Even though I lived in Rochester for about a year, I didn’t realize that the Strong Museum had a video game archive – the International Center for the History of Electronic Games. ICHEG has a blog and late last year, Michelle Parnett wrote up her thoughts on the auditory experience of electronic games: Do You Hear What I Hear in This Video Game?
Last Wednesday, we did our first rehearsal with live gamers (the think.play folks). It went ok – the 2nd movement was too slow, painfully so. But we got the tempo right for the 3rd movement and it felt much better. I was pretty uncomfortable working with other people as I’m often unsure about what we’re doing. Of course, the players are probably as focused on their games as on the sounds, but I found myself thinking over and over again “are they bored?” “do they think this is stupid?” The draggy pace of the 2nd movement exacerbated these fears, but they were oppressively forefront in my mind during the last 5 measures when everything is silent. This is a marked change from earlier practice sessions when performing was meditative and I felt energized with clarity.
After the playthrough, Dave engaged the gamers about the rehearsal, what they thought, what they heard. Some of it was useful on a planning level – one gamer never heard his game and we talked about working out issues of sound levels in more detail (we’ll need a longer sound check). But they also talked about the sounds of the games and how those sounds trigger recognition. They chatted animatedly about hearing snippets of a particular game, snippets that honestly mean nothing to me as I haven’t played games much at all. However, these sounds are a regular part of their life-world, instantly meaningful. For the outsider, these sounds are possibly of interest as collage or because of their strangeness; for the insider, the gamer, these sounds are something else entirely, a language of connection or belonging. That recognition is one (unplanned) aspect of the piece as a whole: gamers communicating to other gamers using the soundscape of videogames. This is significant because the piece was written such that the gamers & their games are one unit, simply instruments, players alienated from the audience by their immersion in their games. But these instruments still have agency, picking the games they want to play and having the sounds of those games trigger a moment of shared experience with the audience and with each other, a recognition of connection and community through (and within) the soundscapes of these games.