Friday, November 30, 2012

Surveying Literature: Karen Collins Game Sound

Over the holiday, I finished reading Karen Collins book, Game Sound.  This is unquestionably the most comprehensive academic source on Video Game Music.  Were one to seek a textbook for a course on Game Music, this book would be ideal, or if one were just wanting to learn more about game music, this is your best resource. 

Collins traces game music development from the first computer games in garages to games released in the mid 2000s.  Although the book was published in 2008, I didn't note that she referenced any games created after 2006, and of course, any game published in the last five years isn't included.
For my taste, Collins is light on musical description and heavy on the technological development of game music.  However, for someone with a stronger background in electronics/computers, the technological focus might resonate more than it did with me.  There are plenty of technical specifications for me to study and learn more about!  I'd love to learn about an interactive tool where I can see, hear, and experience some of these old audio technical components.  Eye opening for me is her description of the creation process of game audio and her description of the various jobs in game audio (sound designer vs composer, etc). 

The biggest thing missing from the book is AUDIO.  There's no accompanying CD or online listening with the book, probably due to the difficulty in obtaining rights to this music.  In fact, very little of the book analyzes the game audio with the traditional musicological methods.  Instead, Collins focuses on the different way that game music can be analyzed from most other musical genres, and she mainly focuses her discussion on the interactivity of game audio.  This is to say that when watching a movie, you're a passive observer-- and the music happens the same way each time you watch it.  However, in a video game, you're controlling the action and the progression of the music.  The music and game sounds are directly responding to your controls.  Perhaps one of the most valuable resources is the bibliography.  I'm hoping to follow up with several of the sources. 

Finishing the book reinforced for me the importance of analyzing game audio and becoming familiar with its historical development from an aural standpoint.  As far as I know, there isn't a lot of this sort of analysis yet which suits me perfectly, as it's the kind I'm interested in conducting.  If you love game audio, I can't recommend this book enough-- but you'll likely be hungry for more specific musical analysis than is found in this work. 


  1. Thanks for your thoughts, Matthew. Glad you liked the book.
    It takes about a year and a half from writing a book through getting it through the publishing process into print, which is why no games after 2006 were written about. And you're right, getting rights clearance is a freaking nightmare and would have slowed the whole process down by years.
    Similarly, using transcriptions to talk about music also requires clearance, and finding who owns the copyright can be even more of a nightmare than actually getting permission to use a transcription. Many music publishers also charge (the author!) money to use transcriptions--even if the author made transcriptions themselves... so if you ever publish about music, you'll have the joy of coming up against all these hurdles in trying to write about music! MIT Press were great in the way they handled everything, but all publishers that I'm aware of leave it up to the author to do all the copyright clearances and cover all the costs associated with that...
    I've written a follow-up which is just out now, called Playing with Sound, which takes a look at game audio from the player's standpoint.

  2. Honored you found my blog, Karen. And thanks for letting me know about your new book, which I will get immediately. The difficulties in publishing music examples and widespread availability of them on the Internet is one reason I wanted to create a blog instead of trying for the more traditional academic publications. Also, it just seemed fitting in honor of the electronic medium and how much game music info exists in the Internet. Plus, there's always the chance to engage interactively with like minded individuals, just like this!