CSUN Gamer Symphony Orchestra Creates an Outlet for Musical Gamers

  • CSUN Gamer Symphony Orchestra playing in a room.

    CSUN Gamer Symphony Orchestra plays along to several upbeat video game compositions. Photo by David J. Hawkins.

  • CSUN Gamer Symphony Orchestra playing.

    CSUN Gamer Symphony Orchestra plays along to several upbeat video game compositions. Photo by David J. Hawkins.

  • CSUN Gamer Symphony Orchestra playing.

    CSUN Gamer Symphony Orchestra plays along to several upbeat video game compositions. Photo by David J. Hawkins.

Many people love video games for the sense of reward that comes after accomplishing a mission or the stress relief it can offer. But, because games can also be addicting, it’s important for gamers to unplug once in a while.

A group of students at California State University, Northridge are using their musical inclinations to arrange new hobbies. The students have paired their enthusiasm for music with their passion for video games, creating a unique ensemble: the CSUN Gamer Symphony Orchestra.

Created on campus in 2013, the 35-member symphony orchestra is open to students in all majors. This semester, the group performed music from role-playing games such as Final Fantasy 6, NieR: Automata, Diddy Kong Racing, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Genso Suikoden: Tierkreis, and Super Mario 64. Many of these games are Japanese-created and others have Western musical influences. They are considered part of the adventure music genre, which features upbeat music for fighting scenes.

“Playing music for the game is definitely a lot different [than playing the game itself],” said Michael Macapagal, CSUN Gamer Symphony Orchestra conductor and media composition student. “[In a sense], ​we are the video game, and the people are the players listening to us. Being the artist or creator feels a lot nicer than being the consumer — it’s like we gave something to the consumer.”

Macapagal describes his role as “keeping the ensemble together and shaping the music.” This semester he enjoyed learning how all the instruments connect to one another, along with having the power and organizational skills to keep the symphony running smoothly.

He noted that he, like many other gamers, once devoted too much time to playing video games instead of focusing on goals such as maintaining a high GPA. Now, he has been able to shift his focus to appreciating the music from that world with like-minded peers.

“I learned that as a conductor, we have to connect with the people a lot, even outside of music,” said Macapagal. “It’s not just playing music. Human interaction is important.”

Macapagal worked with alumna Lauren Keber ​16 (Music Composition) to organize the ensemble. As the group’s director, Keber travels from Pomona to CSUN to arrange for the group and manages rehearsals between herself and the conductor. The orchestra, which is an official campus club, presents one concert a year, a recording session and is “always looking for new members.”

“It’s time-consuming and there’s a lot of work that goes into it, but I find it very rewarding,” said Keber. “I continue to do it because I value the group, and I really value the community that comes from the group. I really want other people to enjoy it, too.”

Keber and Macapagal also have taken advantage of assistance from other chapters of Gamer Symphony Orchestras of America, a national organization that provides resources for music compositions and student-composed pieces. CSUN’s chapter has joined the ranks of those at other campuses, including University of Maryland — the organization’s first — Ithaca College and Montclair State University.

“Even though I was no longer a student, I’d become a music director so I could keep the group together and keep it going,” Keber said. “I wanted people to play my arrangements and compositions, but after that, the drive was the responsibility of being a conductor.”

Next semester, the group is looking for a more open approach to playing. They plan to open rehearsals to musicians of every level, Macapagal said: “Our plan is to have music where there are easy, medium and advanced levels, so that people can come in randomly. It will make everyone happier.”

Macapagal said he’d also like to organize a Gamer Symphony Orchestra regional concert for the Southern California area in the coming years.

For more information on the orchestra or to join, visit: https://www.facebook.com/pg/CSUNGSO/about/

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