[This post is about the creation of sound and music (and instruments) with, through, and around “gamification”. While numerous other music-adjacent things such as sharing, streaming, promotion and general industry also utilize processes and techniques of gamification, that is a somewhat different topic for another time. This is not a post about playing actual video games on a synthesizer/DSP platform. Also, while I am somewhat familiar with the monome family, I do not know them in depthly, which may make some of this seem rudimentary or even obvious to many of you. I digress!]
Recently, I have been working on a live + recording music project with numerous industrial, noise, and electronic music elements, entirely propagated and navigated through with hardware electronics. Synths, sequencers, drum machines, effects, processors and mixers are all featured heavily. While much of the compositional backbone is automated through sequencing and modulation, successfully performing each ‘track’ requires specific things happening manually at specific times - flipping switches, manually drumming, turning knobs, muting, fading, patching in and out. As this has gone on, I have recently found myself fascinated at how this process of music creation and performance is like actively building a sort of “musical game level” in which there are a series of obstacles and quests which must be achieved to complete the “track” (running a track…?). There is often a need for efficiency and optimization, for systems and configurations (character builds?) to be streamlined, even “maxed out.” The aesthetics, sound design, and melody/harmony together is likened to the world design and lore writ within the very shape of the game. When at last you have relatively mastered the technical quests, it is then time for the final boss - recording the track live with your “personal best.”
Sometimes, even a simple approach to a keyboard or strings can reveal the elements of gameplay - which sequence, which combination of sounds will invoke pleasure, success? Will this be a practice, and shall I “reset” at a certain threshold of errors? Will I feel determination or defeat? Perhaps, with this thought, it’s more like games have gone through a process of musicification. To make music or a game something of a perfectible, beautiful, moving, perhaps repeatable, work of art. The overarching composition of sound and motion image and narrative and gameplay as a sort of post-modern Opera; the act of play an interpretation of the work, or the act of play the experience of the work itself.
On an even more basic level, things such as numbers, patterns, randomness, and manual dexterity are foundational to many sorts of games and processes of musical creation, which are often exacerbated through technology. Arguably, one could consider the systems and processes which underly music-as-a-whole and the systems and processes which underly games-as-a-whole are similar, if not perhaps the same.
There are, of course, other obvious examples of which many of us are already familiar - DSP engines, scripts and algorithms, generative music and sequencers all often invoke many aspects of gameplay and game design. There are specific eurorack modules (Pittsburgh GameSystem, I’m lookin at you) which involve literal games for aiding the process of music creation.
Contrariwise, is the gamification of music creation something to criticize, and in which ways could this gamification be a negative thing? Is the gamification of music creation taking away the depth of the work of art or genuine artistic practice? Have reward and productivity (or even experimental) based goals on musical creation changed, or even corroded what is creative and beautiful in music? Has the importance of fun and play overtaken theory and practice? Or was classical music theory a sort of primordial game itself, spurning both present day music (creation) systems and game design systems?
Anyway, none of this is thesis level, just some of the things I have been considering on the topic recently, and am curious on perspectives, thoughts, and experiences of other musicians and sound creators, programmers, instrument designers, and the generally insightful populace of lines. -I
(food for thought/for later: music controllers and game controllers. Interactivity and participation in music / in games. The idea of FUN and how it relates deeply to both games and music creation. Branching paths & alternate endings. Reward systems in music creation. Art/music installations and virtual reality. procedural generation and generative music. remakes, remasters, reinterpretations.)