Computer Gaming and Protocols of Improvisation

Protocols of Improvisation

Voluntary guidelines used by performers--among them musicians, writers, actors, artists, gamers--to ground the play of improvisation in performance situations. That the constraints are a form of voluntary discipline is intrinsic to the nature of improvisation.

"To achieve maximal fluency and coherence, improvisers, when they are not performing free (or 'absolute') improvisation, use a referent, a set of cognitive, perceptual, or emotional structures (constraints) that guide and aid in the production of musical materials" (Pressing 52). Jacques Attali writes extensively on the "codes" found in the production of music: "rules of arrangement and laws of succession" which provide "precise operationality" (25).

Protocols--"long-established codes" determining "precedence and precisely correct procedure"--may at first seem antithetical to popular notions of improvised creativity. Protocols are strategies or agreements which "glue" events together (after the Greek protókollon, a first leaf glued to the front of a manuscript and containing notes as to its contents). An inter-disciplinary study of improvisation reveals, however, that any "free play," spontaneity, or personally expressive contribution is generally framed by guidelines of some sort. These guidelines, whether explicitly stated or implicitly embodied in the mode of expression, ground the play of improvisation in performance situations and, in Pressing's analysis, signify expertise.

To foster genuine improvisation, protocols must be carefully designed to frame the performance, inspire creative individual expression, integrate the individual into a real or imagined collective, and appear to be non-coercive, or voluntary.