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Undergraduate Name: Andrew O Grady

Title of Dissertation: Exploring the role of identity in videogame music, with

relevance to the player, the composer and the in-game

Degree Title: Bachelor of Arts in Irish and Music

Subject Title: Music

Undergraduate Name: Andrew O Grady

I.D Number: 10140921

Title of Dissertation: Exploring the role of identity in videogame music, with

relevance to the player, the composer and the in-game

Internal Supervisor: Dr. Michael Murphy

External Supervisor: Dr. Paul Everett

Degree Title: Bachelor of Arts in Irish and Music

Subject Title: Music

Date: 27/01/2014

Word Count: 9,489


Firstly I would like to thank my family for their continuous support over the past year in
preparing this dissertation. Without their support this would not be completed.

Secondly I would like to thank Dr. Michael Murphy, Mary Immaculate College Limerick, for
all his help, criticism and continuous questioning which helped me think outside the box and
to re- examine different aspects of video game music.

Finally, I would like to thank my friends for keeping me motivated when times got tough and
they were able to provide support to encourage me to keep going. Thank you.

This dissertation will examine the role of identity in video games with the player, the
composer and the in-game character. This work will show how video game companies try to
get the players to immerse themselves in the games. Firstly it will demonstrate how the
player is able to interact with the music and how their identity is shown through video game
music. It will show us how even though with the addition of the player’s personal music it
can change the overall mood and emotion of the game. Secondly, it will show how the
composers use their identities to compose scores for these games. It will show how
composers learn techniques and various styles to create a particular theme for these games.
Finally, this work will highlight how the identity of the in-game character is reflected
through the music and how it is related to both the player and the composer. It will show
how the characters are related to the music, whether it is by the title of the song, or the
compositional techniques the composer uses.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments.................................................................................................................................. iii
Abstract .................................................................................................................................................. iv
Table of Contents .................................................................................................................................... v
Declaration ............................................................................................................................................. vi
Literature Review .................................................................................................................................. vii
Introduction ............................................................................................................................................ 1
Chapter 1: Exploring the identity of the player through video game music.......................................... 3
Chapter 2: Exploring how Identity is expressed through the composer. .............................................. 9
Chapter 3: Exploring how video game music relates to the identity of the protagonist..................... 16
Conclusion ............................................................................................................................................. 20
Bibliography .......................................................................................................................................... 21

I hereby declare that this dissertation represents my own work and has not been submitted,
in whole or in part, by me or another person for the purpose of obtaining any other credit/
grade. I agree that this dissertation may be made available by the College to future students
and research purposes.

Signature: ____________________

Date: ____________________

Literature Review

Many resources provide information about identity with Role Playing Games. There is not a
lot on how identity plays a role in the video game music and that is what this dissertation
will prove using valuable resources. This dissertation will use scores to outline how the
composers created the music. This dissertation will examine how players are looking for a
deeper immersion and how they are able to express their identity through the music they
play. This dissertation will also prove how the identity of the in-game character is a
combination of the player and the composer. This dissertation will use books, websites and
interviews to prove this statement. Below are the more valuable resources used.

A. Wharton and K. Collins (2011) examine the role of immersion in video games. They aimed
to investigate how interaction in video games plays an important role when creating video
games. They revealed in through study different application for the addition of personal
music into video games. They were able to prove that music plays an important part in video
games. This case study will prove to be a valuable resource as it will help explore immersion
and identities in video games.

The work of W. Gibbons (2011) will prove invaluable throughout this dissertation as he
examined how the music of Bioshock (2K Games,2007) was a mixture of original scores by
Garry Schyman and licensed popular music and as this dissertation analyses Bioshock in
detail, the work of Gibbons shall be consulted. He explored how the original scores not only
provide a deep interaction and immersion level to the game but the licensed music can also
add to the idea of a narrative element. He goes on to declare that the music is depicting the
demise of the city and that ironically, popular music is able to maintain the dystopian
atmosphere that is recognisable throughout Bioshock.

Collins, K. (2008) explores many different aspects related to video game music such as
commercial uses to spatial uses and so forth. It also investigates how it can be become the
product of pressures from cultural, economic and ideological situations. This book has raised
many questions as to how the implementation of music in video games can help to give the
player a deeper immersion and express their identity in a number of ways. It explores what
happens when the music and the image are played together but have two different

meanings. It also focuses on future possibilities for video game music and the production
and distribution of popular music in video games. This book covers a wide range of aspect
rekated to video game music for those who are just interested in playing games or for
others who are studying video game music. This book is a helpful source for a general
overview of video games.

