YSU forum explores music in video games

By Sean Barron



Even though few at the time could have envisioned it, the earliest and most- primitive video games and slot machines paved the way for a young, burgeoning academic discipline, an audio and gaming expert contends.

“We’re at the forefront of a new field,” Karen Collins told an audience of a few hundred who attended Saturday’s first North American Conference on Video Game Music at the John J. McDonough Museum of Art, 525 Wick Ave., on the Youngstown State University campus.

The academic conference is the first of its kind in the United States, organizers said.

Collins is the research chairwoman in Interactive Audio at the Canadian Centre of Arts and Technology at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. She also was the keynote speaker for the gathering, which continues from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today at the museum.

The event brought together a variety of scholars from around the world who gave presentations and presented papers on numerous aspects of music produced for video games. Topics focused largely on how video-game music scores go a long way toward narrating the games’ stories and increasing their interactivity.

Collins gave a brief history of the industry, noting that sound effects for video games date to the mid-1930s. At that time, however, many coin-operated games were illegal in the U.S. To get around the law, music often was added and the devices were referred to simply as music machines, she explained.

In addition, Collins said, many people in the Victorian era loved to come up with innovative ways to get machines to “talk.”

Unlike a film, a video game can change and evolve, a notion that brings with it a lot of flexibility in composing a score, noted Dr. Steven M. Reale, an assistant professor of music theory at Dana School of Music and the conference’s main organizer.

The field is growing and increasingly emerging as a mainstream academic area of study, Reale added.

The discipline also offers “a wide spectrum of music you find in video games and has such a large audience,” observed Dr. Neil Lerner, a musicologist at Davidson College near Charlotte, N.C.

Lerner, who co-wrote a book titled “Music in Video Games,” to be published next month, noted that interest in music scores has transformed itself considerably since he began his studies in the area about 15 years ago. For example, an increasing number of young people are excited about video-game music, he continued.

Sessions for today’s conference include narratives and structures of certain soundtracks, experimentation with musical themes and a history of gaming.

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