What Does it Mean?
Ludomusicology is the term describing the academic study of video and computer game music, and to a lesser extent, game audio more generally.
Scholarly interest in game music has increased in pursuit of its prominence in cultural spheres has grown, however it is understood that ‘ludomusicology’ was first used as a descriptive moniker circa 2007. Etymologically, the names of game studies – ludology – and scholarly research of music – musicology – are combined to form this portmanteau. Philosophically, it symbolises the interdisciplinary merging of these and other fields of research, and has become standard in the global nomenclature of academia, learning institutions and published materials.
While predominantly characterised as a significant sub-discipline of musicology, scholars and enthusiast developing theoretical approaches in ludomusicology often draw on multiple schools of thought.
The non-linearity idiosyncratic to video games substantially defines game music parameters of creativity, and the resulting dynamic in-game musical experiences remain a constant focus for academics. Research of more media-based natures may incorporate methods prevalent in studies of media and entertainment forms. Traditional score analysis, transcription, and aural study practices are applied to game music, often sharing commonalities with film score studies.
The act or viewing of game musical performance alone offers multiple conceptual paradigms. Music games in which the player controls an instrument onscreen and/or an instrument controller are perhaps the most apparent example, wherein dexterity, memory and knowledge are typically affected by the games’ music. The live and performance of game music also features prominently in scholars’ research, stimulating a wide array of musical, performance setting, performance practice and artistic studies. Developing approaches to gaming itself existing as performance is further propelling philosophical studies.
The construction and implementation of music assets in games once again sets this form of musical construction apart from others. Non-linear gameplay design requires a soundtrack that regularly needs to adapt dynamically to the player’s actions. The music stems, cues, motifs and themes encoded in the game engine offer more elements of focus, and a working knowledge of technical and digital creative practices often combines with music studies in such enquiries. These facets are regularly studied, as are the requisite compositional methods developed to overcome these technical constraints. Broader approaches to game music can also include console startup, menu navigations and operational sounds within their focus.
Music in the World
Research continues to be conducted into role of music contributing to, and supporting, the reality of the gameworld it suffuses. Fruitful discussion arises from examination of the visual representations of diegetic music by characters and sound-omitting objects in-game, and how this music brings life and reality to a synthesized metaverse. Of similar interest is the functionality of non-diegetic game scores, largely their ability to simultaneously enhance the environment and overall narrative and reflect real-time musical alterations caused by the player’s actions.
Perhaps the predominant reason why ludomusicology often sees psychological study elements is the key concept of player interaction. With games tending to offer substantially engaging experiences, the contribution game music makes to these experiences is generally thought to be profound. Moreover, the player’s responses to different musical aesthetics, constructs and narratological elements form the bases for studies in emotion, memory, association and engagement.
There are numerous other avenues of enquiry that contribute to game music scholarship, including socio-cultural and ethnographic studies, marketing and commercial analysis and explorations of music in games as artifacts. That is, culturally, commercially and artistically significant products of mass consumerist society.
The study of game music is playing a fervent game of catch up with other related areas of musicology, but as the global video game industry continues to rapidly grow, so too does the confidence and imagination of those who would apply theoretical study methods to its musical components.
Many of the field’s most respected scholarly texts have been published in only the last 5 to 10 years, with recently inaugurated dedicated conferences and study bodies growing in scope and repute.
In their 2014 publication ‘Music in Games: Studying Play’, Donnelly, Gibbons and Lerner declare that “game sound is emergent as technology permits, with the ludic study of music following gradually behind.”
With every new publication or presentation, each conference or symposium and an ever growing awareness among academe and fans, ludomusicology is indeed fast approaching an epoch of true academic salience and character.