Game Scoring: Modern Video Game Music Composition and/as Software Programming

  • ENNS, Mack (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


While playing a video game such as, say, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998), players might notice that their gameplay directly affects the musical output of the game. For example, Ocarina-players might notice that the game’s music becomes more tense, exciting and dramatic in thematic content as they direct Link, the series protagonist, toward an enemy monster. Video game music composers, or “game scorers” design and program musical changes such as these, with the aim of elucidating gaming activity as it happens in real-time, and so they undertake compositional activities that do not inhere in scoring for non-interactive media, or traditional compositional modes. Despite this fact, little research is done to explain how game scores are composed differently from other forms of music.

The proposed project examines game scoring from a compositional perspective. Musicians and composers need to understand game scoring’s differences from traditional modes of composition, in order to see it not only as a lucrative venue for their musical practice, but also as an inspiring and creatively fulfilling one. The main questions that will inform the proposed project are: (a) How is game scoring different from scoring for other media, and from traditional composition?; (b) what types of compositional strategies do game scorers adopt in musically responding to an interactive art form?; and (c) how can aspiring game scorers without any programming background practice the design and creation of interactive music systems? I will explore how modern game scorers are designed and programmed, through (i) interviews with game scorers, designers and programmers working for both corporate and independent developers; (ii) case studies of interactive music systems for games; and (iii) a critical analysis of current game music programming software.

More than two billion people worldwide play computer and video games at least an hour a day. Each of these games has a soundtrack, and every gameplay experience is accompanied by a score. Very little research is done, however, to explain how the music these gamers hear every day is designed differently from other forms of music, and how game scorers devise and undertake entirely different musical and compositional methods to accommodate those differences. The proposed project is intended to begin the process of addressing this gap in scholarship, facilitate a proper understanding of this musical practice to aspiring game scorers, and provide musicians and composers with an avenue to practice skills that are fundamental to game scoring activity.
Effective start/end date1/01/23 → …


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