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In this critical analysis I consider the effectiveness of the ‘discussion’ section from an investigation by Hans-Peter Gasselseder, titled “Re-sequencing the Ludic Orchestra: Evaluating the Immersive Effects of Dynamic Music and Situational Context in Video Games” (2015). Dynamic music refers to music which adapts to a player’s situation via horizontal sequencing and/or vertical re-orchestration, and in the chosen section the immersive effects of it are compared to that of non-dynamic music with a low arousal potential, and non-dynamic music with a high arousal potential. Sixty people make up the sample from which Gasselseder collects and analyses his data; they answered questions before and after playing the same game level, which had each of the three aforementioned varieties of music applied as its soundtrack.
This part of the source is relevant to my own work because I am more and more frequently employing dynamic music techniques in my game soundtracks to develop different moods. Generating an immersive state is crucial in my field of microgaming because it encourages players to play for longer and ultimately spend more money, so it was important for me to read about the specific effects of dynamic music in large video games and how they are transferrable to the smaller games that I’m involved in making.
It is evident that Gasselseder uses a positivist methodology to make findings based on statistical fact, and additionally goes beyond those facts to hypothesise the reason for his findings psychologically. In this way he is able to offer an informed psychoanalysis of the subconscious reactions of his sample, always grounding his speculations in the data and on two occasions suggesting further investigations that could be undertaken to prove (or disprove) them. The six variables for measuring the ‘immersive effects’ of the music are very clearly defined apart from each other; flow, self location, arousal, possible actions, imaginary and sensory immersion, and suspension of disbelief. This level of detail ensures that the subject of player immersion isn’t discussed in a broad or vague sense, instead making it possible to hone in on precisely how dynamic music is effective, and why. All six of these variables provide quantitative data which is useful for the discussion, because the numerical values are easy to compare to each other (e.g. “result x was greater than result y”).
Gasselseder thoroughly examines the data in his discussion in order to give the reader his full and detailed explanation, even when some of the results must have been unexpected. It is admirable that he addresses every result obtained no matter what it seemingly ‘proves’, instead of only reviewing the results which show dynamic music to positively affect player immersion more than non-dynamic music. As a consequence of this fair assessment of the data, the study presents an unbiased voice of reason with no agenda in favour of, nor against, using dynamic music in video games as a means of increasing a game’s immersive effects. The explanations themselves are well-researched, viewing the phenomenon of immersion through a psychological lens. Gasselseder’s expertise in the area is clear from his wide citing of sources in his discussion, which range from papers on broad scientific topics such as human memory and hearing, to more video game-specific sources on spatial presence and flow. As a result of this, and obvious experience conducting reports of this nature, the author is able to offer educated, insightful opinions as to the cause for the results shown.
The text shows evidence of deep understanding of how people react to interactive audiovisual experiences, especially pressure-inducing situations such as the Batman: Arkham City level which is the object of the entire investigation. For example, the data acquired for the ‘flow’ variable shows that the music with low arousal potential positively affects players’ flow states more than the dynamic music and the music with high arousal potential, on average. To which, Gasselseder offers the explanation that the low arousal music made the sound effects more noticeable in the overall mix, which improved the “saliency of immediate feedback” (Gasselseder, 2015); the overtness of the visual cause and audial effect of a player’s action. This would ultimately make the sound effects more satisfying and subliminally increase the flow-state of the players. He also suggests a second explanation, specific to the Arkham City level, that the low arousal music suits the “local goal” of sneaking around the game level unnoticed, more than the “global goal” of fighting crime (Gasselseder, 2015). Since a state of flow is caused by the enjoyment of fluidly completing individual tasks, either or both of these explanations would make sense, are well expressed, and are thoroughly justified.
Despite rigorously examining the results, the author expresses a need to launch more investigations even more specific to the ‘self location’ and ‘possible actions’ variables, as their results yield more questions about those precise aspects of immersion. This is an admission of the speculative nature of the explanations given in the discussion section, showing a level of humility in the shortcomings of Gasselseder’s own method and knowledge, but mostly a clear passion and thirst to investigate even deeper and continue to respond to the new questions that answers inevitably prompt. He also criticises the ambiguous wording of “I found it impressive”, one of the sensory immersion statements involved in the collection of the ‘imaginary and sensory immersion’ data, alluding to a wish to make an improvement upon the work of the authors of the ‘In-Game Experience Questionnaire’. These factors display a forward-thinking attitude towards the subject matter, so although the report isn’t the be-all and end-all on the immersive effects of dynamic music, it is a crucial stepping stone in the understanding of this specific area in the relatively new sector of ludopsychology.
Gasselseder’s discussion of his data is undeniably relevant and groundbreaking, suggesting brand new concepts in a growing field of study. After further appropriate statistical investigations of this nature, more and more would be understood about the exact effectiveness of dynamic music, and how useful its role will be in video games in the future. Overall this section of text is a fine example of informed writing, unbiased statistical analysis, positivism, the presentation of progressive ideas, and the generation of new avenues for investigation.
Gasselseder, H., “Re-sequencing the ludic orchestra: Evaluating the immersive effects of dynamic music and situational context in video games”, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 2015
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