Orchestrations of Play

Orchestrations of Play

Audiosurf recently brought to my attention the similarities between playing music and playing games. It's a simple, casual game where you control a little ship as it rides down a linear track, colliding with colored blocks. ... But what makes Audiosurf special is the way it incorporates music.


Interesting article that made some very good points. I don't necessarily agree, though. For me, playing a game is akin to reading a book, or watching a movie. There are things such as story, characters and presentation that are all part of the experience. If any one of these is lacking (and with games, you have the added extra of gameplay), then the experience will not be as good.

Music however, is far more abstract. I don't listen to music for plotline or characterisation, I listen to it for melody, texture and atmosphere. Though there are games out there that do merge the two, music and games are completely different styles of art. One is more intangible, one more interactive.

Also, while games are becoming more open, they are very linear experience compared to music. I don't mean that as a bad thing. My meaning is, when you play a game, you're treading down a path already set by the developers. There'll be nothing there for you to explore that the developers didn't first put in place.

Music, however, by it's very nature is much more freeform. If I wanted to, I could write a folky acoustic ballad, but with a ragtime section in the middle, and a thunderous riff to lead it out. Or I could tune my guitar strings to sharpened or flattened intervals (or even sharpened sharps, and flattened flats) and create an atonal, drone-based piece of avant-garde (and chances are, there are even people who would listen to it). Even things such as the 12 interval chromatic scale are less rules, and more guidelines we've become used to. Writing a song gives you the opportunity to delve into all sorts of strange nooks and corners. Even listening to a song by someone else is pretty non-linear, as everyone has their own interpretations and own ideas of what a song means.

Audiosurf: Oh, look, I pasted controls onto Windows Media Player, and now you can collect cubes!

I've had this conversation with people that I play music with on many occasions, but we usually look at it from the side of how playing music is like a video game. The creative aspect aside, playing an instrument requires a great degree of muscle memory and non-thinking which is similar to that required of video games. If you've ever tried to teach anyone who has never played a game before to use a Playstation controller, you've witnessed how much we as gamers take for granted our fingers' ability to push the right button at the right time, just as a musician on stage, at least momentarily, must take for granted his ability to finger the right fret, hit the right drum, or sing the right pitch. The caveat, in this case, is that it only took me about six months when I was about 5 years old to learn how to play video games pretty well. I've been playing bass for about 10 years, and I still wouldn't consider myself particularly good.


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