Please note: All times in the schedule are London time
Day 1: 21st April
|Session 1 – Instruments and Cultures
Chair: Andra Ivănescu
The Legend of Zelda series (Nintendo, 1986-2017) is a frequent subject for Ludomusicology, not only because of its rich musical legacy and its canonical position among the history of videogames, but particularly because of its seamless and groundbreaking use of music as a ludic element. Indeed, ever since the franchise’s beginnings, music has been granted a prominent role in the Zelda universe. Such role has been maintained and improved across subsequent releases, and therefore consolidated as an essential element to the so-called “Zelda formula”.
Music is so deeply interwoven into the series’ core that scholars such as Medina Gray (2014), Lind (2016), and Summers (2021), have often written about the different functions of music and means of music-making in Ocarina of Time (Nintendo, 1998) or Skyward Sword (Nintendo, 2011), but little attention has been paid to the role of musical instruments within the franchise’s soundtrack and lore. Musical instruments in The Legend of Zelda often appear as powerful objects imbued with magical abilities, able to alter the physical and spiritual state of people and beasts alike, transform night into day, and even control the flow of time.
Thus, this paper aims to examine the complex negotiations between realism and fantasy underlying the various representations and functions of musical instruments in the Zelda series, focusing on those depicted in Link’s Awakening (Nintendo, 1993). Drawing from Organology and Musical Iconography, a cataloguing card model inspired by the proposal of the Royal College of Music from London has been applied, serving as a methodological basis for studying how musical instruments are reconfigured in the Zelda series, supporting its narrative, and shaping its mythology.
China’s contemporary game industry presents a “blowout” type of development, its game production has gradually been established an unique game style – Xianxia games（仙侠游戏）, such as XuanYuan Sword 3（《轩辕剑3》,PC), Chinese Paladin 3（《仙剑奇侠传3》,PC) and GloryofKings（《王者荣耀》,Mobile game）.Xianxia game is based on Chinese Xianxia novels, the term of ‘Xianxia’ focuses on magic martial arts moves rather than the realistic cold weapons. The music composition of Chinese Xianxia games usually learn from the music style of Chinese martial arts movies or TV series, by using the combination of the colorful Chinese folk musical instruments, Western orchestral music and electronic music as the support, to highlight the “JiangHu（江湖）”scene. The original meaning of “JiangHu” refers to vast rivers and lakes, which later derived the meaning of “the world” and has nothing to do with rivers and lakes, but metaphorically refers to an alluvial underworld of hucksters and heroes beyond the reach of the imperial government. The soundtrack of Xianxia games expresses an open-minded view on life and worldview through Chinese traditional musical instruments, implies broad Chinese traditional cultural thoughts, and uses the unique timbre and techniques of Chinese national musical instruments to cooperate with the game content to show the artistic conception in Chinese ancient aesthetic thoughts. Based on case studies of recent Xianxia games, this paper explores how the application of Chinese traditional musical instruments in different scenes of Xianxia games and the embodiment of different techniques of Chinese traditional musical instruments in different musical emotions, to make the unique “Jianghu”scene.
In the last couple of years, southeast Asian cultures started permeating the global popular culture through different medias, including video games. One specific aspect, the Java-Balinese gamelan music, on the other hand, has been present since at least the early 1990s, in turn leading a generation of international gamers into their first exposition to this musical culture. Despite this, there exists only a handful of ludomusicologcal articles covering this theme.
This paper aims to provide a short introduction and discussion into how Java-Balinese gamelan as an ensemble (or parts of it as an instrument) and as a musical culture in video games and consists of three main parts. The first part is a discussion into the early uses of gamelan between 1990 and 2010 through five games with musical pieces using gamelan instruments or pieces inspired by its musical style. The second part includes a very short and condensed explanation of gamelan, mainly its spread into the US and Japan, its aesthetical understanding and its development in the late 20th and early 21st century. The last part focuses on three games with differing usages of gamelan music and discussion points. In Hotline Miami 2, gamelan was equated with an idyllic-tropical-exotic setting, whilst Civilization V and VI frames gamelan as a national culture whilst interpreting its original pieces under western musical perspectives. The last example Kena: Bridge of Spirits exemplifies a change of paradigm in which game composers and balinese gamelan groups worked together on composing the game’s music.
|Session 2 – Technologies of Potential
Chair: Raymond Sookram
The relationship between chess and music has been a topic of discussion for many centuries. It culminates in personalities that show deep (cultural) knowledge or highly rated performances in both domains (André Danican Philidor, Johann Nepomuk Mälzel, Sergey Prokofev, Arnold Schoenberg among many others) or rhetoric stylizations of players (e.g. Magnus Carlsen as the “Mozart of Chess”). In how far the two domains are separated or share the same faculties and cognitive resources is an ongoing discussion until today (Burgoyne et al. 2019).
This study focuses on
a) the transformational processes chess has run through during the last years under high adjustment pressure of pandemic measures restricting mobility like lockdowns. While the most used online platforms for playing chess were launched 5-15 years before the appearance of Covid-19, the political measures fghting the pandemic worked as a catalysator for a process that started with the appearance of the frst chess programs and computers in the 1950s: the so-called ‘digitalization’ of chess. During this process, the game recently experienced different waves of popularization by e.g. the Netfix series “The Queen’s Gambit” from 2020, but also new possibilities by the advance of digital infrastructure affording (i) a signifcantly denser media coverage of chess events, (ii) more intimate insights into professional players lives via social media and streaming platforms, (iii) new online versions of chess like (hyper-)bullet games, banter-blitz, hand and brain or kung fu chess (real-time chess).
b) the implementation of music and sound in professional tournaments (online and on-site events) that took place during this transformation, where music played over headphones has been used to isolate players from their surrounding environment (a practice known e.g. from Chess Boxing).
c) music as a ‘technology of the self’ (DeNora 2000, Foucault 1988) in professional as well as amateur (everyday) practices of playing chess.
