The Audio Games Lab recently received major funding from The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The project is titled “Audio Games and Music Composition,” and it will fund several projects over the next four years.
From our summary:
For the world of interactive media, a critical moment has arrived. In the past decade, we have seen tremendous advancements in the technologies capable of delivering interactive content for devices as diverse as VR headsets, gaming systems, PCs, and smart phones. We have also seen the content of this media mature and grow more complex and nuanced, as video games have become intriguing sites for experimentation and artistic engagement. And now, during this time of crisis, as COVID-19 ravages the globe, it seems that games have become more important than ever, with some reports appearing to show games are eclipsing other forms of entertainment, including movies and reading, in addition to their increased usage for the purposes of education and community activities.
Music has also been a big part of the digital revolution, since now most music is consumed online using the same interactive computing devices that we use for games and other interactive content. And yet, as a truly interactive experience, music is still largely relegated to passive consumption, played back from beginning to end, often coupled with video content. Videogames offer tremendous potential for more meaningful interactions with music and sound, but in most cases, the role that sound and music plays is subservient to the story or game world, rather than being a point of exploration in and of itself. What if composers thought like game designers? What kinds of implications would this have for new explorations in musical form and artistic process?
This research seeks to answer these questions by putting composers in the driver’s seat, within a collaborative context that includes artists, coders, and humanities scholars. Our goal: to create a series of immersive audio games that create new paradigms for interactive composition, as well as for gaming in general. In this context, we define an audio game as an interactive composition that offers some kind of challenge to the player. While there are examples that do exist in various videogames, they are rare and usually somewhat superficially designed. Previous research has uncovered some important outliers, and we will expand our literature review to tease out further game examples, analyze them, and work through their implications. At the same time, we will build a common technological framework for developing the games, informed by previously funded research (SSHRC, Edmonton Arts Council), and including training workshops for all team members. Finally, based on an agreed-upon set of criteria, we will create several short games, which will be exhibited in both physical and virtual realms, as well as being made available to the public for free through such platforms as itch.io and Steam.
This research will contribute to the growing innovative modes of digital media creation, and adds an important layer of agency for composers who are interested in working with new interactive compositional forms, as well as game designers who are interested in novel uses of interactive sound and musical expression. Since this is a research-creation project, our outcomes will include creative works intended for general audiences (game players and music consumers), as well as papers, presentations, and pedagogical tools for artists and researchers who work in the fields of interactive arts and game design. This work will also provide a unique opportunity for a cohort of graduate RAs who will work on their own artistic and scholarly explorations, to be co-presented in a final exhibition and symposium, which will be open to the public.