David Byrne Nails the Essence of Gaming

Posted by on Feb 18, 2010 in Business, Musing | 3 Comments

David Byrne apparently wrote it more than two years ago, but I only saw a link yesterday. So forgive me for being the last guy to the party, but his piece in Wired about the spectrum of ways musicians can approach the business of making money from making music is as on-point today as when it was published. And it’s more relevant for authors, game designers, and game publishers today, in the wake of the recent Amazon/Macmillan pissing contest.

But more interesting than his commercial analysis is his insight into what music is, and what that suggests about how games can be, should be, or might be:

In the past, music was something you heard and experienced—it was as much a social event as a purely musical one. Before recording technology existed, you could not separate music from its social context. […] You couldn’t take it home, copy it, sell it as a commodity (except as sheet music, but that’s not music), or even hear it again. Music was an experience, intimately married to your life. You could pay to hear music, but after you did, it was over, gone—a memory.

Tabletop games are just like that. There’s a physical artifact, but the experience of playing the game, of having played it—especially an RPG—is ephemeral, an experience, a memory, just like music was once.


  1. Queex
    February 19, 2010

    I’ve always wished I had the means to record RPG sessions properly. Or was fabulously wealthy so I could fund an RPG TV channel.

    The format would be similar to late-night poker, naturally, with the die rolls being flashed up at the bottom of the screen.

  2. Will Hindmarch
    February 21, 2010

    I buy movies sometimes because I’m chasing the feeling of experiencing them again, especially as something new. I might have bought a DVD not because I love the movie or intend to watch it a lot, but because I want to interact with it or evoke the feeling I got when I saw it once.

    I’ve bought games that I played at conventions for much the same reason — to hearken toward an experience I once had and want to have again, even though such experience is not genuinely reproduceable.

  3. JDCorley
    February 22, 2010

    Hell, I bought The Spirit on DVD so I could screencap comic book city pictures for use in making RPG websites. Lord knows I wouldn’t want it for any other reason.


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