The study is based on
d) qualitative analysis of (i) scientifc literature in the feld of ‘chess and music’ as well as on psychological coping mechanisms under contemporary pandemic pressure, (ii) news paper and magazine articles, blogs, online forums and streams covering chess events or contemporary developments in chess practices.
e) qualitative and quantitative analysis of a survey conducted online on the platforms of chess.com, lichess.org and chess24.com between February 15 and March 15 2022.
On March 1st, 2020, the 8-Bit Big Band performed at a sold-out concert in Boston’s Berklee Performance Center. The evening’s program, however, did not include the work of Duke Ellington or Count Basie. The performance involved a different kind of classic: video game music. In the recent decade, contemporary jazz musicians are expanding the art form’s canonical possibilities. Artists including the 8-Bit Big Band, insaneintherainmusic, and The Consouls are introducing video game music to the creative arena of jazz performance as a means for extemporization, reinterpretation, and expression.
The intersection of game sound and jazz performance invites new questions: What games do these artists source? How does engaging with video game music influence the relationship between jazz musicians and their audiences? Furthermore, what new perspectives on the improvisatory nature of video game music manifest from examining the ontology of jazz standards? I argue that the output of the aforementioned artists illuminates how play in jazz performance and gameplay affords a uniquely embodied sonic experience of improvisation, interaction, and expression.
This cross-disciplinary research draws on a wide range of rich perspectives in jazz studies and ludomusicology. Notably, work by Roger Moseley, Ted Gioia, Ingrid Monson, Karen Cook, Isabella van Elferen, and Andrew Kania. Jazz music remains largely absent from ludomusicological discourse. The growing number of contemporary jazz musicians who amalgamate improvisation with video game music beckons the growing need for such an inquiry into the emerging Great Video Game Songbook.
‘Small, cute and desirable’ and ‘designed purely to play games’ (Nintendo n.d.), the GameCube (codenamed Dolphin) is often described as being toy-like or even having a ‘Fisher-Price’ aesthetic (Kelly 2021; Robinson 2021). While this can be attributed, in part, to the industrial design of the device with its bright colours and carrying handle, this paper highlights the role of sound in defining the playful character of Nintendo’s console. However, rather than concentrating on in-game music or sound effects as is typical in platform studies (e.g. Montfort and Bogost 2009; Altice 2015), here we focus on the sounds that accompany the GameCube’s boot or startup sequence. The rationale for this is threefold:
First, and most broadly, while platform studies reminds us that the sounds of particular games can be said to be enabled, afforded or shaped by the hardware and software constituents that comprise a platform, surely there can be no more readily identifiable sonic fingerprint of a platform than the startup sequence that plays each and every time the device is powered up – regardless of the game subsequently played. Indeed, regardless of whether a game is subsequently played. While we might easily overlook these startup chimes as mere filler to cover the booting, testing and tuning-up of the system’s components, these melodies and effects play an essential role in performing the overarching identity of a platform.
Second, with regard to the GameCube specifically, I argue that it is the startup sounds, more than the visuals that accompany the system’s boot-up, that serve to communicate the accessible, toy-like aesthetic and qualities of the platform. This is achieved partly through composition and sound design, but also through the transformation of the startup sequence into a ludic space in which ‘hidden’ sonic variations may be revealed through the manipulation of the GameCube’s controllers. In this way, the platform becomes playful, if not playable, from the moment it is switched on.
Third, we turn our attentions to a rather better-hidden, and altogether more downtempo, audio Easter Egg. As we play with the apparently innocuous ambience that underscores the GameCube’s system settings menu, an unexpected connection is made to Nintendo’s short-lived Famicom Disk System peripheral (1986) and its own startup theme. This paper reflects on what this tells us about Nintendo’s reverence for its heritage, the location of the GameCube within a corporate/technological/gameplay continuum, and perhaps even an attempt to recuperate past missteps.
The paper concludes by considering the ‘afterlife’ (Guins 2014) of the GameCube startup sequence and the ways in which players/hackers have further transformed it into a site for audiovisual experimentation. By manipulating and deliberately corrupting the system’s BIOS in order to create kaleidoscopic arrangements of glitches, yet more ludic possibilities are created as the elements comprising the identity of the platform are rendered malleable and reconfigurable through creative exploration and play.
|Keynote Session – Professor Karen M. Cook
Chair: Michiel Kamp
|Session 3 – Identities in Play
Chair: George Reid
Written by Robert Kurvitz and developed by ZA/UM, the 2019 video game Disco Elysium puts the player in the role of an unnamed detective on a murder case in the fictional city of Revachol. Using the mechanics of a “detective RPG (role-playing game)”, the player character must navigate and interact with locals of the decaying urban borough of Martinaise, discovering a wide array of socioeconomic conflicts that plague the borough’s residents. Instead of interacting through physical conflict like many other role-playing games however, the player must use the statistics of their character’s skills and attributes to overcome complex social conflicts between themselves and the NPCs (non-player characters) they interact with, as well as different facets of the player character’s own psyche. Through these interactions, the player struggles and debates through various political ideologies. Much of the music, composed by the British rock band Sea Power, reflects the ideologies presented throughout the game. This presentation will look at how several music tracks and other game sounds symbolise aspects of your psyche as the player character, how you perceive the history and structure of the world around you, and how you interact with various political ideologies or NPC factions within the game world. Finally, using the Lacanian psychoanalytic concept of “the big other”, I will discuss how Disco Elysium is able to sonically represent its own metamodern critique of sociopolitical structures, ideologies, and social (dis)order through its original soundtrack.