Gee. J. P (2007) explores numerous relationships between video games and learning using
electronic resources. He dives into the world of First Person Shooters and reveals how
players are able to relate to their characters. He points out how we are all able to lose
ourselves in video games because we become attached to this fictional character. He
investigates various means of identity like virtual identity, real-world identity and projective
identity. He demonstrates the difference between each one, and how they differ from each
other, by playing these games and trying to show his identity in the games. He also suggests
the techniques to integrate identity work in a classroom environment as it helps to develop
active learning for particular situations. He compares different experiences, identities
contexts etc. to how a student would assess different problems in the classroom. The work
of J.P. Gee is a significant point of reference when analysing the integration of video game
use in a school environment.

This dissertation is important because game producers are always looking at new ways for
players to interact with the games they play. It also proves that the identity of the composer
plays a major role in scoring these games. It will prove that the identity of the in-game
character is a combination of the player’s identity and the composer’s identity. There is very
little information about identity in video game music and that is why this dissertation will be
valuable for further research.


Expressing identity through video game music is a topic that has not been widely
researched. In today’s culture where identity is to do with everything around us, it can
shape who you are as a person and can often prove to be very significant towards
companies promoting their products to get the customer to buy them. It helps to
differentiate between more than one identity in a particular situation. For example the
music a person listens to, this music is made available worldwide, yet not everyone will
appreciate it. This is all down to identity and how people react to it. It is the exact same with
video game music and how a person can tailor the music they listen to in the game to
represent them and also to bring them on to another level of playing. Composers not only
create music for video games but also films, TV etc broadening their career opportunities.
They spend years learning different styles and techniques to which they can incorporate
into the music they have been commissioned to write. They begin on small scores and
slowly become recognised by production companies. They then become confident in their
abilities and begin to create fully integrated scores which are used worldwide on various
media formats.

The 70’s saw the beginning of a new era which was “heavily influenced by developing
technologies associated with audio, video, and data storage” (Grimshaw, Tan, & Lipscomb,
2013). When we look back over the past 40 odd years, many developments have occurred
and video game producers and designers are always looking for ways to break boundaries
and push the technology to new levels. The role of identity has always played a role in video
games as games companies want players to be able to connect to the characters in the
game which eventually led to the First Person Shooter (FPS) and Role Playing Games (RPG)
we have today.

Chapter 1 will explore the relationship of identity within videogame music and how the
player can express their identity through the music they play and through character
customisation. This will be demonstrated through the means of a study that allowed users
to incorporate music they listened to daily into the game. It would also show how the
gaming experience was altered because the music didn’t match how the character

responded in the game. This chapter will also show us how players are able to interact on a
deep and personal level to video games. The music written for games was commissioned for
a particular purpose which is meant to release certain emotions. When the music is altered
or changed, different emotions are expressed, and these are not always the intentions the
game producers wanted.

Chapter 2 will explore how the composer expresses his identity when creating the music for
the video games. What styles he or she has studied, researched and used and how they
implemented these techniques in the music they composed. This will be explored through
an examination of the pieces the composer wrote and how they resemble/share similar
characteristics to other composers. This will show how composers are able to come up with
ideas and work around them with full scale orchestras and high quality sound effects to help
create the musical idea the game producers are looking for to apply in the video game.

Chapter 3 will explore how the music in the game represents the identity of the characters
in the game. It will investigate how the cues in the game tell the story and the way the story
is related to the character. It will demonstrate ways in which the music is directly linked to
the character and how the music changes to coincide with the characters developments in
the game. This chapter will demonstrate how the player and the composer’s identity
combine to give the identity of the in-game character. This will illustrate how the player and
the composer are able to create one unique character with each and every play of the

Overall, this dissertation is to demonstrate how gaming companies emphasise the role of
identity in video game music in order to sell games and generate profits. It will illustrate
how identity plays a major role in immersion and interaction of video games. It will show us
how identity can be expressed and the outcome these expressions have on the overall
gaming experience.

Chapter 1:
Exploring the identity of the player through video game music.

Identity in video games is a very prominent feature now days. Most games on the market
today have one way or another of showing or expressing Identity. From First Person
Shooters (FPS) to Role-Playing Games (RPG) for example allow for complete immersion. This
is also made even more recognisable with the perfect score to help bring out the identity of
the player. The music for these games has to be written to coincide with a particular
storyline or cut scene or a pre-programmed event. This is the consideration taken before
the player even buys the game and loads it into their device. This part has to be thought out
thoroughly otherwise the music would not have an effect on the character. The composers
in charge of writing these pieces take note of what they are writing and also listen to each
step of the process to make sure they get the right response and right reaction from the
producers. Another consideration is what particular emotions the player is experiencing,
whether they are sympathetic towards certain characters or are they just playing it because
they are bored. This is a tough section as music can bring about different emotions in
people. Not everyone will have the same reaction to the same piece of music but generally
they will all be thinking of the same idea or theme. Some of these ideas have to be thought
about in order to understand the true meaning of identity in video game music. Another
consideration for the player and how he or she is expressing their identity is what effect it
has on the player after they have completed a particular scene or even the game for that
matter. These entire components combine together to give us one whole form to which we
can study video game music through identity.

