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The Heart of Battle: The Ludomusicology and Musicking of Fighting Games

Clippinger, Philip (2024) The Heart of Battle: The Ludomusicology and Musicking of Fighting Games. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This piece applies the framework of ludomusicology to fighting games, a genre of video game which is underrepresented in the field. My goal is to determine where the genre fits within this epistemology through established analytical binaries: categorizing music and sound as diegetic versus nondiegetic–as well as adaptive or interactive–is one aspect of my approach. Writing about games requires exposition and context, so I also rely on my own experiences as musician, musicologist, and gamer. It is this perspective that lends itself to unpacking the musical qualities of playing fighting games. By examining how these games work and what they do differently from other genres, I contemplate how music and sound synergize with these design choices. These factors contribute to a gaming experience driven by dynamic composition and foley work. Audio in games reacts to what is happening onscreen, compelling the player to react in a certain way. I review how ludomusicologists treat game music from a general and theoretical standpoint before modifying my scope to consider how they treat combat. This allows me to zero in on how battles in fighting games are scored and sonically understood. For general framework of ludomusicological analysis, I turn to scholarly work with Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series, which has been favored by researchers due to its musical world-building. I then contemplate how this framework is compatible with fighting franchises such as Street Fighter and Tekken, which will also elucidate the embodied parallels between playing an instrument and “playing” a controller. Fighting games are powerful mediums for exploring this intersection because, much like in musical performance, playing them well requires mechanical prowess, perfect timing, and virtuosity. The 2013 reboot of Killer Instinct contains a fascinating example of musicking1 through the game’s “Ultra Combos.” A player who wins can perform a long string of attacks on their opponent to showcase their skill. The game matches the instrumentation and sound world of the stage to the rhythm of the player delivering the beatdown, creating music. During an Ultra Combo, the role of instrument is extended to include both controller and avatar.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Clippinger, PhilipPHC20@pitt.eduPHC20
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Thesis AdvisorWang,
Committee MemberHeller,
Committee MemberCassaro,
Date: 9 January 2024
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 20 April 2023
Approval Date: 9 January 2024
Submission Date: 16 November 2023
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 69
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: MA - Master of Arts
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Musicology, Ludomusicology, Analysis, Fighting Games, Video Games, Tekken, Street Fighter, Soul Calibur, Killer Instinct, The Legend of Zelda, Musicking
Date Deposited: 09 Jan 2024 19:38
Last Modified: 09 Jan 2024 19:38


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