Wednesday, November 14, 2007

abstract thoughts

Here's a little abstract I recently put together to submit to a conference. Like a lot of scholars, I've discovered that committing to giving a conference paper on a new research topic is the best way to push myself along: I write a 300-word abstract, and if it gets accepted by the conference I have to write a 20-minute paper (~10 pages), which inevitably starts out as a longer draft, which can then be expanded into a journal article submission during the summer, which might then be rewritten as a book chapter later on. That's the idea, anyway. (And that's also why the pace of academic publishing is so slow.)

Guitar Hero's Rock Pedagogy

What does Guitar Hero teach players about rock's musical repertoires and aesthetic norms, rock as a mode of performance, and rock as an emblem of American individuality? This videogame series has greatly expanded the market for the "music & rhythm" niche in the digital gaming industry. Players use a guitar-shaped controller to play along with both classic and contemporary rock songs, generating appreciative feedback from a virtual crowd. As with the Dance Dance Revolution series, these games inspire physically virtuosic, visually engaging performances; they lend themselves to public competition and are often played in venues far removed from the isolated living room of the stereotypical gamer. Like musicians, many Guitar Hero players "practice" at home and "perform" in public (or on YouTube). Advanced players gather online to share tips for mastering complicated musical passages and extracting the highest possible scores through the strategic use of "star power." This paper investigates Guitar Hero's model of musical creativity, its impact on players' understandings of the physicality of rock performance, and its sometimes-sincere, sometimes-ironic constructions of rock heroism and the popular music industry. Drawing on ethnographic research -- including interviews with players and game designers, a web-based qualitative survey, and the exploration of web-based player communities such as -- I discuss players' implicit and explicit concepts of musicality, creativity, and public/private performance as they are developed through Guitar Hero gameplay in conjunction with other everyday musical experiences. I also address media reception of Guitar Hero, particularly debates over whether the games encourage or discourage the acquisition of "real" musical skills. Finally, I anticipate that I will be able to include some comparative discussion of the collaborative game Rock Band, developed by the same designers as Guitar Hero, which will be released this winter.

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