Some studies have been carried out in the field of video game music and identity but they
generally focused on “sociological aspects of identity formation as resistance rather than
passive consumption, and on the role of the media in fixing meaning and value” (Beard &
Gloag, 2005)

But the main idea that was not mentioned or studied was how the player finds himself or
herself in the music. Another theme than can be found within identity in video game music
is subject position. This is a term generally found in film music in which the composers
create certain pieces directly related to the main character to try and get a closer bond

between the player and the main character within the game. Composers have been trying
to examine how they can link popular music and identity together by analysing instrumental
and vocal styles, production techniques and other forms of identifying music.

Microsoft allows users to create their own playlist on the x-box and play their own music
while playing the video game of their choice. (Collins, 2008) This allows for freedom with
identity allowing each player to customise the way they play the game while their own
music is playing in the background. Even though the music doesn’t coincide with the
storyline nor has any major significance with the characters in the game, it gives the player
more choice as to what they want to listen to and it may even bring out a response of
emotion that was not programmed to happen. In some instances when playing a game of
your choice and listening to your own custom playlist, the music will stop to allow a cut
scene or a particular event happen in the game and then continue on after the cut scene is

Sony came up with an idea similar to that of Microsoft, with the PS2 (Playstation 2), which
also allowed players create their own playlists and add CDs to certain games. These games
allowed the players to pause the game mid play, open the tray and insert a CD of their
choice. This only worked for certain games which became problematic. Every time a player
would open the tray to load a disk, the game would freeze, and inserting a new disc causes
the PS2 to read CD thinking it to be the game disc thus resulting in loosing game footage and
having to start over at your last save point.

Another major development in the video game music industry would be that of Ubisofts
increasingly popular game Rocksmith (Ubisoft, 2011). This game allows the player to directly
plug in to their gaming device via a jack lead their own guitar. Whether it is a semi-acoustic
guitar, electric guitar or even a bass guitar, Rocksmith teaches the players how to play
certain well known songs. From beginners to the more advanced and even expert,
Rocksmith has challenges every step of the way so that you are learning. Even though it is
catered towards those who have base their identity or have an interest in rock music, it is
still a great way of learning how to play the guitar and maybe even gaining an interest in a
different genre of music.

The pilot study was released in 2011 and covers various obstacles and barriers with
immersion and identity in video games. Each participant, ranging from 19 to 30, was asked
to be involved in the study. There were mixed experiences as some people had never played
with this particular console or never played with the particular game and others had spent a
significant amount of time playing this game and games like it. Some of the participants
brought their own music players and one volunteer said she “found it unsettling when there
was no music at all” in particular fight scenes. (Wharton & Collins, 2011)

Players are able to insert their own music into the console and were given the opportunity
to do this. This was to experiment with different sounds and emotions that playing non-
scripted music would have on each participant. For the study the researchers had pre-
selected a group of 25 songs from different genres to cater for everybody’s personal
interest. The volunteers were asked to reflect after each checkpoint on how the music they
selected affected them. This also gave the volunteers the option to change their music
selection if they wanted. (Wharton & Collins, 2011)

This pilot study was created to examine how customization can be used in video games. This
would allow the players to experience a deeper immersion and involvement in the game.
When the player selected their song to be played through the console, this allows their
identity to be created through the music. This is music they would have listened to everyday
and would be fairly tuned into what they were listening to. One particular volunteer in the
study listened to the music of the game used even when he was at home. Was it the music
in the game that persuaded him to do this? What is to say this person only listens to video
game scores? This is his identity, it is what he has grown up doing, playing and all the time
listening and learning.

The music chosen had a wide range of solutions on each of the players. Their immersion and
emotional state were analyzed to truly understand what was happening to them during the
video game. Some of the volunteers found it difficult to engage with the game because their
music could be playing something happy whilst in the game there were scenes of total
mayhem. Emotions were conflicted and did not allow them to reach the desired level of
immersion the researchers were looking for. The players were looking for the desired music
that helped them to relate to the game, to create meaning and to understand what was

happening in the game. Many different outcomes were found when these players were
looking for this interaction. They wanted a dynamic range of emotion, to be able to reduce
their anxiety levels and to help to improve their game play experience. It did not help them
to understand what was happening. Moreover, a perfect quote to demonstrate this is “One
cannot imagine removing Howard Shore’s score from such a fully integrated work as The
Lord of the Rings movies and replacing it with user defined content” (Wharton & Collins,
2011). This completely throws the players off and their identity and immersion is thrown
into question. They try to find a reason for this problem but fail to find any solid proof.

