November 18 Reading Responses

This week, our readings all serve to illustrate different applications of user-generated sound in virtual spaces.

Collins (2014)

This article mainly discusses the relationship of audio to virtual spaces, specifically video games. Collins first introduces readers to the concept of the “fourth wall” in performance (the invisible wall separating performers from audience), and suggests that the breaching of that wall can make events seem either more realistic and immersive, or can ruin the magic of the performance. Applying the fourth wall to video games, players often see the game experience and content as permanent and unchangeable. The breakdown of the fourth wall would include a user's ability to directly affect, customize, or change the in-game experience, not just for themselves but for others.

To illustrate examples of this fourth wall breakdown, Collins looks to online games where players are able to interact and affect each other's gameplay. Game examples include the MMORPG World of Warcraft, and Linden's Second Life. Specifically, Collins discusses the capability of users to create sounds which can be heard in other player's iteration of the game. While older games required the uploading or application of already existing sound clips or musical material to the game interface using triggers or other activation systems, the advancement in the speed of the internet and quality of microphone technology now allows users to speak through microphones and have that sound exist in-game.

Because of the freedom the use of a microphone gives players, they can seriously affect the gaming experience of others. One could choose to play music out of context, changing the perception of the environment. One can link up with friends and use the ability to chat to strategize in-game. A problem with this technology is the possibility of non-game related sounds (a dog bark, others chatting, etc) to be picked up by a players microphone and broadcasted into the game, ruining the immersive nature of most large online multiplayer games. I have experienced this – we can discuss in class.

In all, Collins concludes that the ability to create content (specifically audio content) in a game in real-time absolutely adds to the immersive experience of a game.

Garner and Grimshaw (2014)

Garner and Grimshaw serves to explore various technical and psychological concepts relating to our perception of audio sounds within the context of a video game. Their article is less of an argument and more of an exposition encouraging further research into how and why players in games perceive sound as realistic or non realistic, and whether sounds can truly be classified as virtual or not.

Some terms concepts introduced include:

  • Virtual Reality – a near-perfect recreation of reality, placing virtuality a single notch below reality at the top of a continuum, with unreal at the base.
  • Large amounts of detail of one sense may be ignored when in the presence of other more dominant sensory inputs. (ie. If I am so immersed visually and auditorily in a game, the smell of cookies baking may not alter my sense of immersion.)
  • Alternate reality does not have to be experienced as a passive dreamlike state, but instead can be an interactive experience directed by the user in real time – this is unlike film, theater, or literature.
  • Virtual Reality must have three main components: immersion, interactivity, and information intensity.
  • “Dirt” aka temporality is necessary for virtual reality to be regarded as truly convincing. Things must age and decay, consequences for actions must exist as in reality.
  • Most video games contain a multitude of generated sounds which serve different functions: clicks or blips to indicate navigation through menus; voice overs from NPCs who often help with storyline; in-game sounds such as weapons firing or reloading, a character breathing, footsteps, etc; game music; and even the sound of other players communicating through microphones from their own location.
  • Integrated Cognition/autopoiesis – one must convert all sensory data into a single code for comprehension, whether in a virtual or real world.
  • Embodied Cognition – thought cannot exist outside the here and now and that conscious appraisal of an object or situation cannot be detached from sensory input.
  • Phonomnesis – an imagined sound can be unintentionally perceived as real

All of these are to say that the idea that a video game's audio components could help to make a game so immersive that the player may no longer be able to distinguish between what is reality and what is virtual reality.

Harvey (2014)

Dr. Harvey's article is an ethnographic account of his attendance of live concerts in a virtual world – that of Second Life. Ictus, the avatar of a singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, performs in a virtual music venue to a room of avatars. Though he is actually playing and singing live from wherever his computer is located, and his audience are all at their computers across the world, they are able to create a virtual concert space that mimics real life.

In an interview, Ictus discusses how performing in a virtual space can be odd, because many of the cues performers rely on from their audience in reality (clapping, smiling and small nuanced motion, the singing of lyrics, etc) cannot exist in Second Life because of the limitations of the programmed world. It seems, however, based on his experience as well as other performers and attendees Dr. Harvey interviewed, that the live performance community is active and many users feel deeply emotionally and socially connected to the act of attending virtual concerts.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have any experience (musical or non) in any type of virtual world, specifically one involving the creation and manipulation of an avatar? If yes, please describe it.
  2. If you were a game developer or composer of video game music, would you be comfortable allowing users to generate and edit their own audio content? Would their ability to change the audio supplant or invalidate your role in the creation of the game?
  3. Music shapes life experiences and can easily be linked to a time, place, or event – can it shape virtual ones in the same way?
  4. Can you think of an example of a time where you “heard” a sound, only to find that it did not actually happen or exist? Can you think of a time where you mistook a virtual sound as something real?
  5. Could a broadcast of a live performance (The Met broadcasts for instance) be considered a virtual concert? How would one of these concerts compare and contrast to Ictus' Second Life concert?
  6. Do you imagine yourself attending a virtual concert (not a virtual broadcast of a live concert) in the future? Why or why not?

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