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How can game music feel as meaningful as a live experience?

Games can do more with musical elements to prevent loss of intimacy that happens with looping tracks, argues Rich "Disasterpeace" Vreeland, who'd like more of live music's unpreditability in games.

Leigh Alexander, Contributor

March 27, 2013

2 Min Read

Rich "Disasterpeace" Vreeland (Fez) notes music has always been as impermanent as life -- a performance was heard once, then gone forever. "This impermanence has great potential to create meaning," he says. "If you go to a really good show, the event you're witnessing may even feel important somehow." The accessibility of recorded music changes that relationship; video game music accustoms us to listening to loops. But could games imitate the impermanence of live music? It's a useful question to think about: Suppose there was a great game that took only 15 minutes to play, where interactions felt fresh and you could replay the experience as many times as you liked and still get something out of it. But if that game had only one piece of looping music, it would blunt the uniqueness of each interaction. "Why would you do this to your player?" Vreeland says. "Why would you... invite someone to hear something so much that it's rendered completely meaningless?" How can we embrace repeatable music while still paying tribute to the spirit of live music? Kentucky Route Zero, for example, uses music sparsely only to underline certain moments, and the rest of its sound landscape is ambient. Its first act closes with a unique piece of music that underlines a moment, and then gradually withers away. Proteus is another game that Vreeland finds successful as an audiovisual experience; the music reacts in a way that feels "rational, yet also unpredictable," he says. Vreeland's own music game, January, is made up of single-note music assets that are continually rearranged in different musical sequences that never sound quite the same. It's intended to be similar to an improvising musician. "It's also important not to forget about the power of silence," Vreeland says. "Silence gives the player room to breathe, or can evoke a particular emotion."

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About the Author(s)

Leigh Alexander


Leigh Alexander is Editor At Large for Gamasutra and the site's former News Director. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Variety, Slate, Paste, Kill Screen, GamePro and numerous other publications. She also blogs regularly about gaming and internet culture at her Sexy Videogameland site. [NOTE: Edited 10/02/2014, this feature-linked bio was outdated.]

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