There are three main types of identities when discussing immersion and interactivity with
video game music. There is virtual identity, real-world identity and projective identity. This is
the identity of the player and how they are developing with the in-game character. In
BioShock (2K Games, 2007), the character of jack is portrayed through the eyes of the
player. All the decisions are helping develop the outcome of the in-game character. For
example, the player gets to choose whether he or she decides to “harvest” the little sisters
in the game and use different power-ups to personalize how they play the game. Each
decision is entirely down to the player. They decide how to do things their way to achieve a
particular outcome in the game.

Secondly, real-world identity is that of the player themselves and how they manage to
portray themselves outside the game with a resemblance and reference to the character
they play in the game. A non-virtual person playing a computer/video game. This is
emphasising the real world character of the character. In the real world, the player can have
many different identities which make them who they are. The player can be varied from a
teenager who has a particular style and taste to that of an elderly person with completely
different taste and objectives in life. This means that it could be a teenager looking for a
new hobby or for a person with a College degree researching this topic because they have a
keen interest in video games or other ideas on the study of video games. These identities
become visible only when the player implements them in their playing of the game and in
fact any of these real world identities can be portrayed through BioShock. What identities
were in question when the player decides to work on the characters strengths and only use
the wrench (used as a weapon to kill)? What identity was clearly visible when the player
decides to spend time exploring the game and killing splicers (game characters) even though

it was not part of the main story? When the player decided to upgrade his weapons to the
max instead of the ADAM for his special abilities? A lot of things are going on when this

Thirdly, the idea of projective identity, with two different meanings of the word projectivity,
both meaning “to project one’s value and desires onto the virtual character” and “seeing
the virtual character as one’s own project in the making, a creature whom I imbue with a
certain trajectory through time defined by my aspirations for what I want that character to
be and become (with limitations of his or her capacity, and within the resources the game
designer has given me” (Gee, 2007). Games like BioShock allow players free decisions in the
formation of their virtual characters throughout the game. This is where the player begins to
wonder what type of “person” he or she would like their character to be and in the case of
BioShock there is one perfect example. As the main character progresses through the game,
he comes across Little Sisters and their Big Daddy. After the player has beaten the Big
Daddy, he or she then has the opportunity to either harvest the Little Sister or save them.
This is where morality comes into perspective and whichever choice the player chooses can
and will affect the outcome of the game. There are two different sequences if the player
saves them and harvests them. A really good role playing game (RPG) would make the
player think about their decisions and consider the values of what to do and what not to do.

Immersion in video games is something game companies are always trying to improve on.
Good designers and writers have the ability to create a world that is very well put together
so that players can have no problem losing themselves in the virtual reality. This can be
tricky as sometimes the player just wants to escape to another world without having to be
reminded of a particular event or situation. Anything that tells the player over and over
again ruins the immersion experience for him or her although some gamers prefer cut
scenes as “it is an obvious reminder that this is a game rather than an alternate reality”
(Marx, 2007) which gamers require

The kind of person the player wants the character in the game to be is his or her means of
projective identity. Although these are the goals the player wishes to produce with their
character, the projective identity is the players and that of the in-game character. Towards

the end of the game, the objective with identity is that the player should be comfortable
with their decisions in developing and creating the in-game character.

“While good video games offer players ample opportunity to practice and even automatize
their skills at various levels, they also always build in many opportunities for learners to
operate at the outer edge of their regime of competence” (Gee, 2007, p. 68). This can cause
the player to rethink their choices and maybe even come up with a new route, thus giving
the opportunity for even more variable identities throughout the game. It is all down to the
identity of the player and how they wish to play the game that gives it that sense of
immersion that the video game companies were trying to achieve.

A lot of the music for BioShock was designed to help drag the outside player into the world
of the in-game character. The composer and the game producers have done this in such a
way that every time the player picks up the controller, he or she is transported into a new
world within a matter of minutes. The use of sound effects like the musique concrète (the
coughing, and the water) assists on another level to help the player connect to the in-game
character and also to the music that is played.

Chapter 2:
Exploring how Identity is expressed through the composer.

