Joshua D. Sites and Robert F. Potter from The Media School at Indiana University have studied how a generative soundtrack in a game affects the flow states of players. A game named QuatrEno, similar to Tetris was specifically created for the study which utilized an algorithm to form the generative soundtrack for the game. Generative soundtrack means that the music is generated during the gameplay session, the music will be composed on the spot through the actions of the player, in addition, anything that is happening in the game may affect it as well. These happenings include randomized components, like in the study’s case, the available blocks in the player’s disposal. This mechanic enables music that will always be unique because a human gameplay session will be different each time. A linear soundtrack, on the other hand, is formed from precomposed music. When using a linear soundtrack the effects of gameplay will be more conventional as the music will change only in certain predetermined ways. In this study, alternate versions of the soundtrack were created for the control group of the study by transforming a recording of the generative music during a play session into linear compositions which were still reactive to the playstyle.
While the concept of flow in gaming has been studied from different perspectives, there is no unanimous consensus on the definition for it among scholars. The authors of the article state that studying flow is not a simple task. Experiencing flow has been studied in music too, but as it is a passive experience relative to the source stimulus, it is not easily observable. This study aims to bring together these areas of research. The researchers cite Csíkszentmihályi, the originator of the concept of flow, for their definition of flow and describe it as a state of mind that requires intense focusing on the activity. This notion is extended to their hypothesis of generative soundtracks having a favorable effect on the ability of concentration in a player and further on the experience of flow. A positive effect on how the players will perceive the game and improvements on scoring are also expected with generative music.
The data was gathered via a questionnaire where the respondents reported their experiences of flow excitement by self-assessment, observing their psychophysiological arousal by collecting their electrodermal activity on their foot and scores in the gameplay sessions. The participants of the study were 39 media school undergraduates. The study was conducted in a laboratory where they played the game first for 15 minutes and then in a minimum of 6-minute blocks and in between them the participants filled the self-assessment questionnaires and performed a short attention disrupting exercise.
The results of the study did not support their hypotheses but suggested that generative music did affect the experience of flow in the players. The differences in the music modes were indiscernible for the participants which might be due to how effectively the game itself induces a flow state and this may have impeded on the study. However, the authors conclude that the study has given a good foundation for further research on how generative music in video games and affects flow.
Sites, J. D. & Potter, R. F. (2018). Everything Merges with the Game: A Generative Music System Embedded in a Videogame Increases Flow. Game studies – the international journal of computer game research, 18(2). Retrieved April 20, 2020, from http://gamestudies.org/1802/articles/sites_potter
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