In this article we present ludomusicological research associated with the development of the video game Otogarden. Players of Otogarden are able to repeat short musical phrases through the use of a loop mechanic, juxtaposing sounds extemporaneously. By using the methodology of research through design, Otogarden addresses aesthetic and design issues related to musical participation in video games. Specifically, this article argues that video games, a contemporary venue for technologically augmented musicking, can allow access to novel forms of musical improvisation. In fact, while video games afford a remarkable variety of musicking, examples related to musical improvisation remain underexplored, with popular games favoring score-based interactions, as established by titles such as Guitar Hero or Rock Band. In similar examples, music is presented as a task to be completed, mediated by prerecorded compositions and simplified notations. Notable exceptions, such as the experimental game Electroplankton, have been criticized specifically for their lack of composition-oriented functionalities, seemingly neglecting the inherent value of improvisatory musical practices in video games.
Otogarden challenges this understanding of a “music game” by focusing on the largely untapped potential of musical improvisation, “an activity of enormous complexity and sophistication, or the simplest and most direct expression.”1 In order to gain feedback on Otogarden’s special characteristics, we held a playtesting session with a sample of university students (N=21) with a special interest in music and music education. We collected research data from this session in the form of a survey. Analysis reveals different manifested perspectives, offering players novel creative opportunities. In addition, the game has surprising potential as a music-education tool. We conclude that it is possible to deliberately stimulate players’ perspective on the game in an improvisatory musical direction, making evident the extemporaneous musical possibilities connected with digital game engagement.