The world in which our music is based in today has changed greatly over the past century.
Yet, there still remain hints and particular references to those who have come before us.
Performers these days play the music of those who are deceased in order to better their
musical ability and to get an improved understating of the music that was played around
that time. Composers themselves learn their abilities and techniques by studying works
from the past and put these techniques and stylings into the music they create. When asked
about how they came up with a particular theme or idea, composers would say where they
got their inspiration from and what type of techniques they would have used when creating
the music. Scholars dedicate enormous amounts of time and effort to study these musical
masters in order to better their understanding of the piece. The game producers give the
composers a set of guidelines that they wish for them to follow. For example in an interview
with, Garry Schyman told us the producers and directors asked him not to
use any computer generated audio. Everything he had to create was to use a full orchestra
and different techniques to get the desired effect (Schyman, 2013). The past is ever so
evident in the world today which brings up the question of, do composers today feel like
they have to compare their work to those greats dead and gone? Should they be compared
to these composers even though it is their own work? Should they even be considered in
the same category of these composers? These are the questions that will be resolved in this

With regards to anxiety of influence, a lot is to be considered. Even though these composers
and musicians are trying to create something different, they are still incorporating aspects
of the past composers because they are the influences that have helped them to become
who they are in the world today. This basically means that in order to create a new idea,
something that has never been seen or heard of before, one must resist all the temptations
of the past and focus on what you, as a composer/ artist, are trying to create without trying
to borrow ideas from previous composers. If you take the two words separately, a better
meaning is understood. Anxiety is defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease
about something with an uncertain outcome” and influence is defined as “the capacity to

have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or
the effect itself” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2013) When we combine these two words together
we get an overall sense of a crushing weight which must be resisted and protested to make
space for a new idea or vision.

With regards to video game music, it is a harder subject to talk about. Do we compare these
composers to the greats even though the music they create is for video games and not for
open air performances? In the beginning of the 70s and 80s there was recognisable
difference between the music over a hundred years ago and that which was being played
through the video game consoles. The music of video games was based on 8-bit and 16-bit
formats and the music was specifically written in that format for these particular games.
Now that video game music has become more involved with the use of full orchestras and a
wide range of instruments, one begins to see an overlapping of ideas from music that was
composed over 100 years ago and the music one can see in video games today. One of
those pieces is Cohens Scherzo no.7 from the game BioShock. Written by Garry Schyman in
the year 2007, it incorporates different styles and techniques. In his interview for he says “a piano solo that I wrote in the style of the late romantic
composers with a touch of modernism from the early 20th century”. (Game Front, 2007) He
does say that he incorporated styles and techniques from specific composers but does not
state what composers and from what era.

Composers like Schyman have tried to reconnect with these thoughts but they cannot
escape their past. Composition becomes a struggle which leads to composers taking ideas
and motifs from other composers and swapping them, mixing them, or even as little as
changing the rhythmic pattern, but no matter how many changes they make, the main idea
can still be heard. This further reinforces that this older form is getting harder and harder to
move away from. We see a lot of composers these days implementing techniques of
composers from the past, but saying that they are unable to produce music due to anxiety
of influence from these composers is too extreme to tell. For example, that is like saying
musicians these days are trying to create something different to what has not already been
created. Another example would be the king of pop Michael Jackson. He invented the dance
pop video and to see where it led his is career is extraordinary. These days, new artists
coming into the spotlight are trying to do all these fancy moves in their videos but are still

unable to match his artistic capabilities. The same can be said about composers for film and
general music. Some would be of the opinion they are reproducing what composers have
used in the past but just in different ways. Even though music for video games is still in its
infancy, there are a lot of techniques composers can use to try and emulate new styles
whilst incorporating different computer generated sounds and styling’s to produce different

Even though we can see Schyman used similar techniques to Chopin, it is still considered an
original piece. He did not directly copy the piece; one could say that it is a variation of the
original with added 20th century techniques to create something different and unique for
the game. Schyman did say that he did use techniques from older composers and
techniques from the 20th century to create this piece but to say that it is a complete copy is
not true. Schyman has studied 20th century composition and knows a lot about it to try and
write in that particular style. So does it bring in to question that fact he suffers from anxiety
of influence? Maybe, we just don’t know. He has set out to create a piece from a certain
period to replicate within the game that coincided to what the producers of the game
wanted. So does it make it fair for us to call it a replication or a copy?

Perhaps the most memorable piece of music to come from BioShock is “Cohen’s
Masterpiece” This piece appears halfway into the game. Schyman drew ideas from
composers such as Rachmaninoff and Chopin to create and use different aspects of their
compositions. He used Rachmaninoff because of who he was as a composer and the music
he wrote. Considered the last romantic composer of his time, almost like a ghost of those
before him, Rachmaninoff always looked for ways to get people more involved in his music.
Schyman used these particular struggles when he was writing the music. The idea behind it
was if anyone was to play it, it would sound as if they were struggling to play it and that the
frustration would take over and win. Schyman took a couple of days it was very intense,

complex let alone hard to play. Schyman drew inspiration from Frederic Chopin’s etude.