As with many issues related to identity, the LGBTQ+ community, and video games, designers representing drag performers within games and related media often lean heavily on negative stereotypes and caricatures. Other times, parts of the community are not represented at all. For instance, there are relatively few representations of drag performers within the canon video games, and in the ones that do include drag performers, such as Undertale’s Mettaton, they are often bosses to fight or enemies to avoid. With the recent release of a new mobile game based on the hit TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, the potential for positive (sonic) representations of drag performers in video games is steadily increasing.
Further, some pioneers of “digital drag” have begun in recent years to live stream their shows and other content over Twitch, mixing music, video games, and regular staples of drag performance, such as lip-synced performances of popular music. In February 2020, Twitch even invested in various drag performers and encouraged the production of more drag content on the platform through its Drag Community Development Program. In this space, performers combine high camp drag with visual and sonic elements of video games to provide a more visible and audible platform to the gaymer community.
In this chapter, I will explore the various ways in which drag personas are represented sonically in video games, and I will examine the various points of exchange between live and live-streamed drag performance, video game music and sound, and representation of drag in other media (especially TV and online video).
The study of trans experiences in game studies has often centered on the emergence of trans creators, issues of representation, and the inclusion of trans narratives in games. Some game studies narratives frame trans creators as needing to repurpose games to include their own experience. While this is true, the mechanics and formal elements of games already allow trans narratives to belong, but this line of inquiry has not been fully explored since trans experiences and game theory has not yet been codified as a mainstream method of game studies. What this means is that trans narratives are often framed as ludic interlopers rather an option as natural as any other mainstream narrative. In this paper, I will demonstrate how two trans creators use sound in video games to remediate gender dysphoria and other trans experiences. Drawing from sound theory, theories of play, and rhetorical listening, I argue that games’ extant ability to reconstruct realities allows trans creators to narrate their experiences. I also assert that the study of how game sound works has excluded its ability to remediate trans experiences, which has resulted in a deficit in games scholarship, especially in definitions of realism. In his article, Beyond Play, Thomas Malaby defines games as “semi bounded arenas that are relatively separable from everyday life, and what is at stake in them can range from very little to the entirety of one’s material, social, and cultural capital” (96) and that they are “activities that can accommodate any number and kind of stakes and are not intrinsically consequence free or, therefore, separable from everyday experience” (98). Games have the capacity to extend beyond the container of the virtual and therefore are an effective narrative medium to learn about and embody ours and others’ experiences. Furthermore, games complicate concepts of reality, realism, and realistic. By “reality”, I speak of the contextual, lived experiences of people. “Realism” is the representation of lived realities and “realistic” is the symbolic representation of something that appears real but is not necessarily a representation of realism. My definition of realism in games is drawn from film theorists such as Jean-Luc Comoli and Sergei Eisenstein. However, the ergodic nature of games calls for an additional consideration: action. In Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, Alexander Galloway says that, Any game that depicts the real world must grapple with this question of action. In this way, realism in gaming is fundamentally a process of revisiting the material substrate of the medium and establishing correspondences with specific activities existent in the social reality of the gamer (84). Through action, the player navigates the game space and is continuously asked to call upon previous in-game experiences while relating to past ludic experiences and their lived experiences in the material world. The trifecta of these realities informs player decisions and their response to the content in the game world. Games, unlike film, require nontrivial effort to continue the progress of the narrative and it is that relationship to the effort that provides an extra dimension of realism. Therefore, the player can interact with the game space in ways that the creators may not have anticipated, which deepens our understanding of games and their associated realities.
|Social Evening at The Packhorse, Egham Hill
Day 2: 22nd April
|Session 4 – Player Cultures
Chair: Alexander Espeseth
The novelty effect has not yet worn off for virtual reality headsets, although market penetration is increasing with the efforts of Facebook/Meta and others to help VR across the technology acceptance chasm. The expectations of novice VR users frequently align with the broader sociotechnical imaginaries of VR: they anticipate new, magical experiences and interactions within their headsets. Sometimes, indeed, they find these, but VR in its current stage of development does not always facilitate this. As VR settles into their everyday media ecosystems, patterns of usage reveal the frictions and affordances of the technology and the content currently available.
This paper will focus on the perceptions of musical experience in VR, drawing on a 6-month ethnographic study of 60 UK young people between the ages of 16-30 using Oculus Quest 2 headsets. Following DeNora’s(2000) well-known schema of analysis of music in everyday life, I will explore the ways in which a focus on the musical dimensions of VR experience reveals scope for its role in affective regulation and expression, self-modulation, embodied awareness, and social intimacy and organisation. Participants’ experiences indeed exhibit moments of the virtual ‘magic’ that they seek, and their identification of its absences signal desire for the integration of more of the ‘magical’ into their everyday experience– thus, I will argue, signalling some of the politics of the musical dimensions of VR’s sociotechnical imaginaries.
