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Project Summary

SSHRC Insight Development Research Project

Triggering Our Collective Memory: How Tropes in Video Game Music Create Immersion

Video games are now being embraced as a new art form rather than merely entertainment, and are moving into the scholarly sphere as well as that of popular culture.  As a newer art form, they have changed significantly from their early formats; the music of video games in its current form features a wide range of styles, referential tropes, and interactivity with the player, all of which interact to create a ‘game world’ complete with its own mythology, environment, and history.  Video game music often relies strongly on elements of interactivity, engagement with its audience, and cultural references to achieve this game world.

The project blends research in media studies, musicology, music theory and analysis, and film music.  This research will identify that tropes are an unspoken means of communication within game narratives, impacting player immersion.  Game music uses historical and cultural elements to create trope, but as a result we often re-frame our understanding of these very same references.  For example, musical fanfares rose to popularity in the 18th century, but films of the last century have created such an association between Medieval kings and trumpet fanfares that this music now features prominently in Medieval re-creations.

While ludomusicology is a growing field, as Reale 2015 observes, “North American music scholars have been somewhat late in joining the conversation”.  It has only been in the last four years that the field has had regular representation at annual conferences, in monographs, and in collected editions.  Furthermore, while many of these research outputs have discussed the interactions between technological restrictions and game music, it has been rare that such research takes a music structural-analytical approach (that is, examining the musical structure, including elements such as harmony, rhythm, and form into account).

A few basic methodologies will help to frame the project.  Although significant differences occur in film music in comparison to game music due to the more interactive nature of the latter, previous scholarship in that discipline will provide a starting-point.  Ludomusicology has explored several areas that will inform the interpretation of tropes.  Lastly, how can we understand game music’s effectiveness in communicating non-verbal elements of a story without examining the link between melody, harmony, form, and musical expectation?  For this reason, the study will also link to work in music cognition.

The approach is a combination of methodologies that hopes to bridge the gap between  understanding musical structure through tools of harmonic and form analysis, the link between visual and musical storytelling through previous work in film studies, and the socio-cultural underpinnings of digital music culture.