Don’t fear the future of art

Okay, this is more about music and gaming than writing, but by now you’ve figured out that I’m really interested in the way that technology is changing our relationship to art (most interesting fact so far this year: the #1 Amazon.com CD for this year was also available free as a digital download… explain that one, naysayers).

This BBC article provoked some anxious responses on a music forum, about the possibility that gaming was overtaking music in popularity as an art form and so on with various doomsday scenarios in which we all become soulless bots. Ambient musician Deepspace (aka Mr My Husband) posted this considered and very clever response, so he is, in fact, my guest blog for today.

This is a vastly fascinating issue to me- I don’t really see it as negative either, especially in regards to music. I’ve played games since I was a kid, and my family plays games now, and I’ve noticed the massive change in society’s perception of games very recently, as recent as a couple of years ago, mainly through some pivotal games, such as the mmo’s, GTA, guitar hero and the emergence of the wii. They’re going to loom large on our cultural horizon for a while folks.

If you’re concerned for music’s sake though, you should probably stop now.
Music is one of the most cherished parts of any game designer’s ideology and, just for an example, music plays a massive part in those games I mentioned. We have new classical music, being written for a massive audience, and being played by massive ‘game soundtrack’ orchestras around the world. The fact that kids playing a game like Oblivion (to pluck one game out of the void) while listening to Jeremy Soule’s soundtrack music, is brilliant. They’re hearing something that is usually distinctly out of the listening habits of young people. Or take EVE online, which uses hundreds of ambient pieces by Jon Hallur. Since when have young kids gone bonkers over music that sounds like non-top 40, and sounds more like Debussy, Vaughan Williams or the Bladerunner soundtrack? Never. Also, the Grand Theft Auto series brings stacks of music (including Steve Roach) to a massive audience. Spore features Brian Eno and Saul Stokes. Music for games has come a long, long way from the bleeps of pac-man (as cool as those bleeps were). And this music is going into their heads. The fact that they’re creating wonderful associations to the music is a bonus.

The fact that some bands are now releasing albums on Guitar Hero (as much as I despise that game) shows that people want to be more active in their response to music: so they are merely pressing buttons to the rhythm, and trying to get a score- but they are still enjoying the music… When people dance to music, they’re just shaking their butt, so why is this worse? But why are they doing it? I think people stay indoors a lot more these days, and where in the past they would go out and nod their head (or their butt) to a live band in a club, (let’s hope they don’t stop completely) now they’re doing it in their living room. While I cringe at the thought of doing this, Gen Y’s seem perfectly comfortable in doing this.

I see gaming as the ultimate form of opera. This may seem like a whacko observation, but opera came along in the 17th century and brought together music, staging, literature, costumes etc into a cohesive whole. Gaming is bring together graphic art, music, literature, lifestyle, movies, sport, interactivity (i’ve probably left out some others) into something amazing. It kind of had to happen- it’s the next step beyond the linear delivery of the movie or the book. Not that it will replace those, as people don’t want all of their senses to be engaged all the time. As for music disappearing….there’s not a chance it ever will. Music is something we will always do, and it actually prospers in the face of adversity.

I’m not saying we should all become game music designers either, but I think the palette of acceptable sounds, for the new audience, has increased massively, and is bigger than ever.

Hmm. Makes me want to go out and write for games. Anybody understand that particular career path?

One response to “Don’t fear the future of art

  1. Not sure if I understand the career path, but I would love to write for games.
    One of the funnest things I ever did was write text games for a MUD (anyone remember those???) with an ex, we did several. My fave will always be the one based on Beatles song lyrics, although the Russian mythology one was pretty good too!
    I have asked friends in the industry, but it seems if you want to write for games, you have to be a programmer (or pay your dues as a programmer), which is never going to happen for me.

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