Category Archives: Blue Suede Shoes

Analogy of a computer game?

My friend uo ou says [0:16-0:26] a computer game is a theremin for visuals (rather than sound). (By the by, if you are reading this uo ou, Nixon…). When I heard him say this I had no idea what a theremin was. Naturally, his picture of a woman playing a theramin (sic) confuses matters further.

Here is ‘theremin definition’ googled:

  1. an electronic musical instrument in which the tone is generated by two high-frequency oscillators and the pitch controlled by the movement of the performer’s hand toward and away from the circuit.

The best I can add is that it sounds like the original instrument on which the Dr Who opening music was composed. The Theremin was patented by Leon Theremin in 1928.

And a more computer-game-melody on the theremin (watch the cars turn).

So how exactly are these guys doing with sound what uo ou is doing with images on his computer screen when he plays the game Monster Train in the first video above? I’m not sure his analogy is happy. The marvellous Malevich squares that dance with the rhythms of Hans Richter in the flash intro sequence uo ou has for his own videos shows just the kind of output I would expect from a visual theremin.

The flow of images of a game speak of something else. I direct anyone interested in missing links to akaNemskom on twitch, although I don’t know how often she streams her games. To my low level chess eye her animations look like musical scores that are beyond my skill in reading, but this is just because I cannot follow the movements. For those who wish to read at their own pace here are screenshots of seven moves of a 5 minute game I played on while writing this post. Black is a piece and a pawn down and initiates a suicide run.

These seven moves were played by two people, both moving their hands in some way like the player of the theremin – albeit more splenetically and with little care for precision. The hand movements are aimed to move one piece or pawn to another position and, given this target area nothing is gained by extra precision of hand movement. Perhaps in the game of chess – unlike Monster Train – a piano would be a more appropriate instrument on which to found an analogy? In any case, however, the musical instrument analogy with game does not seem well founded, at least not when we look at a game of chess. Following a chess game is to witness the weaving of a pattern it is true, but this pattern is the dry husk of a living kernel that is not a performance with an instrument but a competition with an opponent.

The moves in a chess game could be played by any combination of person and computer. I submit that when uo ou plays Monster Train he is engaging in one or other such combination. Hand movements in a simulation of war, not a musical performance; a game is a virtual dance of death.

The deployment of the image of a visual theremin as a depiction of someone playing a game is a wonderful first step in building an analogy of a game because it draws the hands of a person with the visual sequence that is the game as it is played. But the sequence of images that result when uo ou plays Monster Train are like a musician playing jazz on an instrument only to the extent that a martial art is indeed an art; the visual sequence above can be appreciated as (low level) art but is not made as art; the visual sequence is the byproduct of a fight for supremacy on a board of sixty-four black and white squares, victory and defeat resolved between two players (person or machine).

Different games may require different kind of hand control, and some may approximate the theremin very closely. But any such hand-eye-screen co-ordination is directed to winning the game not making art.