Players in space
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In this article we'll list the ways in which we may think about spatial arrangements of players in music games and list activities that utilize them. Hopefully, this set may simplify finding suitable titles to play, or provide food for thought for designers.

A few factors determine the spacing in the game, among them:

  • the number of players,
  • presence of an audience,
  • participator roles, especially of a conductor or a facilitator,
  • instrumentation of the music,
  • game components used.

The popular layouts for a single game are circle, semi-circle, or scatter. Layouts will form the final list with game examples, but first, let's have a look at a few other spatial parameters.

Minor spatial parameters

Body position of players is usually seated or standing up. More demanding actions may happen too, especially close to improvisational theatre. Meaningful change of position is often used to mark "active" players against those that are "out", but a more interesting example you can see in Boy & Girl Clap where position of fellow players (including "standing on the chair") directly influences the notes of a melody that we perform.

Mobility may be more general — when a game is allowing or demanding from players to move around the space. Currently, a few games of this type on the wiki expect players to form temporary duos and then move to another pair, like Mating Game or Evolution. Good luck with that if you have more than one pianist…

Density will depend on the number of players, available space, and instrumentation (acapella games being potentially the most tightly packed). Of games currently present, Musical Brouhaha makes use of players being close or far from each other, but more generally, the topic was closely considered in music, for example by John Cage (1973, 39):

The separation of players in space when there is an ensemble is useful towards bringing about this non-obstruction and interpenetration, which are of the essence. Furthermore, this separation in space will facilitate the independent action of each performer […] There is the possibility when people are crowded together that they will act like sheep rather than nobly.

The remark was made in the context of a very specific artistic aim, but it's always good to consider the distance between players closely, even if you work towards a different musical/gaming goal.

All in all, in comparison with layouts, minor parameters are much more involved with topics of accessibility and safety.

Layouts

For a list of games that utilize the layout click on the title of its section. We're talking here about positioning of players, disregarding additional participants "on the side" or "weaving through", like judges, dealers, or accompanists.

Solo

Solo.png

Single-player games are not very common. They might be an edge case of every other layout.

Mirrored

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Here we'll put activities where there are two sides in spatial relation to each other. Duos will fit into this category, but also symmetrical teams.

In improvised music, the duo format holds a particular significance. Some players maintain that the duo is so special and forceful that every band, at its core, forms itself around the energy (whether complimentary or agonistic) between two players.

(DiPiero 2022, 93)

Line

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A line provides direction and limits eye contact between players. Historically represented in playful musical activities like pageants or parades, but also in processions. We currently don't have activities on a line.

Semicircle

Semicircle.png

Gives more contact than a line. Comparing to the circle, semicircle will be useful if there is audience at the performance, if the conductor or some form of display needs to be clearly seen at all times, or if there are props set out at disposal.

Circle

Circle.png

The king of layouts, circle has utmost flexibility until crossing the twenties of the player count. Suggests an egalitarian approach, even when a facilitator is present; with an inside which may contain a table, conductors, or a practical emptiness that provides abundant eye contact (for better or worse). But did you know that players may also face outwards?

Scatter

Scatter.png

Scattered layout of players will be necessary with large player counts and limited space, or to allow for free mobility. Movement and position may be at different levels of order and direction. Some randomness is required for the layout to remain scatter, otherwise it should be rather treated as complex.

Complex

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Some games sort out players in quite particular ways inside a room. Some may not refer to a single room and use diverse spatial features of wardrobes, corridors, or outdoors.


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