This proposal examines the carnival party organised by Brazilian GTA RolePlay modding server (I refer to that specific modality here as GTA RP) Cidade Alta in February 2021, sponsored by brands such as Tinder, Engov and Trident. Cidade Alta is one of the most prominent Brazilian GTA RP servers and it represents here a starting point to develop the idea of a gaming scene, drawing on Will Straw’s concept of scenes and the connection between play and culture proposed by Huizinga. In Brazil, although not officially recognised by Rockstar Games, GTA RPs function in huge capacities, attracting thousands of viewers on Twitch, and generating profit by establishing advertising partnerships with big brands. In order to situate GTA RPs, the presentation intends to draw from Laukkanen’s modding scenes and Messias’ idea of “gambiarra” as a strategy to adapt technology in favour or Brazilian gamer’s interests. In 2021, a year in which carnival in Brazil was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Cidade Alta accomplished the first GTA RP’s carnival, bringing in-game concerts by artists such as Monobloco, Leo Santtana and Luísa Sonza. This research analyses screen captures collected on Twitch during the event; journalistic accounts on the theme published on online media; and the virtual ethnography conducted by journalist Matheus Fernandes, published on Start UOL in order to define what a gamer scene is.
My encounter with this year’s conference theme of ‘magical interaction’ conjured that certain something that unfolds for myself, and countless others, as chiptune plays. I reminisced about chipmusic vitalising the exhilarating geometries of in-game worlds. I recalled how chip-musicking became a means of self-expression. I reflected on what continues to draw me to the resonances of chip-sounds in my ludomusicality, as I play with chiptune and chiptune plays with me (Moseley 2016, pp. 1-7). For me, that magical something about chiptune is timbre.
Integral to shaping our love of music but frustratingly ungraspable, timbre is key to the experience of chiptune’s vibrancy – its life (cf. Van Elferen 2020, pp. 2-4, 171). It’s the immediacy of timbre in chiptune that strikes and ‘sticks’ to the hearts and minds of fans (cf. Thompson and Biddle 2013, p. 5-11, 17; cf. Ahmed 2010, pp. 29-34). Sounds lovingly described as “raw”, “glitched”, “imperfect”, and “broken” can so profoundly ignite our memories, imaginaries, and stir bodily intensities. And in all strands of chip-musicking, such timbral qualities are the ‘consistent distinctiveness’ anchoring the identity of chiptune throughout its heterogeneous remediation (Hodkinson 2002, p. 30-34).
Yet there remains a marked absence of research into the agency of timbre in chiptune and, more broadly, chiptune in play (cf. Fritsch and Summers 2021, pp. 8-11). How, exactly, do chiptune’s timbral qualities engender the responses that keep us coming back for more? Pursuing this enquiry through a concept I term ‘timbral enchantment’, my paper analyses chip-musicking through a ludomusicological adaptation of Jane Bennett’s vital materialism (2010, i-xii), and Isabella van Elferen’s theorisation of timbre as vibrant matter (2020, pp. 133-175). Through this interdisciplinary lens I will not only explore the vectors of chip-musical performativity, but also highlight the prominence of timbre in all ludomusical contexts.
|Session 5 – Hades
Chair: Michael Austin
After entering the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a palpable upward shift toward consuming stories of familial catharsis and exploring the multi-cultural aspects between life and death. The modern retelling of the Ancient Greek myth of the kidnapping of Persephone, a goddess of Spring who was the daughter of Demeter (goddess of harvest) is one such popular story that embodies both topics. In 2020, Supergiant Games released Hades in 2020 to much acclaim and success, with their protagonist being Zagreus, the heir and son of Hades (god of the dead and King of the Underworld) attempting to escape the Underworld to find his mother. This paper will initially explore how the Hades soundtrack marries the dichotomy between Ancient Greek/Mediterranean style music with metal, using orchestral sound and voice to blend the two at key moments in the game’s narrative. As well as embodying the narrative’s themes on life and death, the soundtrack also exemplifies the themes surrounding dysfunctional family relations, coming to terms with one’s inescapable fate… and healing family divides to make a better future for yourself.
Darren Korb’s soundtrack for Supergiant Games’ Hades was nominated by both BAFTA and The Game Awards for best music/soundtrack awards. From listening to the music in isolation it would be simple to see why in and of its pure musical conception and execution, but what this paper argues is that the true power behind Korb’s work lies in its interactivity with the game’s mythological setting and narrative, explored in three facets:
Firstly, the role of instrumentation and compositional technique will be examined, exploring how Korb uses a combination of soundworlds: traditional instruments from around the Aegean, and modern soundworlds of rock and sci-fi, to support the artistic direction of Hades as a game set simultaneously in ancient mythology whilst remaining strangely out of time.
Secondly, how the specific example of Orpheus — perhaps mythology’s most famous bard — and Eurydice’s story within the game is supported by their songs, and their synthesis into a duet between the two characters; how they act as a narrative foil to the player character through their songs, and how their musical place within the game interacts with the various tellings of their myth.
Finally, there will be a discussion of the use of wider soundtrack to support the gameplay loop and the theme attempting (and often failing) to ascend out of Hades. Primarily this will involve an examination of the use of the “No Escape” leitmotif, and how its melody, instrumentation, and implementation in-game enforces a sense of hopelessness and futility in the escape effort, simultaneously challenging the player to defiantly succeed in their mission.