Fig 1: Frederic Chopin, Etude Op. 25. No. 12.[Online]

Fig 2: Garry Schyman, Cohen’s Scherzo No. 7 “Andante con Fuoco”[Online]

If we compare pieces, Cohen’s Masterpiece is similar to Frederic Chopin’s Etude Op. 25 No.
12. These are similar because both pieces are ascending in a rapid arpeggio movement.
Cohen’s masterpiece was written for its complexity because the idea behind it was that
whoever tried to play it was meant to struggle and suffer and never always to strive for
perfection. Schyman was looking for a piece of music that was highly virtuosic yet still
playable for those who wished.

When we compare the two titles, we learn a lot more about why Schyman wrote in such a
similar style. Over the years Chopin’s Etude has received the nickname “The Ocean” as it is
to resemble the waves in a storm and mimicking their movement backwards and forwards.
Schyman used this idea because it is similar thematic idea to create the movement of
waves. If one takes another look at the titles and we can see two different things. For the
tempo marking of Chopin’s etude, we see “Allegro molto con Fuoco” which means lively and
furious. In stark contrast to this we have Cohen’s Scherzo with the tempo marking of

“Andante con Fuoco”. This in itself is odd as when we translate the meanings, we are met
with slow but in a fiery manner. This is probably meant to be a joke as the title of the piece
is Cohen’s Scherzo. Scherzo in Italian means joke but generally it is a piece that is lively
almost to that of a playful character. This resembles the identity of Sander Cohen in the
game. He is this playful character with a sick sense of humour.

When looking at each of the pieces we see the key signature which can also tell us a lot
about the composer. Chopin’s piece begins in C minor. This is a very dramatic key as it can
be related to tragedy and heroism all within the same key. The Scherzo is in B flat minor
which is very close to C minor. When writing the music, Schyman was looking for some way
to connect to the character. The key represents the type of character Cohen was. He was a
character who made some exceptional work yet made some pretty disturbing stuff. It is a
reflection of him as a character and this could say that this is a reflection of Schyman’s
identity. Always composing, struggling and having to rewrite and re-imagine.

When writing the score for this game, Schyman tried to connect to other composers and
they would have researched and influenced him. He used various aspects of notation and
thematic ideas to write the entire score. Leitmotifs are also used in BioShock but in an
unusual way to how they are usually used. A leitmotif is a particular theme that repeats in
various songs or on a different instrument. It is usually associated to one particular
character and idea or in some cases a problematic situation. Generally in film and TV
scores, composer’s right leitmotifs to represent these ideas and characters throughout the
film or TV show, but in the case of BioShock, the main theme, “The Ocean on his Shoulders”,
is not used again in the entire game. The techniques the composer used are prevalent the
whole way through. Interestingly enough, this theme later on became the “Eleanor’s
Lullaby” in the sequel game BioShock 2. This second theme is used to portray the little sister
and also end the game.

Another useful technique Garry Schyman used in creating the music of BioShock was the
technique of musique concrète which in English is known as “concrete music”. This is a
technique where the performers, composers and musical producers use sounds from
musical instruments or voices and also use electronic synthesizers or sounds that have been
recorded from natural surroundings. The composers and musical producers pick out what

effects they want and try to use them in the project. Possibly the most recognisable sound
in BioShock is that of flowing water. The composer and musical producers used recordings
of water to help immerse the player into a further level of game playing. In an interview for, Schyman said that for one particular case in the game the character
would be walking around amongst corpses and people with physical disabilities. One of the
sound effects they used to create this was recorded elements of sick people coughing. This
added an eerie element to the game as it un-nerved the player when that particular scene
came into play.

Schyman took most of his musical influence from Bernard Herman and began experimenting
with different sounds and techniques. He began experimenting with aleatoric music. This
particular technique involves chance and probability where some sections are left up to the
performer where a second section is then written to contrast the other melody. This term
became know when lecturer Werner Meyer-Eppler used it in his teachings at in the 1950s.
He wrote “a process is said to be aleatoric...if its course is determined in general but
depends on chance in detail” (Meyer-Eppler, 1957)

There are two different types of music used in BioShock. The first is underscoring and the
second is source music. Underscoring is music that is heard by the player and not the
character in the film, TV or game etc. This is usually to draw attention to particular actions
or sequences happening in the scene. Source music is music the character in the film or
game can hear. It is environmental music where either the character interacts with
something and sets it off or the character is watching a bad play. There are many examples
yet both these musical sounding provide different experiences in the game. This is what
gives it the feeling and emotion that the game producers are looking for.

