Ludomorphballogy

Friday, 7 September 2007 — 12:17am | Game music, Music, Video games

Amidst all of the distractions in my immediate local orbit, I almost neglected to mention a certain item that made it to the U of A’s ExpressNews feed: a piece about Guillaume Laroche’s summer research project, which had something to do with variation theory as it pertains to the development of Koji Kondo’s musical compositions over the course of the Legend of Zelda series. (I’ll not go into it further, as I do not wish to misrepresent the argument.)

The article was originally filed under the Faculty of Arts news page (here). For some reason, the ExpressNews version adds this somewhat awkward lede:

September 4, 2007 – Edmonton – New university students will hear warnings that they won’t get much studying done if their room mate has a video games. But the opposite would be true if you roomed with Guillaume Laroche.

Having actually roomed with Mr. Laroche on one occasion, I seriously beg to differ. But I digress.

I was directed to the original article upon its publication on the Arts page about a fortnight ago, and I remember thinking exactly two things: a) “Well, that’s some good publicity,” and b) “I can’t believe he convinced them to print the word ludomusicology.” Ludo-what? Perhaps I should explain.

There are a few scattered academics who refer to the field of video game studies, particularly in the arts and humanities, as ludology. They probably think it makes them look respectable, but I think it just makes them look silly—and when Class-A convicted sesquipedalian Nicholas Tam thinks a big word makes you look silly, you know you’ve crossed the line.

(I have a habit of referring to such people as being “high on morphemes.”)

My rationale is twofold. In one sense, it’s too general: the term neither connotes nor denotes anything that draws an unambiguous boundary around electronic interactive media as its object of interest. In another, it’s too restrictive: there exists a substantial number of possible approaches to the study of video games, of which the rule-governed, decision-making aspect (“ludology” in Gonzalo Frasca’s sense) is a minuscule subset. I prefer “video game studies” as the general term, much as “film studies” has become accepted in the common parlance to encompass everything from critical theory to mise-en-scène to visual grammar to cinematography. Sometimes it’s best to follow the lucid exemplar of the astronomers. “Black hole.” “Red dwarf.” “Big Bang.” “Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.” You get the idea.

Anyways, at one point or another Guillaume apparently saw the word “ludology” and got all twitterpated about it. The way I remembered it, he coined the word “ludomusicology” to signify the study of video game music, and promptly ran with it.

As it happens, I remembered incorrectly.

I searched my Adium chat logs for our original conversation about nomenclature, and found this little snippet from 7 February, when Mr. Laroche was drafting his initial proposals:

GL: I kind of like the phrase “ludological musicology”—I Googled it, and there are no hits. I can be a founding member of its academic study.

NT: I prefer “ludomusicology.” You’d be less likely to be targeted by a hit squad of linguists.

GL: Ooh, I like it too! [a minute’s silence] No Google hits! Fabulous!

So I guess it’s actually my fault that as of this writing, “ludomusicology” returns exactly four Ghits. Three of them are the ExpressNews article, in which ludomusicology is referred to as “an area that is both unique and relatively unheard of.” The other one is a list of Roger S. Smith scholarship-funded research projects, in which Guillaume’s is indexed as “Applications of Variation Theory in Ludomusicology.”

Pay attention, kids. It’s morphology in action.

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One rejoinder to “Ludomorphballogy”

  1. To be fair Nick, I think one of the reasons that so many people seem interested in the project (and hence why it eventually made the front page of ualberta.ca) is that it has a catchy title; it causes people to ask “whoa, what’s that?”. After reading a bit about it, these people eventually connect the catchy title to something they’ve experienced themselves one way or another. I would suggest that, today, most people have somekind of connection to video games, and consequently, its music – I mean, there’s got to be some reason SMB is the #1 downloaded ringtone of all time. When CBC-Radio-Canada contacted me for an interview, they wanted to know more about ludomusicology as an area of study, and not much about the results of my research. As a DMus student in the Dep’t of Music said:

    “You capitalized on an innovative and intriguing and populist project idea […]”

    I tend to think the reason for the attention is much more on the “intriguing” and “populist” side of things than on the “innovative”. Basically, it just seems like this is the kind of area that everyone has something they want to tell me about, a memory, a favorite game tune, etc. ; it’s not totally disconnected from them in the way that breakthrough paleontological digging methods would likely be to most people. It suggests that the success of the project, strictly in terms of the garnered publicity, is due to the fact that people want to talk about music in games.

    Furthermore, I think that it is perfectly fine to have people doing that if we want to legitimize the genre, or at least draw attention to it, in wider society.

    I guess we’ve both just done it our own ways. Keep cranking out the jazz variations on those themes, I quite enjoy them.

    Next, I’d point out that, when we were rooming, the consoles that were played were technically yours. Therefore, in the lead-in to the article, in our case, YOU are actually the one who owns video games, not me. I’M the roommate whose grades are expected to drop as a consequence of you owning video games. And any way you spin it, imagining for a moment that I had pulled out my own ‘Cube from the closet instead, you can’t deny that I indeed spent my spare time in the year playing mostly your games: Wind Waker, Paper Mario, Viewtiful Joe, etc. So really, you have your roles mixed up. I should be blaming you and your consoles for my slight dip in grades that year, not the other way around.

    Finally, I compliment you on the subtle Metroid tie-in to the post. You know how I like anything Metroid. That being said, the Secret World count for MP3 currently sits at 5, if my sources are correct.

    Monday, 10 September 2007 at 11:21pm

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