One of the most successful and unusual moments in Supergiant Games’s rogue-like video game Hades (2020) is a strikingly ludomusical one. During one of the player’s many attempts to guide the protagonist, Zagreus, out of the underworld, the player enters a chamber, where, instead of the threatening enemies and urgent music that the player has by now come to expect, a voice sings a forlorn song. This song is Eurydice’s. Retellings of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice have appeared in video games before Hades, but this is strikingly different: in The Battle of Olympus(1988), based loosely on the myth, places Eurydice (renamed Helene) as the damsel in a standard damsel-in-distress narrative; in Terry Cavanagh’s philosophical flash platformer Don’t Look Back(2009),Orpheus’s quest (and thus Eurydice herself)ultimately reveals itself as a psychological journey within the imagination of a would-be Orpheus. Hades is novel among games for centering not just Eurydice but musicality itself, as Eurydice’s song (performed by Ashley Barrett) has a visceral effect in the game. Hades rewards players for quick decision-making, rapid reflexes, and pattern recognition, but many players, as evidenced from comments to the song on YouTube and elsewhere, put down their controller on first hearing Eurydice’s song. Eurydice’s voice thus has a power traditionally ascribed to Orpheus’s voice—in interrupting the ludic rhythm of the game, it brings the player to a state of rest and rapt attention.
In giving this to music to Eurydice, the game playfully (and therefore effectively)makes the player examine their own relationship to this myth and the gendered dynamics that structure it, establishing Eurydice (to borrow a phrase from Carolyn Abbate) as an authorial voice (Abbate 1993228).In my paper, I propose to further explore Hades’s retelling of myth, seeing this ludomusical moment as exemplary for the game as a whole. For instance, the game is notable for the racial diversity of its characters—Eurydice herself is a Black woman. Eurydice’s voice ultimately enacts the power ascribed to Orpheus’s song, showing the transformative power that both myth and music can have for beliefs and ideas.
|Keynote Session – Borislav Slavov
Chair: Tim Summers
|Session 6 – Gods and Monsters
Chair: Lidia López Gómez
In the upcoming game “Aztech Forgotten Gods” developed by Mexican studio Lienzo, one of the slogans used to promote it says “What if the American continent was never conquered and the Great Aztec empire took off and continued growing well into the future?”. This question asks thus an imagined future from an imagined past. Penix-Tadsen (2012) comments that video games “respond to existing notions of culture, serving either to reify or challenge their dominance depending on how such notions are activated in the game realm” (p. 178). What existing notions are activated in Aztech Forgotten Gods? During the post-revolutionary period in Mexico, the national project undertook the enterprise to unify the national identity with the “mestizaje” idea (Alonso 2008, p. 46). Among musicians and composers, the response was the nationalist period. Madrid (2021) points out that the music of Carlos Chávez (nationalist composer) is “a specific articulation of imaginaries of past and future in dialog” (p. 14).
The present paper does not propose establishing continuity from Carlos Chávez to the music from Aztech Forgotten Gods. Instead, its purpose is to observe how similar ideas, the representation of a past and future founded in prehispanic cultures, produced these cultural products. In the case of the nationalist composers, indigenous melodies and prehispanic instruments are combined with the orchestra and modernist languages. In turn, the music from Aztech Forgotten Gods uses indigenous flutes in combination with jaguar roars over rock music. Even though with different musical styles, the music from Aztech Forgotten Gods responds to similar cultural notions to those of the nationalist composers.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the proliferation of various “Wagnerisms”,
cultural movements influenced by the music dramas of Richard Wagner, that had
powerful influence over modernist developments in music, literature, the visual arts,
architecture, politics, cinema, and more. This presentation briefly explores the history
and future possibilities of Wagnerism applied to game design. We will first consider the
superficial qualities of fantasy RPG gaming, observing how the genre’s Tolkienist tropes
mixed with lush sentimental soundtracks reveal an ancestry in Wagner’s operas. Then,
we will examine the genre’s pre-history, examining Dungeons & Dragons’ roots in
Prussian kriegspiel (wargame) and post-psychoanalytic rollenspiel (role-play), both of
which relate to aspects of Wagner’s ideology and music. We will explore the historical
relation between psychoanalytic theories of phantasy and music through rollenspiel’s
connection to Wagner-inspired psychologies–most notably, Jung employs Wagner’s
leitmotifs in an early definition of his concept of a mental “complex”, later famously taken
up by Freud. Through this lens we will explore the deeper relations between music and
action essential to the process of interactive scoring, as mediated by the “mickey-
mousing” of film scores, and cartoons in particular, a device arguably invented by
Wagner. Finally, following Levi-Strauss’ claim that “we must recognize in Wagner the
undeniable father of the structural analysis of myth,” concrete examples demonstrating
the relation between theory and practice will be drawn from the author’s Soft Valkyrie,
an unabridged digital arrangement of Wagner’s opera Die Walküre that (to use Levi-
Strauss’ language) “cooks” a new orchestration from the “raw” piano reduction, to
situate the piece within a mythic frame shared with D&D, Zelda, Final Fantasy, The
Eldin Ring, etc.
The Legend of Zelda games are not inherently themed around religion,
however there are undercurrents of a religious nature present throughout the
franchise. These take the form of magical rituals which call upon goddesses, sages,
and divine power, the earliest example being the ‘bible’ item in the original
installment of the franchise (Nintendo 1986), which was translated to ‘spell book’ in
the English edition. Magic within the games is regularly seen to be harnessed by the
player through musical performance. This article will explore the way in which rituals
and prayer within the Hylian religion; one of magic and manipulation of the world, are
presented by the playing of musical instruments. There are a number of ‘divine
instruments’, such as the Ocarina of Time, the Wind Waker, and the Goddess Harp,
the latter of which is an instrument regularly seen and heard in games ‘to represent
religious gatherings and actions’ (Sayce 2015, p.24).
