NACVGM 2020 – From Grinding to Grooving: An Investigation of Motoi Sakuraba’s RPG Combat Music

From the Abstract

Aaron Price

From Grinding to Grooving: An Investigation of Motoi Sakuraba’s RPG Combat Music

In role-playing games (RPGs) many players repetitively battle enemies in order to advance their characters, a process often referred to as grinding.  While grinding, players will hear the same combat music hundreds or even thousands of times.  Despite often being highly percussive and energetic, Stephen Armstrong found that the music heard while grinding instills a sense of stasis through repetitive melodic figures and stationary tonal centers.  This sense of status in the music, which Armstrong calls musicospatial statis, reflects the gameplay state of being temporarily removed from the exploratory or narrative space until the battle is complete.

Although musicospatial status is extremely common in RPG combat music, the music of Motoi Sakuraba is a notable exception: his combat compositions contain limited repeated material, fast-paced harmonic changes, and varied tonal centers.  I investigate how these elements of Sakuraba’s music correlate with scientific studies of groove phenomenology (the subconscious desire for the body to move with music) and how they could create further kinesthetic interaction with the game play.  Additionally, I examine how Sakuraba’s use of syncopations, appoggiaturas, and suspensions both create and then subvert listener exception, whereas many other combat themes tend to be more predictable in rhythm and harmony.  I then demonstrate how these elements of groove and subverted expectation in Sakuraba’s compositions fit within established theoretical metrics and models for measuring game play immersion.  This analysis reveals that despite not creating musicospatial statis, Sakuraba’s combat music is functional in utilizing groove and subversion to create further immersion in the grinding experience. 

Source: Bardic Knowledge

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