Guitar Heroes in Music Education? Music-based video-games and their potential for musical and performative creativity

Lead Research Organisation: University of Kent
Department Name: Sch of Arts


This network aims to investigate the potential of music-based video-games, such as Guitar Hero, Wii Music, RockSmith, Dance Central or Child of Eden to foster a creative engagement in its players. By connecting academics from a wide range of relevant disciplines (such as music eduation, music psychology, game and gaming theory, theatre studies) with both game designers and artists and musicians, who have embraced the soft- and hardwares of gaming for creating new ways of composing and performing, we seek to discuss this topic from the best possible variety of angles. We also seek to facilitate discussions and suggestions towards impact by interrogating how our renewed shared understanding about the creative potential of these games will influence future game design. We further ask how existing and future games could be implemented in music education, be it in the classroom or the conservatoire.
The network brings together an international group of academics, game designer and developers and composers/musicians, who will meet twice in the UK. The first 2-day meeting will focus on taking stock, exchanging the different perspectives and interest of the participants and the different notions of "creativity", "play", "music-making" and 'education' that each bring to the phenomenon of music-based gaming. We will also seek to differentiate the wide range of available games and platforms and the different kinds of experiences and opportunities for self-expression and learning these afford. We need to distinguish, for example, games such as Guitar Hero or Rock Band, where the focus lies on creating the narrative of a career in the music industry as a performer by emulating great performances by existing artists to games such as Child of Eden or Wave Trip, which are essentially Shooter or Jump and Run games, but where the gameplay's main attraction is that the activity creates also the music.
The second 2-day meeting will focus on looking forward: what are the opportunities for game design and the implementation of music-based games in educational settings with an aim to foster music-performative understanding and creativity? Based on some existing pilot studies (e.g. Dr Gianna Cassidy's EPSRC funded project: "Music-Games: Supporting New Opportunities for Music Education", Glasgow, UK) and the collective expertise of the network, we will be able make a range of suggestions and propose a number of findings, which we hope - on dissemination to different groups of beneficiaries - will foster new developments both in game development and music education. To that end, we will present our findings both at the Game Developers Conference, a key event in the Gaming Industry, and write an article for an interdisciplinary music education journal (e.g. Research Studies in Music Education). We will also provide open access opportunities to follow our network through a Blog, which will include excerpts of our discussions, presentations and findings.
The network also aims to explore opportunities for future projects, e.g. a funded pilot study of embedding different music-based games in different educational settings (classroom, conservatoire etc.).

Planned Impact

There are four core pathways to impact beyond academic communities and beneficiaries that we aim for with this network:

1. We hope to engage the stakeholders of the gaming community and the game design and development industry in the discussion and evaluation of music-based games by directly involving key representatives of these industries as participants of the network and by addressing its community at one of the main conferences in this field, the Game Developers Conference (Europe) in Cologne.

2. By also involving creative artists - composer and musicians - in the network, who use video games and/or consoles for creating and performing music, we hope to facilitate synergies between their work and the work of the game designers. New ideas and developments in the field of cutting edge composition and multimedia musical performance are expected to stem from the network meetings and online exchanges.

3. The third pathway to impact is the deliberate inclusion of music education into the range of topics and considerations. By specifically asking the network as an interdisciplinary group of people to exchange ideas about the nature of musical and performative creativity that music-based games afford and how current and future games might contribute to music education and the fostering of musical creativity in children and young adults, we are paving the way for future projects and field studies, in which to develop and test these ideas with and for young people.

4. The fourth pathway targets the general public: music-based gaming is a wide-spread phenomenon across ages, genders, classes etc. so there is a broad public interest in this activity. By writing a blog and by holding a public event at the end of the second network meeting, we hope to attract non-academic, non-specialist audiences to engage with the questions we ask and to stimulate discussion about the nature and the potential of music-based games.
The blog will contain a forum function, which allows for questions, comments and suggestions by the general public, which will add to its impact.
We will make sure to advertise and provide links the blog and the forum on relevant websites to maximise circulation.


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Roesner, D (2014) Blog: Videogames - Music - Creativity - Education in

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Van Elferen, I. (2015) The Dark Side of Game Play

Description We would summarize the key findings of our group (which we will also publish in the forthcoming book "Music Video Games - Performance, Politics, and Play", edited by Michael Austin for Bloomsbury) as follows:
• Music games are increasingly pervasive to the formal and informal musical activity and creativity of learners
• The challenge for music educators is to capitalize on evident learner motivation for music participation through music games as a tool to create new opportunities to inspire and engage learners with music in educational or wider creative contexts
• Music games offer a unique "cocktail" of opportunities for learning for high numbers of people, spread widely across borders of class, race, ability, or gender due to gamers' intrinsic motivation, admirably high thresholds for frustration.
• Music games can be and often are a genuinely creative undertaking in a range of way, which we differentiated
• One key opportunity of creativity is performative expression
• Music games provide a welcome challenge to the entrenched views and methodologies of traditional academic disciplines such as musicology
• Applying theories of "flow" (Csikszentmihalyi 1992).contributed to the theoretical understanding of the capacity of music games to engage learners with music.
• We established a number of central, experiential features and mechanics of the music game that appeared to give rise to congruent levels of perceived challenge and skill
• We identified aspects in the game design, that facilitate (or hinder) "flow"
• Music games can contribute strongly to a sense of "being musical" in children and thus boost their artistic self-confidence
• With games like "Rocksmith" the perceived gap between "gaming" and "making 'real' music" has already closed, making such an (often value-laden) juxtaposition unnecessary and inaccurate.
Exploitation Route We hope our research will have an impact on future video game design on the one hand and the implementation of available products in the classroom for educational purposes on the other. Currently, there are already several further funded research activities underway, which are either a direct result from the network or associated with it. Gianna Cassidy and Anna Paisley, e.g., have conducted another in-depth classroom study about the use of music-led videogames and also embark on a study on how games and gamification can have a positive impact on Alzheimer / Dementia patient.
Melanie Fritsch is finishing her PhD on music games, which will reflect the discussions of the network. Frank Fitzpatrick's intensive work of lobbying and networking in the US regarding the benefits of music has profited from the discussions and findings of our network. Similarly, Jennifer Groff's work at the MIT media lab in education and gaming takes on our results to which she has strongly contributed.
Another important and vital grouping is the Ludomusicology research group, which operates internationally and brings together scholars and practitioners on music games. Tim Summers is one of the founders and David Roesner gave a keynote at the last conference in Utrecht in 2015.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education

Description We have made sure through a number of public events designed specifically for non-academic audiences (see relevant section) + the widely accessible blog (which has had 5800 page views so far) that our research questions and findings engage a wider audience. Also, by working closely with representatives from the industry itself and with schools, we have directly brought new ideas to the way in which videogames are designed and then used in classroom settings.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Cultural,Societal