Focusing on the use of musical instruments within the titles; Ocarina of Time
(Nintendo 1998), Wind Waker (Nintendo 2002), and Skyward Sword (Nintendo
2011), it becomes clear that musical performances serve two primary functions;
music as prayer, and music as magic/manipulation. The former occurs in instances
of NPC (non-playable-character) musical performance, whilst the latter takes place
when the player character, Link, is the one performing these musical rituals to
harness divine power. The outcome of this investigation shows that through the
musical involvement afforded to the player by these divine instruments, the player
takes on the role of a ‘participant’ (Morley 2009, p.165) within Hylian religious
performances through musical interaction, as a means to interact with and
manipulate the environment in order to progress.
| Performance Session, Windsor Auditorium
Nina Whiteman – Foley Island
This joint paper presents two approaches to employing the Soundbrenner digital metronomes in the composition and performance of concert works with game-like interactions. We consider how such devices might shape notions of group-object interaction, failure and performativity. hhiiddeennvvoorrttiicceess (2022), composed by Luke Nickel for pianist Zubin Kanga, uses five Soundbrenner Core devices on the pianist’s arms and inside the piano. Their tempi are matched to the speeds of a network of rollercoasters shown on-screen. The constantly changing tempi between the hands creates a game of prediction and accuracy – the vertiginous accelerandi are almost impossible for a human performer to render completely accurately. Nickel’s work explores this gap between the computer-driven ideal, and
the technologically-extended performer in a situation that makes similar demands on the performer as video games requiring a high degree of skill and accuracy. Mensura (2022) is a piece for open ensemble written by Mark Dyer for CoMA Manchester. Each performer measures their own heart rate and sends this tempo to a Soundbrenner Pulse device worn by another performer, creating a type of networked game. As well as employing various group breathing and music-making exercises to steer, synchronize and disrupt player heart rates and the resulting metric polyphony, the piece draws upon aspects of medieval music to create a theatrical sonic world. We will draw upon ethnographic documentation of the creative process of these works and contextualize this within the new interdisciplinary virtuosity of performers, the ontology of electronic instruments and models of gaming interactivity.
Day 3: 23rd April
|Session 7 – Transmediality
Chair: James Ellis
Transmedia narratives, defined as “a story that expands across many media and communication platforms” (Scolari, 2013), have become the standard way of understanding audiovisual creations, especially since the rise of collaborative platforms, such as YouTube. For this presentation, I consider these narratives in an extended way, examining how the aesthetics of a specific format can be applied to another and then creating a new autonomous product.
Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding (2019) creates a turning point in transmedia narratives by imbuing the video game with music video aesthetics. Kojima uses preexisting music in key locations of the game, where the action halts. There are no surrounding dangers at that time, and the player interacts with music, camera movements and landscape, becoming the protagonist and architect of what I call a “dynamic music video”–following Collins’ definition of “dynamic music” (2008, 139).
After experiencing the game, prosumers not only searched the preexistent music video in YouTube –which boosted its views since the premiere of the game–, but also shared their playthrough videos, each of them resulting in a different, personal music video of the same song.
This study will analyze the musical transmedia narratives created from Death Stranding, both regarding the gameplay experience and the user-generated content, attending to their bidirectional motion: the one that converts the players’ experience in a music video inserted in a videogame, and the one that converts the video game in an autonomous music video.
League of Legends (LOL) is a video game that has an incredibly large universe, with more than 150 characters with different backstories, abilities, and powers, that create a magical universe through the relationships between characters and their own mythology. The game was developed by Riot Games in 2009 and it belongs to the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre. The transmedia storytelling expansion across different platforms is one of its most relevant characteristics of this game, especially regarding to music videos. Besides, music is currently presented as an element to unify gamers across the word (FebrellColl, 2020). In this sense, popular music and music videos are relevant concepts to improve the promotion of the cultural product (Jeffery, 2017). Thus, the main aim of this paper is to know how LOL expands its narrative across the official music videos launched by LOL in YouTube. To that end, firstly we will describe the formal characteristics of the music videos, and secondly, we will apply to them the methodology of the seven principles of transmedia storytelling proposed by Jenkins (2010). In general terms, not only is it observed how the magical realm and the incredible backstories of the game are expanded through music videos, but also how famous bands like Imagine Dragons, Against The Current or 2WEI are contributing to the expansion of this universe.
Since its release in 2009, League of Legends has steadily grown its presence and fanbase around the globe. Over the years, the popularity of the video game has afforded the creation of its own subculture, which was further potentiated when making the leap into esports. Since then, the game has progressively expanded its area of influence towards music and, more recently, television.
In November 2021, Neflix launched Arcane, a TV series based on Riot Game’s popular video game. The nine episodes of the show portray the conflict between the citizens of Piltover, a progressist metropolis with revolutionary technologies, and the marginalized inhabitants from the underground city of Zaun. The main characters of the show, as well as the city names and depicted objects, respond to a preexistent narrative of the game, without this excluding unfamiliar viewers.
