Sunday, January 6, 2013

Surveying Literature: A Classical Musician's Game Theory

One of the perks of my starting to mention to many of my friends, colleagues, and students that I'm interested in video game music is that people are telling me when they encounter something to do with game audio.  I had three different people mention to me that they heard a story on NPR about game audio a few weeks ago and I've been hunting around for the article.  I finally found it!

The article is short, although the audio clip interview is much more thorough, and also there are links to music from Tetris and Halo 3 on the page.  This interview is more or less a promotion for Angèle Dubeau and the La Pieta string quartet's new album of video game music, Game Music.

One of the things that immediately caught my ear was when Robert Siegel says that much of this music is written "to hear as you kill things."  I was particularly attuned to his comment because of the recent Sandy Hook shootings and my hearing that the killer played violent first person shooter games, although now I'm not sure this was true!  While Siegel is correct that many video games have plenty of violence, of course, not all games are based on killing things.  Even when the game does revolve around killing, I started wondering about how different settings make the violence come across differently...  For instance, how violent is it for Mario to jump on goombas and turtles with the lighthearted music in the background?  Or what of Link killing enemies with his sword-- certainly more violent, but still somehow cartoony and not too serious.  Then, of course, there are first person shooter games modeled after military training games.   In the Jørgensen article I just read and mentioned, a player describes the music of Hitman Contracts as feeling "chaotic" and adding to the frenzy of the game.  When the audio was turned off, another player mentioned that gun scenes "don't work right... it's just two animated figures standing there shooting each other."

I'm not advocating these games as being good or bad, but all of this did get me thinking about how games are perceived as being violent (and thus, the music being composed "for killing things") as well as how the music of games emphasizes the mood and adds to the setting to make a more or less serious atmosphere.