The Rhythm of Play

4 Jun

I’m so excited to announce that I’ll be writing a regular monthly column at Kotaku! I’m focusing on the intersection of music and videogames, which is, y’know, a pretty good fit for me. My first column is up now, it’s titled “The Rhythm of Play,” and it’s a broad approach to an angle that I’ve been mulling over for some time now.

Any great video game has a groove to it, a kinesthetic dance of feedback and response that can easily be thought of as a kind of music.

Call it “The Rhythm of Play.” Our fingers push and pull with the beats and pulses of the game, using the controller to develop a cadence as surely as a drummer does when slicing his sticks around a drum kit or when a pianist bangs out chords with both hands.

I’m very happy with how it came together, and think it’s a pretty cool first entry in what should be an interesting series of columns. Special thanks to my editor, Stephen Totilo, who was a fantastic help as I worked on it. He’s the reason I’m as happy with the piece as I am.

The sort of cross-media analysis I’m doing is, of course, nothing new, but I think comparing games to music is significantly different than comparing games to film, or literature, or any other medium. The main reason for that is that I’m not comparing games to listening to music (or watching a movie), this is about playing music. Both games and musical instruments require input, and so the comparison seems apt.

But of course, this piece is merely scratching the surface of a huge discussion to which there really is no end or “answer.” It’s really just about the way we experience games, and something that I think gamers and designers alike should keep in mind.

I’ve been having fun chatting with some of the commenters at Kotaku, many of whom have offered substantial, thoughtful responses. A few people pointed to another Kotaku column by the inimitable Tim Rogers called “In Praise of Sticky Friction.” It’s a pretty beastly read (so many words!), but I’ve read enough to know that we’re talking about very similar things, albeit using different language to do so. I’m looking forward to having the time to sit down with Instapaper and finish it, but I definitely recommend giving it a read.

Man, been a hell of a good week for me and the internet! Thanks to all for reading, and for the kind words about the column. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to write about music and games for such a large audience, and can’t wait to tackle a whole bunch of other subjects.

Last thing before I head off for E3 — Do go and check out Michael Abbott’s latest Brainy Gamer podcast, which features three of my favorite people (four if you count Michael himself). In the first part, Tom Bissell and Brian Taylor do an in-depth discussion of L.A. Noire (with a special shout-out by Tom to my own Kill Screen review), and in the second part Michael and my FFVII Letters buddy Leigh Alexander have a very cool one-on-one chat.

Alright. Onward to LA, and the fine fiasco that awaits.

Read “The Rhythm of Play” at Kotaku


2 Responses to “The Rhythm of Play”

  1. Adam Ruch June 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Hi Kirk, I am sure I’ve read your stuff before as your name rings a bell somewhere, but had to comment on this somewhere I thought you’d definitely see it. I really, really dig your metaphor(?) for gaming as music. Its something I am using pretty significantly in a section in my PhD thesis on how games are played. I thought I’d share a couple thoughts that you might find interesting.

    My thesis, being academic, has had to be propped up on some theory, so if you’re interested, I’d really highly recommend reading Roland Barthes’ “From Work to Text” especially the last section where he talks about setting the work in motion, rather than simply consuming it. He talks about deep reading being like amateur music clubs where listening and playing were hardly differentiated. He also (ahem) plays with all the meanings of the word play, musical, theatrical, game, and ‘free space in a mechanical device’, to get the idea that a text should be performed, even if its literary instead of musical or dramatic. Its really great stuff, and I think deeply supports your essay here.

    Here’s an ugly website with the Barthes text:

  2. Kirk June 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by, Adam – I’ll be sure to check out that Barthes text! Sounds very interesting, and I’m definitely down to look at some deeper looks at how all of those things—music, theater, games—intersect.

    One of the most fun things about writing about games has been that really, you’re kind of writing about EVERYthing – this sounds like a pretty damn cool approach to me. Thanks again for reading, and for sharing this.

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