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Playing the Tune: Video Game Music, Gamers, and Genre

Keywords: Video Game Music

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Abstract:

This article proposes a particular approach to video game music, advocating the usefulness of genre-based enquiry. Two generic levels are active in video game music: ‘interactive genre’ (the type of game/interactive mechanism) and ‘environmental genre’ (the ‘setting’ of the game). The interaction between these levels produces the game’s music. By examining games within the same interactive genre, even if the environmental genre is markedly different, we can begin to uncover similar concerns, functions and methodologies of game music. Ultimately, such ‘roles’ of game music are significant in their relevance for the player, to whom such strategies are directed. The player reads, interprets and learns from the music as well as being emotionally affected by the scores. Three interactive genres are briefly examined (survival horror games, strategy games, fighting games), in order to demonstrate how musical-strategic similarities can be seen to weave through game genres, as dictated by the interactive demands of each interactive genre. Survival horror games borrow many tropes and strategies from horror film. Close reading of a level from Alone in the Dark reveals the creative unsettling and manipulation of the player by the score. Strategy games (here primarily represented by Dune II and Rome: Total War), prize musical communication and player engagement with the game-universe, while fighting games, such as Street Fighter II and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, prioritize character-individualization in order to facilitate virtuosic playing. Future detailed research might hope to further reveal the nature of player interaction with music in the video game.

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