Schyman used this technique as the music he was asked to write for the games was music
that was never written before for games, TV or film. This was a new style which slowly crept
into the music industry. Every player is asked to do very specific techniques with a wide
range of latitude which can be very frightening and he added a solo violin which became the
right style he used.

Fig 3: Garry Schyman Dancers on a String. (Only the instrument that play the main

“Dancers on a String” is a perfect example of Schyman’s use of the aleatoric technique. The
piece opens with a full ensemble orchestra which gradually resolves to the piano and the
cello while the rest of the orchestra uses the aleatoric technique to give it that eerie feeling
of submerging underwater, that feeling of being lost and unsure. This technique is used
quiet effectively in the game to draw a response from the player; it makes the player feel
uncomfortable, yet, intrigued about what is going to happen next.

The Composers identity is prominent throughout the game from beginning to end. He has
used different styles and techniques that he would have learned and used them in his
writing. He was also able to experiment with different techniques like aleatoric music and
musique concréte to try and give the player a deeper immersion when playing the game.

Chapter 3:
Exploring how video game music relates to the identity of the protagonist.

The music which embodies the characteristics of the main protagonist can have a varied
impact on how we as players see the character. These emotions can evolve from just
listening to the music the composer has written to try and encompass what the main
characters traits are. These emotions and sounds can also change as the game goes along to
follow a particular storyline where the main character has a personal re-adjustment, where
they must come to terms with their new situation and try to overcome their previous
failures. They must also make amends to those they have wronged. The previous chapters
explored how the composer was able to show his identity in the music he created and the
game chosen was BioShock. So it is only fitting that this chapter explores the overall music
of the game to interpret what kind of character the protagonist is.

When we first begin to play the game the music cues us into what situation we are based in.
We find ourselves as the character floating deep underwater and we come upon a city. The
music sets an eerie scene in the beginning and gradually builds up to a tense moment where
the main character is in a particular situation. We find the character swimming in the ocean
surrounded by debris from the plane that crashed. His only hope of survival is to go to the
lighthouse that appears in the middle of the ocean exactly where the crash site is located.
With no other choice, the protagonist can only go into the lighthouse in search of rescue
and shelter from the wreck. This is where the story begins to unfold and we learn more
about the underground city known as Rapture. We find out who created it and for what
purpose. We also learn the downfall of the city and why it was a failure. This is where the
music becomes more prominent because it is linked to the main character and as the story
unravels so does the mind of the character. He begins to question what is happening to him
and why it’s happening. The main theme of the game (The Ocean on his shoulders) is
prominent as it gives us a quick snippet of what is ahead. It gradually becomes less
dissonant until the character reaches the bathysphere (under water transportation device
similar to a submarine except much smaller) where a video begins to play in the game and
tell us what Rapture is. At this stage the music opens up, just like the mind of the main
character, together with the music the storyline of the game unravels.

At this stage we are able to see the complexity of the main character, as we do not know
much about him; we slowly start to uncover what kind of person he is and his true reason
for arriving in Rapture. The player slowly finds out that he himself was a native of Rapture
but was rescued and saved from those who stayed true to the meaning of Rapture. His
arrival back to Rapture is all part of the antagonists plan to truly control Rapture and the
people still living there. This is where the song “The Ocean on his shoulders” comes into
view as it represents the characters identity from the steady to the unsteady moments. This
piece gives us a true view of the type of character the protagonist is.

The original scores for this game are very dissonant. This shows us that it is meant to be in
the game so that the player and the protagonist question things and ponder outcomes. The
dissonance is part of the game. The player is expected to relate to the dissonance. They are
meant to hear it. It helps the players to engage with the character and the decisions they
make together to complete the game. The dissonance portrayed in the game helps us to
evaluate what type of character the main protagonist is and the emotions he goes through.
The ups and downs, the decisions, all end up coming down to one particular ending. It is
entirely down to the player, the way he or she wishes to play the game and the choices he
or she makes to bring about the required ending. No matter what choice you made in the
game it all lead to the same two endings and there was nothing the player could do to
change it.

The music in this game progressively dives into the identity of the main protagonist and the
type of character he is. The music is very dissonant and it can be found in a wide variety of
situations and and events that alter the main characters abilitys. For example, when the
character first gets injected with ADAM, his body is not used to it and he ends up crashing
and hitting the floor. This was an adjustment to the type of character he is and in that, his
identity changed too. He was no longer this normal human being, he was now able to
harness the power of electricity thanks to his injection thus changing his identity.

