money on something. Originally used in casinos to designate big-spenders, it has been taken up by mobile game players as a way of noting when players spend vast amounts of money on a game, generally in order to rank in an event (as is the case for Joosakunwijit here), or to try and pull a choice card or item from a randomized in-game gacha machine. See n16 below.

[6] Random players across the global server of the game.

[7] Here, Joosakunwijit notes his strategy of saving materials and items that allow him to play for longer than the allotted time normally would allow.

[8] As is apparent in the embedded video below, even though Joosakunwijit is “braindead” for most of the day and attending to other things as well, he still makes perfect or almost perfect runs of the songs he plays.

[9] Here, Joosakunwijit used his platform as a top 10 player to advertise one of his friend’s Twitch channels by changing his username and in-game message to direct attention to her channel.

[10] Teams here refers to the virtual band members players collect (in the form of virtual cards) in order to boost their scores per the effect of each respective card’s ability.

[11] This is the first point in the conversation Joosakunwijit mentions that the event is starting to physically affect him.

[12] 頑張って. A Japanese term meaning “do your best” or “good luck.”

[13] I should note that my experience is relegated to other mobile games, most prominently in the now defunct Ayakashi: Ghost Guild and Kingdom Hearts Union χ [Cross].

[14] GG as an abbreviation for “good game.”

[15] Tsugusayo relates to a coupling of two of the characters within the game: Hazawa “Tsugu” Tsugumi (the keyboardist of the in-game band Afterglow) and Hikawa Sayo (the guitarist of the in-game band Roselia). Joosakunwijit’s original in-game name, “PKMN Trainer Sayo,” is in reference to the latter.

[16] Re:Zero is a popular novel series originally released in 2012 with an anime adaptation that was released in 2016. In the context of this upcoming event, the BanG Dream! characters are dressed in the attire of some of the characters from Re:Zero.

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