James’ Choice

In 2018, composer James Saunders wrote a new piece for our annual summer course: the Nadar Summer Academy. Today, we asked him to tell us about his favourite book: ‘Mary Flanagan and Helen Nissenbaum’s Values at Play in Digital Games’.

“My interest as a composer at the moment is in how people behave on their own and in groups, exploring how this might be used to create music using rules to give people choices about what to do. Through doing this I’ve been thinking about the way games operate, and particularly how we experience play and what we learn through it. In Mary Flanagan and Helen Nissenbaum’s Values at Play in Digital Games, they explore this from the perspective of games designers, considering how the structure of games–their aims, rules, goals and contexts–affect behaviour and create meaning. They suggest games can communicate and embody values, for example violence, antagonism, territoriality, cooperation, and teamwork in American football. Changes to rules affect these values: consider the impact of rule changes in any game or sport. The book presents a model for developing games that consider our values and how we enact them.”

“This is useful for music too. Game design (digital or otherwise) can be used to generate human interaction in surprising ways, and many of the ideas designers use transfer directly to music. What really excites me about this approach is the emphasis on player and audience experience, suggesting ways that games, or music, can translate real-world concerns through play. By presenting players with choices and the need to make decisions, purpose can be created if framed as part of a wider ethical consideration of the impact of such decisions. It helps us reflect on the world around us and how we choose to interact with it, which for me is an integral part of being a composer.”