August 4, 2022

New publication on musical improvisation with digital games by Dr. Costantino Oliva

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Dr. Costantino Oliva, Lecturer and Course Coordinator at the Institute of Digital Games, is the author of “Otogarden: Exploring Musical Improvisation in Video Games, an article published in the Journal of Sound and Music in Video Games, University of California Press.

The paper, co-authored by Dr. Ari Poutiainen (University of Helsinki), presents ludomusicological research associated with the development of the video game Otogarden (also authored by Dr. Oliva and originally published in 2021). Players of Otogarden are able to repeat short musical phrases through the use of a loop mechanic, juxtaposing sounds extemporaneously. The newly published paper forms an integral part of the Otogarden project, elaborating on the methodology of research through design and tackling aesthetic and design issues related to musical participation in video games. The paper argues that video games, a contemporary venue for technologically augmented musicking, can allow access to novel forms of musical improvisation. In fact, while video games afford a remarkable variety of musicking, examples related to musical improvisation remain underexplored, with popular games favoring score-based interactions, as established by titles such as Guitar Hero or Rock Band. In similar examples, music is presented as a task to be completed, mediated by prerecorded compositions and simplified notations. Otogarden challenges this understanding of a “music game” by focusing on the largely untapped potential of musical improvisation, which jazz guitarist Derek Bailey famously addressed as “an activity of enormous complexity and sophistication, or the simplest and most direct expression.”

The paper also reports of a playtesting session conducted on a sample of university students with a special interest in music and music education, which took place at the University of Helsinki. Results show that it is possible to deliberately stimulate players’ perspective on the game to an improvisatory musical direction, making evident the extemporaneous musical possibilities connected with digital game engagement.

“Otogarden: Exploring Musical Improvisation in Video Games, is available in open access through the OAR@UM repository.

Otogarden has also been accepted for presentation at Meaningful Play 2022, to be held this October 12-14 at the Michigan State University. The game went through a competitive peer review process, and will be available to the conference attendees. In 2011, Otogarden was previously presented at the Accessing Jazz and Improvised Music conference, held at the Sydney Conservatorium, and at the North American Conference on Video Game Music, while also being featured on the popular gaming website Rock Paper Shotgun.

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