The identity of the main character in the game is that of uncertainty and unease. He is a
complex character to comprehend and in order to truly figure out what type of character he
is, the game must be played with both endings. There are two different ending for the
character to choose from and this all comes down to the player and his choices in the game.

This is where the identities are linked together as whatever choice the player chooses to
make the in-game character will choose and together they are linked. The scores played
when these cut scenes are shown relate to the outcome of the character and what type of
person they will become at the end of the game. For example when the player has a moral
decision to either rescue or harvest the little sisters, which ever path he or she chooses, a
different cue will play. If the player rescues the little sister, a happy and melodic cue will be
played. However, if the player decides to harvest the little sister for the ADAM, a release of
angry, hateful music is played. Each decision is entirely up to the player but whatever choice
they make will affect the end result of the game. The lead up used to either harvesting or
rescuing a little sister is “This is where they sleep”. The build up gets louder and louder with
very fast movements on the string, getting faster and faster in anticipation. Then the music
stops and we are left with what decision the player has chosen.

Identity in BioShock can be found in various aspects of the game. When we look at the
player we see how the player is able to connect to the in-game character to express their
identity through that character. The composer is showing his identity by writing the score
for the game. He shows that by writing the music, he is linked to the in-game character.
Each action has a sound to which the composer specifically wrote to connect to the
character. The identity of the character is shown in reverse when analysing the player and
the composer. The character is in full, a combination of the player, the composer and the
game producers’ ideas to create one being for a particular purpose. All of these identities
are explored through the medium of music to help connect yet contrast the identities each
player, composer or character has with each other.

The identity of the in-game character is also shown exceptionally well buy the use of the
composers techniques and styles. “The Ocean on his Shoulders” is an extremely suitable
title for the opening scene as it can truly tell us a lot about the character. To suggest that
everything is left to that of the character and for him to discover the world of Rapture is an
enormous goal. Everything is left to the character to uncover the truth about Rapture and
why it failed as an underwater utopian society for the rich and famous. The role of identity
is reasonably clear to see in BioShock and even though all three sections of identity were
researched separately, they complement each other in different ways through various

The song that opens the games “The Ocean on his shoulders” is a perfect example of the
identity of in-game character. Even the title alone tells us that the main character has this
weight on his shoulders that he must live up.

Fig. 4: Garry Schyman, The Ocean on his Shoulders, Solo Violin.[Online]

This is the single line melody while there are other instruments playing in the background.
When played it gives the sense of being lost, confused and alone which is exactly how the
in-game character is feeling at the time. He is coming to terms with his situation and
learning to adapt in order to survive. He is met with challenging obstacles that will test him
as a human being and ask him to question his morality.

Then the morality of the character comes into question as the game plays on. The in-game
character is left with the choice to either kill or harvest the little sisters. The outcomes are
different in two ways. One outcome is that the character has overcome the mental
conditioning that was placed on him as a young child. The second outcome is that of his
mental conditioning has worked so perfectly that he has managed to destroy Rapture,
return to the surface and to take over the world.

Over all the in-game character is a reflection of the identity of the player and the identity of
the composer. When the player is in control of the character, he is updating and customising
the in-game character how he would like him to be. The identity of the in-game character is
part of the composer because he writes the score that relates to the identity of the
character. The role of identity is pretty clear to see in BioShock and even though all three
sections of identity were researched separately, they complement each other in different
ways through various connections.


This dissertation discussed how identity plays an important role in how video game
companies influence players to buy games and create characters. They are looking for more
ways to encourage players to become more involved within the games. They are always
looking for possible outcomes when it comes to immersion and identity in video games.

Chapter 1 examined how the gamer/player was able to portray themselves through the
game in their choice of music and with their character customisation. This shows us that
gaming companies spent time in developing these ideas so that they could express identity
though a virtual means. This chapter also discussed how the player, the in-game character
and the two combined, co-exist as one sub characterisation of the player/gamer. This
proved it was the identity of the gamer in ways he or she though fit yet they may not have
like that in person.

Chapter 2 investigated how the composer wrote the music for the games and how he used
his influences and identity to write the music. He/she was given a storyline which they had
to create music which flowed with that of the main character in the game. This was shown
through the music of BioShock and the way Garry Schyman created the songs to resemble
the in-game character using the techniques he learned, that formed his identity, through
the pieces.

Chapter 3 explores how the player and the composers identity combine together to give us
the identity of the in-game character. This chapter explored how the identity of the in-game
character is shown through the music scored for the game. It shows the titles of the songs
are able to relate to the struggles of the in-game character. His identity is represented
through the music, the techniques and styles the composer used and the attributes the
player has made to the in-game character. All these come together to give us the true
identity of the in-game character.

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