There are several strategies selected by League of Legends’ developers to appeal to a wider audience, beyond regular users. Riot Music, the group in charge of music and sound design at Riot Games, selected several pop bands and artists to create the show’s original soundtrack, bringing its fantastic world closer to spectators through recognizable sound. As DeNora (2000) underlines, music works as an artefact of memory and its constitution, bringing familiarity to the listener when associated with past experience. The most representative case in this approach between opposites was the billboard success Enemy, by Imagine Dragons.
In this paper, I explore the intersection between Arcane’s universe and the music industry to which Riot Games has contributed for the past decade. Furthermore, I highlight the reception of the series among and beyond its gamer audience, in relation to the show’s music proposal, and the socialization processes that it has afforded for global viewers.
|Session 8 – Cultural Representation
Chair: Milly Gunn
Rather than older, overly simplified, colonial (Mukherjee 2017) and harmful representations of indigenous cultures in cultural texts, more recent productions tend to depict these cultures in more affirmative light, focusing on a somehow deeper understanding of them. Those productions often rely on visual and textual references, like clothing, choreography, or language, but despite the consultations, traditional music is missing, and the religions they present are uniformised and superficial (Kalvig 2020, Fonneland 2020). TheSkabma – Snowfallgame, while belonging to this positive folklorism trend, is an exception. The main occurring paraphernalia is the Saami drum, Goavaddis, and the magic the main character has is used by drumming. The performative character of the music is quite rare in video games (Collins 2008, Summers 2016). Putting so much gravity on this element is connected with Saami tradition (Laiti et al. 2020). InSkabma,Saami culture is taken very seriously, without deformation coming from making it alike other more known cultures (especially Siberian shamanism). In European Christian and colonial tradition, the Saami people are considered to be the witchcraft nation. They are stereotypically demonised and misunderstood. In reality, however, their beliefs focused simply on sustaining a connection with nature (Fonneland and Äikäs 2020, Kasten 1989, Hagen 2006). In my presentation, I will show how music inSkabmais an essential part of worldbuilding in the field ofmythos. The game introduces players to a more profound understanding of actual culture through virtual imaginarium by using original elements in a fantastic yet uncompromising way.
The idea of the Celtic, and its relationship with the historic and mythological, in multimedia, is investigated by Simon Nugent as a term that ‘connotes a distinct culture and race of people, primarily located in Ireland and Scotland, but also in Cornwall, Galicia, Brittany, and Wales’; however, the Celtic often tends to be used as an example of northern medievalisms to fetishize lost histories, rather than explicitly relate to any Celtic region. Whereas Nugent identifies the primary focus of celticisms to be that of Scottish and Irish heritage, the Welsh accent has been used in several video games to characterise the mythological Celtic and the magical.
Whilst Welsh voices are used consistently within Western film and television to denote Wales, across diverse multimedia spaces like Star Trek: Discovery (d. Fuller & Kurtzman, 2017) and The Last Kingdom (BBC & Netflix, 2015), they are used in video games to suggest the magical or the ‘other’. This paper will consider how these Welsh voicesare used in the soundscape to signify medieval, mythological, and magical environments and characters, within game worlds, including the localisations of Japanese RPGs Ni No Kuni (Level-5, 2013) and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Monolith Soft, 2017).
In 2013, game developer Jagex released a “new” title: Old School RuneScape (OSRS). Based on a 2007 backup of their award-winning MMORPG RuneScape, OSRS aimed to capitalise on feelings of nostalgia amongst current and former players. Since it’s release, the game has released content based on the modern RuneScape game alongside original content designed to fit within the “retro” OSRS game. Similarly, music within OSRS can be seen as a combination of restored 2007 music, “unmastered” music from RuneScape and new music for OSRS content. The resulting mixture of inspirations and approaches poses challenges to the concept of nostalgia within the OSRS soundtrack.
Technical limitations present from 2003-2007 placed barriers between musicians and composition in the original RuneScape game. These restrictions predominantly exist artificially within OSRS and, on some occasions, have been ignored: sound libraries have been changed, new instruments sampled, and audio hardware/software significantly improved. Alongside changes to audio implementation, challenges to the “authenticity” of the soundtrack can be found: new tracks have been added, including tracks which supplement or entirely replace music found in the original “nostalgic” release, and player experiences of music have been altered through music engine updates. Compositional approaches have also changed significantly, with new composers finding creative solutions to overcome any remaining artificial restrictions.
Despite these changes clearly challenging the nostalgic recreation at the heart of OSRS, the fan reactions to changes within and around the music has been generally positive. An understanding of how the fans visualise the “retro” aesthetic of OSRS can be gained considering issues raised and discussed within the community: how do fans situate their sense of “nostalgia” in the context of a living, changing game? This offers broader contextualisation of questions surrounding recreating audio for “retro” remakes.
|Session 9 – Perceiving Worlds
Chair: Jennifer Smith
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona (also known worldwide simply as Persona) is a role-playing video game series that is usually described as ‘urban fantasy’ that takes place in modern Japan. The central concept of the series is collective unconsciousness, and many concepts within it are based on Jungian philosophy and archetypes. The players have a chance to experience two different worlds: the one all of us are used to (conscious) and the one created by the hearts of humanity (subconscious). The difference between the worlds is highlighted by various references to mythology, philosophy, religion, and literature themes that are present in the subconscious world within the game. Two worlds differ from each other in many aspects and so does the music that goes along and creates a unique atmosphere for each part of the series. It also changes the players’ perception of the events that are taking place on the screen, trying to create an audible distinction between the ‘conscious’ and ‘subconscious’ worlds. The aim of this paper is to discuss the ways the said distinction was reached, and how the players perceive these differences within the game and out of context. A survey on music perception and gaming experience among participants from different backgrounds is going to provide the necessary data that will help to reach the aim. My goal for this paper is to address the main differences in music that is used to create two different worlds in Persona series and provide insights on players’ experience and how these differences affect their perception of the games themselves.
