The Nirvana effect

I’m currently working on a book chapter about the use of video games in music education. While doing my research, I came across a paper by Kylie Peppler, Michael Downton, Eric Lindsay, and Kenneth Hay, “The Nirvana Effect: Tapping Video Games to Mediate Music Learning and Interest.” It’s a study of the effectiveness of Rock Band in teaching traditional music skills. The most interesting part of the paper comes in its enthusiastic endorsement of Rock Band’s notation system.

Rock Band 3 notation

The authors think that Rock Band and games like it do indeed have significant educational value, that there’s a “Nirvana effect” analogous to the so-called Mozart effect:

We argue that rhythmic videogames like Rock Band bear a good deal of resemblance to the ‘real thing’ and may even be more well-suited for encouraging novices to practice difficult passages, as well as learn musical material that is challenging to comprehend using more traditional means of instruction.

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Carl Sagan explains why Pong is good for you

From from Sagan’s highly-recommended 1977 book The Dragons Of Eden:

There is a popular game, sometimes called Pong, which simulates on a television screen a perfectly elastic ball bouncing between two surfaces. Each player is given a dial that permits him to intercept the ball with a movable “racket”. Points are scored if the motion of the ball is not intercepted by the racket. The game is very interesting. There is a clear learning experience involved which depends exclusively on Newton’s second law for linear motion. As a result of Pong, the player can gain a deep intuitive understanding of the simplest Newtonian physics – a better understanding even than that provided by billiards, where the collisions are far from perfectly elastic and where the spinning of the pool balls interposes more complicated physics.

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Improvisation in music games

Joshua Pablo Rosenstock. Free Play Meets Gameplay: iGotBand, a Video Game for Improvisers. Leonardo Music Journal, Vol. 20, pp. 11–15, 2010.

Guitar Hero, Rock Band and games like them have done a wonderful service to non-musicians. The games give a good sense of what playing an instrument in a band is like. The interface is simplified, but the overall experience is qualitatively remarkably similar. The games also change their players’ listening habits. A non-musician friend told me that until he played through Beatles Rock Band as Paul McCartney, he had never paid attention to a song’s bassline. Now he hears all those familiar Beatles songs in a new and richer way, and generally has learned to listen like a musician.

There is one crucial difference between the games and real music-making, however, and that is the absence of improvisation. The player moves through the song like a train on a track, and the games penalize any variation from the prescribed notes. Not all real-life music is improvisational either, but there is usually some element of personal expressiveness. Not so in Guitar Hero. Mimicry is the only way to play.

The South Park kids get their Guitar Hero on

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Na Na Na Na

If you’ve been following my internet presence, you know how much I love flowcharts. So naturally, I was amused by this Randall Munroe cartoon:

I was reminded of it walking down the street the other day, because someone in our neighborhood in Brooklyn was blasting a dancehall track from their car that sampled the “na, na na na na, na na na naaah na na na na na na” part from “Land Of A Thousand Dances.” Then I got to thinking, this cartoon is actually an inspired recipe for a mashup.

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The Facebook Effect

Last night I caught a lecture by David Kirkpatrick on his book The Facebook Effect. This post is going to be about Kirkpatrick’s discussion of the book, not the book itself, since I just got it last night and haven’t started reading it yet. But his talk certainly conveyed the flavor.

Kirkpatrick had one significant advantage over the makers of The Social Network: participation by Mark Zuckerburg. Kirkpatrick loves Facebook and reveres Zuckerburg, so his book isn’t exactly a hard-hitting expose. Techcrunch accompanies their review of the book with this image:

I don’t think Kirkpatrick is wrong; Facebook is an undeniable phenomenon and Zuck is a remarkable guy. I just don’t love FB as unreservedly as Kirkpatrick does.

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Blogging is a real-time strategy game

One night, Anna was watching me Twitter over my shoulder. After a while, she announced: “I get it. It’s a video game where you compete for attention from strangers on the internet.” She’s completely correct. Having a web presence is effectively a real-world immersive internet game. The scoreboard is your stats page or follower list. Like any good iPhone game, Twitter even has a built-in global leaderboard.

Blogging scratches the same itch in me as SimCity or Civilization, except instead of building a virtual terrarium I’m building social connections.

This is not to knock SimCity and Civilization at all. They’re a ton of fun, and they’re brilliant teaching tools for computer science and the concept of emergence. Blogging is a better real-time strategy game, though, because it brings me non-hypothetical real-world benefits.

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Halo is a giant mashup

My taste in video games mostly runs to the cartoony Japanese stuff: Mario, Zelda, Katamari. But I had access to an Xbox and a copy of Halo for a while, and I couldn’t rest until I finished it. I walked around thinking about it whenever I wasn’t playing. Every aspect of it was familiar, except for the fact of all of the sources being giddily combined together without any concern for logic. It’s like a perfect nerd mixtape.

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DDR at Turkey Day

My family does not, as a general rule, dance. Maybe individually. Very rarely together. It takes a wedding or bar mitzvah or other major state occasion to get even some of us on the dance floor. When left to our own devices, it doesn’t happen spontaneously. At least not until last Thanksgiving, when we tried out Dance Dance Revolution.

Every Thanksgiving, or every other, the whole mishpokeh gathers at my mom and stepdad’s place in Vermont. We have a good time eating and hanging out, watching football on TV and taking walks on the dirt roads. In the past couple of years we’ve started reintroduced video games into the mix. Katamari Damachy was a hit with some of my younger cousins. But Dance Dance Revolution turned out to be the really big smash. It was my sister’s then-boyfriend, now-fiance who had the idea, and he deserves mad props for thinking of it. The whole clan got involved, from the toddlers up to the seniors.

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The Beatles were an electronica band

Update: hear my 5.1 surround remix of “Here Comes The Sun.”

Why are the Beatles still so cool? By which I mean the late Beatles, Revolver onwards. I like Please Please Me as much as the next guy, but it isn’t why the Beatles are cool now. No, I mean the last few records, especially Sgt Pepper, the White Album and Abbey Road. If any of these albums were released next week, Pitchfork would go ballistic over them. Three quarters of the indie rock of the past ten years descends directly from Abbey Road. Why do we all still care so much?

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