Technologies of Transgression and Musical Play in Video Game Cultures

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Technologies of Transgression and Musical Play in Video Game Cultures

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Title: Technologies of Transgression and Musical Play in Video Game Cultures
Author: Cheng, William
Citation: Cheng, William. 2012. Technologies of Transgression and Musical Play in Video Game Cultures. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Developments in video games over the last few decades have opened up many new kinds of musical experiences that pose substantial challenges to traditional understandings of music and musical agency. Virtual spaces grant us opportunities and freedoms to interact with music in manners that might not be prudent, practical, or even possible in the physical world. Players and creators of games have considerable license to play with music – to push the boundaries of music’s signifying and sensational potential within far-reaching narrative, ludic, and social contexts. This dissertation investigates how modern technologies of digital gaming enable and motivate such transgressive modes of musical engagement. Video game players, composers, and designers frequently employ (or otherwise interact with) music, noise, and speech in ways that deliberately or inadvertently violate technical rules, social expectations, cultural conventions, aesthetic norms, and ethical codes. Just as creators of games are constantly surprising gamers with innovative concepts and progressive designs, so gamers often come up with forms of emergent play that creators themselves might not have anticipated or intended. Though gameplay isn’t always explicitly transgressive, I argue here that it can be productively conceptualized as an activity that is largely bound up in potentialities for transgression. Play isn’t simply about make-believe, but additionally about re-making belief – about redrawing the limits of the imagination through accomplishments of acts previously unimaginable (or believed to have been outright impossible). The particular liberties that can be taken with (and in) games may ultimately teach us some profound things about what (we think) music is (and isn’t), how it works, what it’s good for, and why and to whom these questions should matter in broader social, cultural, and intellectual contexts.
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