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI is a 2016 strategy video game in which the player guides a civilization from the Ancient Era to the present day and beyond. This research examines the music of Georgia in Civilization VI through the lens of authenticity. Three criteria are employed for this analysis: authenticity of performers, authenticity of performance practice, and temporal authenticity. The Georgian musical performances are by Trio Kavkasia, a North American group with over eighty-five years of experience singing Georgian music. These performances are arranged and adapted by composer Geoff Knorr, known for his work on other Civilization games. This music is placed in relationship to Georgian music scholarship as well as musical and non-musical scholarship on the Civilization series. Special attention is placed on the hymn “Shen Khar Venakhi” (“You Are the Vineyard”). This hymn was written in the twelfth century by King Demetre II and has survived both Russian and Soviet censorship to become one of the most beloved pieces of music in the country. It is used as the theme music for Georgia, appearing in four arrangements of increasing complexity corresponding to four eras of history (Ancient, Medieval, Industrial, and Atomic). Ultimately, due to the long and complex history of Georgian music, coupled with the very structure of Civilization VI and its musical implementation, complete authenticity is impossible. Even so, the game represents the rich musical tradition of Georgia well and exposes tens of thousands of players to it.
|Session 10 – Creatures
Chair: Stephen Tatlow
I’m an ornithologist and conservationist developing the forest, grassland, and wetland habitats of my aviary, attracting birds to my network of nature preserves in Wingspan. I listen across the the tabletop and digital versions of Wingspan, attuning my ear to the ways in which the game is part of this multisensory and interactive tradition of knowing the nonhuman animal through the visual and sonic realism of “field marks”and representational habitat detail that guide species identification in the field. I argue that versionings of Wingspan afford players different kinds of opportunities to look and listen more carefully to species-specific sonic behavior. Fans of the tabletop version expressed online that they wanted to hear,as well as see the birds they collected and played in their personal aviaries. With each expansion pack release, the percentage of sound-oriented fieldnotes increased, but they describe how their calls related to their habitat or make comparisons using anthropocentric musical terms (e.g., “flute-like” song). When players listen to the descriptions on each card they are rarely listening to the birds. While the tabletop game arguably remains the fan favorite, the digital edition takes the concept of building bird sanctuaries by adding the call of each bird played to aviary’s acoustic environment. In contrast to the tabletop version, the Wingspan digital game adaptation provides players with the opportunities to listen to the birds as not just a collection of visual specimens in the ecosystem of their board, but also as a soundscape of avian chaos.
Ludomusicology is concerned with, among other things, sounds and music as design elements in computer game culture and the musical practices of sound production. Part of this sound production is called “sound scraping.” “Sound scraping” refers to the “scraping together” of already known, natural sounds, as well as their rearrangement in the form of overlapping or mixing. The results are sounds that cannot be created or recorded naturally, for example dragon roars or the sounds of a purely virtually existing instrument. This method is primarily used in the field of computer game audiotracks for fantasy, adventure and role-playing games. The term itself was decisively coined in practice by sound designers and composers of game audio and soundtracks, for example the long-time sound designer of the “Game of Thrones” franchise, Paula Fairfield. In an interview with the online magazine GoldDerby on August 20, 2018, she explained in detail how she used sound scraping to create the distinctive dragon roars by using sounds from lions, elephants, tortoises and comodo dragons. But why does a dragon in the computer game originating from the Japanese “Pokémon” franchise ‘roar’ completely differently than a comparable lindworm from the video game of the American “World of Warcraft” franchise? The phenomenon of “sound scraping” to create sounds and music in computer games and its cultural historical background will be the focus of this presentation. The principle of “sound scraping”, despite great practical importance, has so far remained almost completely unnoticed scientifically. Especially in connection with the investigation of the sound production process as well as the cultural-historical background, a real research gap opens up here. It is an intregal and important part of fantastical game music and provides therefore interactions between the virtual and realistic sound world.
In addition to research methods of musicology, those of comparative media studies are also to be applied here. This interdisciplinary orientation enables the integration of different analytical techniques and the exchange with other scholars on an international level.
Many music video games imitate and gamify various activities related to composing and performing music (Austin, 2016) – from the guitar training simulator series Rocksmith (2014) to the viral hypercasual game Piano Tiles (2014). My Singing Monsters (Big Blue Bubble, 2012) is one of the early examples of free-to-play music games, and a very rare example of partnership with successful (at the time) music artists in the free-to-play economy. Sadly, the process of making music is only auxiliary to the core mechanics of the game, which reproduce the typical free-to-play business logic (Seufert, 2014). In my analysis of the political economy of the game, I suggest that it playfully introduces techniques of quantification and reification (Lukacs, 1972) of creative labor to its magical world, which results in alienation from the results of one’s artistic output. On a positive note, I demonstrate that the liberating potential of the game still can be found in its childish monstrosity, which can be best characterized by ‘abjection’ (Kristeva, 1984). This reliance on the typical aesthetic devices of children’s horror separates the game from the typical, potentially exploitative aesthetic of ‘cuteness’ (Page, 2016) in free-to-play games that need to have mass appeal by design. While only a fraction of players uses the game to create music, it becomes a unique, personal, and non-alienable experience for each and every of them.