The Role of Music in WHOSE life?

One of my favorite things in media- any medium- is when the structure can get you thinking, or rethinking, about the medium itself. The first time I read House of Leaves, listened to “Rossz Csillag Alatt-Született” or most recently played “What Remains of Edith Finch,” all of those coincided with moments of feeling awestruck, of completely re-examining what that medium was and what it could be. You could think of those as “remixes” but that cheapens them, to me. They are rethinking and shaping the new forms that media can take. And all of them had a voice that was completely unique, completely new, and gave me a renewed sense of who I was.

As someone with a musical background and a music education background, “The Role of Music in Your Life” had me pretty skeptical; of course “Abbey Road” is the best Beatles album, why is this a question? While “playing”- for lack of a better term- through “The Role of Music…” the moment that you begin to realize this isn’t what you expect, and then the even better moment when you realize the thing you weren’t expecting is also not what you thought, those moments are literary delights. Do the user’s responses actually matter? I don’t think so and it’s beside the point; this seems like a new way for an author to tell a story, whether or not you want to go along willingly.

I could see this being a pretty obvious tool in creative writing or English classes, addressing essential questions like: how do we influence the reader, how do we shape a narrative, how do we exert control while also letting go of it? This is also the kind of digital tool that really can’t be replicated otherwise, which to me is the kind of tool we can use effectively. Simple, easy to use, quick, but more importantly something that is a great jumping off point for discussion, further exploration, and overall deep instruction.

Overall I think this is just a really interesting literary tool and way of exploring storytelling. But to be completely honest, I’m not sure how necessary these types of digital storytelling tools are, because I think video games generally do a better job of these narratives. “The Role of Music” doesn’t exactly teach you something, but it does get you to an unconventional place through unique storytelling. It reminds me of Gone Home, or in a more branching narrative way, Life is Strange. However, I have to double down on a reference I made earlier, which is “What Remains of Edith Finch.”

When I think about media that teach something while telling a story, and that gets you rethinking about the medium itself, I absolutely cannot think of a better example than the “Cannery” level of “Edith Finch”. *If you plan on playing this game, PLEASE do not read on.* The game has you explore vignettes of a doomed family tree, in which every member of the family dies- you play through their death, but instead of being macabre it’s quite beautiful. When you explore the story of Edith’s brother, Lewis, you begin by occupying his day job- chopping off fish heads- with your right hand, while your left hand explores Lewis’s deepening psychosis through a mental fantasy. To me this is quite similar to “The Role of Music” because it presents something- mental illness, poor family relationships, etc.- in a way that is not only unique to the chosen medium, but done in a way that is rarely (if ever) done in that chosen medium. Watch a playthrough of the level (if you want) below:

This is not necessarily to say that games like Edith Finch should always take the place of digital storytelling tools like Role of Music. However, I think it depends on what you’re trying to do. If you want students to literally create a nonlinear narrative, then yes, Role of Music might be great, but you’ll probably elicit a lot of copycats. I’m constantly trying to think of ways to encourage the use of video games in classrooms in ways that are not literal- “hey kids, physics is fun! Play this “Portal” level and now do math about it!” — but are instead figurative or used as ways of expanding thinking. I could see using Role of Music if I wanted students to do something just like that; play this, now make this. But if I really wanted someone to understand nonlinear storytelling, or transformational storytelling, or even creative writing, this is a time I’d prefer to use some of aforementioned games, because they commit more fully to this idea.

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