Sunday, June 12, 2011

Musical Play

In the fall of 2009, I wrote my undergraduate senior thesis on certain aspects of the relationship between games and music; the paper can be found here, though since writing it, I've not been very happy with it, for a variety of reasons. It's poorly written. The form reflects a messy marriage of my own goals and the project's official requirements. It's fairly boring. Here's a brief summary, which may not always be clear. 

1. Games are not just similar to, but, in fact, are music: non-aural music, in the same way that film, dance, and other time-based media are. I think I made this claim having just learned about visual music and wanted to run with that idea... One of the implications of this is that, once something is music, it's irresponsible in a way to ignore that. People that don't understand the musicality of film are going be lousy film-editors, non-musical dancers are going to disappoint... same thing with games, is what I was trying to point out.

2. As pieces of music, games function as both instrument and composition. A game's mechanics are its instrumental aspect, in that they set absolute boundaries, "walls" in the possibility space which cannot be ignored. A game's rules are its compositional aspect, artificial boundaries which can be ignored, but which, hopefully, ask the player to explore interesting/meaningful ways of playing that s/he might not have otherwise. This is one of my favorite parts of the paper, though I fail to address a lot of things that I wish I had spent time with... For instance, the fact that I've developed a kind of ethic which favors instrument over composition,  the absolute over the artificial-- and, eventually, freedom over form. Or the fact that, despite what I said about my freedom ethic, these concepts don't actually break down into so clean a binary as I might like-- that the grey areas are where some of the most interesting stuff lies.

3. A value judgment: I consider musical play to be more meaningful than game play. This is because musical play has only aesthetic goals, focused in the present, while game play has competitive goals, focused in the future. I've never really liked "games" proper all that much, so this is an undeniably biased point of view... still, consider those ideas about time, and ask yourself what you value. These types of play are psychological states in the player as opposed to design decisions, though the two ought to be related, I think.

4. Finally, I conclude with a lazy taxonomy of common game rhythms which basically breaks down to a distinction between the metered and the free. My original outline had a lot more going for it here, and I hope to come back to the idea and do it better justice.

My goal with this blog is to continue to explore these and other related ideas.

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