Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by transcript Verlag September 17, 2020

Gaming Musical Instruments

Music has to be Hard Work!

Jan Torge Claussen
From the journal Digital Culture & Society


This article addresses the relationship between labour and learning a popular musical instrument like the guitar in the specific context of a video game. Most gamification theories promise that using a video game makes it easy to learn (Kapp 2012; Deterding et al. 2011). Even if this holds true, I argue that this kind of playfulness causes some backlash, which I observed during an experiment in which students played the music video game Rocksmith 2014. Learning and playing the guitar through the medium of a video game comes with diverse experiences as well as expectations that are closely related to the dichotomies between play and work, often discussed in game studies based on the famous texts by Johann Huizinga (2004) and Roger Caillois (1960). Learning any traditional music instrument requires much effort in several skill areas, for example, dexterity, hearing, sight-reading, and performance. In other words, it seems to be hard work and not at all playful like a video game. In this article, the various aspects of playful work and labourious play, found in both music education and guitar games, will be discussed against the backdrop of empirical findings including data from online interviews, research diaries and video recordings.

Published Online: 2020-09-17
Published in Print: 2019-12-01

© 2020 by transcript Verlag