Playing Along: Digital Games, YouTube, and Virtual Performance
New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Notes, references, index. 272 pp. $27.95 paper. ISBN: 9780199753468
From Double Dutch to limbo competitions, games that meld music, performance, and play are easy to find. In more recent years, the rise and spread of digital technologies have given way to a whole new, and ever-widening, range of practices that combine, recombine, and expand upon this tradition. This is particularly true of digital games (video games, arcade games, and computer games) in which music has long fulfilled a core function, both in terms of adding significantly to games' narratives and aesthetics, as well as providing an intuitive way of giving feedback to players. Some of the early arcade games had soundtracks that contained hidden clues about the right time to make a particular move or that forewarned players they were running out of time or were about to experience a change of speed. More recently, rhythm games, such as PaRappa the Rapper (1996) and Dance Dance Revolution (1998), have incorporated beat as a core component of their game-play mechanics-where a player's moves are only successful if made in musical time. As digital games have become more social (and more socially acceptable), events such as weekly Rock Band competitions at the local pub and sharing a musical creation made in the game Sound Shapes (2012) with thousands of other players online are increasingly common.
Kiri Miller's Playing Along: Digital Games, YouTube, and Virtual Performance is a timely and important work that tackles multiple aspects of the complex intermingling of music, performance, and play that is currently taking place within digital culture. The book features a range of relevant examples and draws important linkages between contempo rary and traditional leisure practices. The results of the author's own research in this area-which includes interviews with players, ethnographic fieldwork and firsthand experimentation with the games and practices involved-are described in close detail in three parts, divided by the case study or practice examined. Part 1 examines the highly popular and controversial single-player console game Grand TheftAuto: San Andreas (2004), in which music plays an integral role not only in setting the tone for game play, but also within the players' own in-game identity performance and role-play experiences. Part 2 focuses on music-performance games Guitar Hero (2005) and Rock Band (2007) and delves into some of the uncomfortable questions these games arguably raise about issues of authenticity (playing music) and consumerism (playing at playing music). Last, part 3 considers some of the ways leisure activities are learned and taught through YouTube and other social media, as well as how such tools are increasingly used to establish new, leisure-based communities of practice. Playing Along also comes with a companion website, which features a series of audio and video clips of some of the interviews with players and online videos discussed in the book.
To help the reader navigate this, at times, dauntingly diverse range of topics, Miller supplies an eloquent and wellgrounded theoretical framework at the book's outset. The concepts and questions Miller lays out in the introductory chapter not only provide a useful way to map and make sense of the research laid out in parts 1 to 3, but they also help establish the interdisciplinary approach that Miller adopts in both her research and in the book itself. …