Music and games have a rich history of interplay. Instrumental composers engage with the idea of game play as a way to serialise musical material, facilitate performer’s real-time decision making and organise a particular theatricality in performance. On the other hand, electronic game developers typically use music as a motivational device in a game, and in more sophisticated games conceive the creation of sound and music as an artefact of game play.
Whilst both these types of works can exhibit a tremendous degree of complexity in the relationship between game play and music, this paper argues that the question – what does it mean to play a game and music at the same time? – is rarely addressed. Using Salen and Zimmerman’s framework of game design theory, an analysis of instrumental works which are in some way based on game play is presented along with an analysis of electronic game environments designed to create music. This analysis reveals that these works are almost always based on a relationship of music and game play dependant on a superficial conception of either aspect: composers and game designers have not found a common language for navigating the simultaneous design of a game and its musical content.
We propose that a conflict between a player’s sense of musicality and the natural competitiveness engendered by game play is an effective common language. A composer can design games in which a player’s sense of musicality forms part of the game rules; games in which each game rule has an opposing musical rule, moderating a player’s competitive instinct with their sense of musicality. The author’s Battle Metris is discussed as a work in which a player’s sense of game play shapes a musical experience.
Inverting this sonification of game play, we present an audiocontrolled game under development in which a performer must moderate their sense of musicality in order to succeed in the game. Music performance is ‘gamefied’, that is, rather than turning game actions into musical events, musical performance is translated to game actions. Retaining the dichotomy between a player’s sense of musicality and their desire to do well in the game, a unique set of conflicts provide the basis for a novel type of music improvisation.