Toadofsky's Music Lessons
Afterword for Music Video Games: Performance, Politics, Play, ed. Michael L. Austin (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), pp. 297–303
I devoured this entire volume in a single nearly uninterrupted sitting. Clicks and bloops rang in my ears, while colors and patterns popped into my mind’s eye. Vivid writing sucks you into a sensorial vortex; or, to use game-related vocabulary, such prose warps you (à la Mario’s magic whistle or Link’s ocarina) to other lands, other times. Striking essays in these pages abound with efforts to capture the sights, sounds, and feelings of music video games—an umbrella genre distinguished by a vital emphasis on rhythmic engagement and audiovisual coordination. Authors tackle broad themes, everything from agency and accessibility to community and pedagogy. Inquiries revolve around play’s musicality and music’s playfulness. In historical, technological, and cultural perspectives, much of ludomusicology’s literature to date upholds music and play as a match made in heaven, insofar as both activities echo with creativity, virtuosity, and the making and breaking of rules. In this brief afterword, I offer some modest musings on the ethical possibilities of music video games. By lending an ear to the affective affordances of music video games, I tease out the larger social stakes at work in day-to-day debates about artistry and recreation. With reference to a musical moment in the 1996 game Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, I use the metaphor of the safety net to weave together insights about what musicality entails, how it feels, and why anyone would seek to deny such feelings either to themselves or to others.