Playing Along: Digital Games, Youtube, and Virtual Performance

Playing Along: Digital Games, Youtube, and Virtual Performance

Playing Along: Digital Games, Youtube, and Virtual Performance

Playing Along: Digital Games, Youtube, and Virtual Performance

Synopsis

Why don't Guitar Hero players just pick up real guitars? What happens when millions of people play the role of a young black gang member in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas? How are YouTube-based music lessons changing the nature of amateur musicianship? This book is about play, performance, and participatory culture in the digital age. Miller shows how video games and social media are bridging virtual and visceral experience, creating dispersed communities who forge meaningful connections by "playing along" with popular culture. Playing Along reveals how digital media are brought to bear in the transmission of embodied knowledge: how a Grand Theft Auto player uses a virtual radio to hear with her avatar's ears; how a Guitar Hero player channels the experience of a live rock performer; and how a beginning guitar student translates a two-dimensional, pre-recorded online music lesson into three-dimensional physical practice and an intimate relationship with a distant teacher. Through a series of engaging ethnographic case studies, Miller demonstrates that our everyday experiences with interactive digital media are gradually transforming our understanding of musicality, creativity, play, and participation.

Excerpt

You’re grasping a controller designed to fit your hands. Gently nudging twin joysticks with your thumbs, you weave through L.A. traffic on your way to your next mission. It’s one you’ve tried and failed before: sneaking through a rich rapper’s mansion to steal his rhyme notebook, which might help boost the career of a friend who’s trying to make a name for himself in the music industry. You scan through the car’s radio dial and settle on the classic soul station, Master Sounds—it’s funky and relaxing. But when Charles Wright’s “Express Yourself” ends, a station ID reproves you, anticipating your larceny and your friend’s plagiarism: “When you’re done stealing beats, gangstas, listen to Master Sounds.” You grin and share the joke with the game designers, wherever they are. Then you pull the car over, enter the rapper’s mansion, and focus on your mission—peering around corners with your avatar’s eyes and listening for the guard’s footfalls with his ears, the controller in your hands mastered and forgotten.

You’re grasping a controller designed to fit your hands—well, almost. There are five buttons on the neck of the guitar, but you only have four fingers available to press them. You keep your left index finger tensed, ready to change positions for the chain of hammer-on riffs that you can see coming inexorably down the screen. Adrenaline makes your face flush; you hold your breath as you play the end of the familiar chorus and start the solo, working out a fingering pattern that avoids your weak pinkie finger whenever possible. Your drummer whistles appreciatively; her part is easy for the moment, so she’s watching your notation track. “Nailed it!” you say—and in your relief, you flub the first notes of the new verse.

You’re grasping an instrument that feels designed to remake your hands. Your fingertips burn as you press them into the strings; your recalcitrant knuckle joints refuse to pivot as you reach to form a chord. You remind yourself . . .

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