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know that your actions reflect within the group_What’s the point? Balancing purpose and play in rule-based compositions

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conference contribution
posted on 25.03.2021, 15:40 by James SaundersJames Saunders
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This paper was presented at the Performing Indeterminacy conference, University of Leeds, on 1 July 2017.

Rule-based compositions may specify actions or activities that have no explicit purpose. A process is initiated, perhaps with an end condition, and the piece plays itself out. Players follow instructions, and then stop: but what are they aiming to do? This paper explores the balance between purpose, play and task subservience in rule-based music. It considers ways in which games might suggest approaches for harnessing specific motivations of players in musical contexts, facilitating ‘the process of engaging with the world and oneself through play’ (Sicart 2014: 84). Tasks in persuasive games (Bogost 2010) are designed to embody real-world challenges, while recent work by Flanagan and Nissenbaum (2014) proposes an approach to game design that communicates embedded values. Such approaches translate to other disciplines, including rule-based music, presenting models for linking tasks to purpose and play, and with it relationships outside the ‘temporary world within the ordinary world’ (Huizinga 1955: 10). Game designers may create situations that prioritise the ‘aesthetic or sentimental value of game choices’ (Juul 2007) over win states, questioning the nature of play within games that might align more to music and the need for players to determine their own purpose within a field of available possibilities.

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