The Institute of Musicology

Dissertationsprojekt von Addrich Mauch

“Vrummmummmmm FVISH!” A Cultural-Anthropological Soundscape Study in Action-Adventure Video Games

Game worlds in video games are unlike other traditional fictional worlds as in movies, comic books or literature. They are designed for playing games (Klevjer 2007) and structured for the participation of the player. Regarded not as being mere copies of reality, video game worlds have their own set of rules which define them as such (Juul 2005a). They can, at least in certain contexts, also be seen as worlds within worlds, mirroring what is outside and therefore be called heterotopias (Foucault 1984). Visual and auditory channels work together in supporting the gameplay which is the primary feature of communication in video games. There are several ways in which video game sounds work to create an identification of self and experience of presence by the player through interaction and embodiment. At the same time, the world we live in becomes increasingly abstracted and virtualized - the real and the virtual are converging as never before. This has significant implications for conceptions of self and conceptions of presence in virtual and real spaces.

This research focuses on three subjects in action-adventure video games: soundscapes (Schafer 1977), game worlds and spaces and its interfaces. This study aims to investigate the perception of and the interaction with sound through ethnomusicological fieldwork. By treating the game space in a similar way as any sonic and social field in the “real” world, the goal is, on one hand, to provide a map of keynote sounds specific to different action-adventure game worlds, and on the other hand, to gain insights on how to adapt ethnomusicological fieldwork methodically to game worlds. In this context, video game spaces are understood and defined as heterotopias (Foucault 1984). This leads to a further understanding about the very nature of game worlds and what makes them unique, how a player interacts with this virtual space and its rule system. 

Research questions include:

  • How can ethnomusicological fieldwork methods be adapted to video game worlds?
  • How do players locate and identify themselves diegetically, i.e being partially implemented in the environment of the fictional universe or the extended space of the game through sound in virtual spaces and game worlds?
  • How are virtual reality spaces created, manipulated and experienced through sound?

Alongside the fieldwork in specific case studies by the researcher, the examination – framed in theoretical perspectives from, among others, media studies, anthropology and ethnomusicology – will also include the production side through qualitative interviews with game designer. The evaluation of the fieldwork will be oriented on grounded theory (Glaser 1967). 

A deeper understanding on the sonic nature of virtual reality game spaces provides not just powerful tools in crafting game worlds and spaces, but has also an impact outside of video games, as understanding how the perception of space, presence and self can be influenced, controlled and manipulated.