NACVGM 2020 – A Theory of Music as Distraction in Video Games

From the Abstract

William Ayers (University of Central Florida)

A Theory of Music as Distraction in Video Games

In his thesis from 2006, Jenova Chen describes a design philosophy for video games that applies Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s concept of “flow,” a state that promotes “optimal experience” for the player by aligning game challenges with their current abilities, As Chen notes, gradually increasing challenges to align with a player’s skills can avoid undesired states of boredom or anxiety. While this philosophy has been used to discuss level design and immersion in games, the effects of musical design on this ”flow state” have not been extensively examined This paper will present a new theory of “music as distraction” in video games, demonstrating that changes to particular musical parameters can serve to divert a player’s attention and thereby promote or inhibit a state of flow.

While the term ”distraction” generally carries a negative connotation, this paper considers the concept more broadly, espousing three basic definitions of distraction, each associated with different musical situations in video games: (1) something that catches attention, such as a musical marker in a game world, (2) a diversion or amusement, such as an optional musical task, and (3) an agitation or frenzy, as in situations when music is too intense for a player to concentrate, while distractions can work against a state of flow, they can also encourage it by shifting a player’s focus away from outside influences (unrelated preoccupations, personal emotions, etc.) and toward game play objectives. This paper will examine the distracting influences that music can have on multiple styles and genres of game play.

Source: Bardic Knowledge

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