Joystick: Co-creation with a Gaming Community

How the Lion Learned to Moonwalk
And Other Stories on How to Design for Classical Music Experiences

TABLE OF CONTENTS | 1. Introduction | 2. Weaving Audience Engagement | 3. Creating Visual Design and Meaningful Audience Experiences | 4. Teddy in Space | 5. Shadow Play | 6. The World Online Orchestra | 7. Joystick | 8. A Concert with Striking Force | 9. Lots of Brass, Lots of Colors | 10. Opus Lux | 11. Epilogue

HOW-THE-LION-CHAPTER07-FIRST-PAGECHAPTER 7. This text was originally published on pages 62–71 in the book ‘How the Lion Learned to Moonwalk’, which summarizes the Designing Classical Music Experiences project.

Download the book here.

FULL REPORT | Joystick

The case description below is a shortened version of the report ‘Joystick: Co-creation With a Gaming Community’.

Authors: Erling Björgvinsson, Marie Erhndal, Richard Topgaard, and Eva Wendelboe Kuczynski, Malmö University.

Preview or download the report (3.2 MB).

Joystick: Co-creation with a Gaming Community

The audience in Malmö Concert Hall is waiting for the game-music concert Joystick to start. Some tinker with self-made bead motives of Mega Man bosses, others with pins they have made with the button-badge machine in the foyer. On the screen behind the orchestra, stop-motion films where a few of the audience members are making art with sticky notes are projected. Quite many of the audience members are really looking forward to hear the Classic Nintendo Medley, this because they have suggested what songs it should include. The conductor enters the stage, and the grand theme of the multi-console game Wing Commander starts.

A long-term and collaborative design process
Joystick is a concert format where Malmö Symphony Orchestra (MSO) plays computer-game music. The format, which started in 2006, is highly popular and well visited, drawing mostly male gamers between the ages of eighteen and forty. In the Joystick project, we wanted to explore how the relationship between MSO and the gaming community could be deepened and broadened. More specifically, we wanted to explore what community-engagement processes such deepened relations demand.

The research into how to broaden and deepen the engagement was done through a long-term and collaborative design process that stretched over a year and a half. It involved MSO, the gaming community MEGA, and Malmö University researchers and interaction design students.

The design process focused on three steps. We first met to talk about what values and motivations that drives the gaming community’s engagement in Joystick. Based on the outcome of these discussions, we developed new media and communication formats for Joystick – and we together started sketching concepts for how to create satisfying and engaging holistic experiences. By ‘holistic experiences’ we mean how different elements can work together and strengthen each other; elements such as the concert, the communication, the scenography, the graphical profile, and other side events such as seminars and competitions. As for many other experiments in the Designing Classical Music Experiences project, we strived to create an experience that included activities before, during, and after the concert.

Gamers’ values and motivations of being involved in Joystick
Literature on audience engagement stresses the importance of getting to know the social and cultural values and motivational factors when building relationships with new communities or groups. This ‘getting to know each other’ takes time and requires you to meet in person, and these meetings should be seen as mutual learning opportunities.

The collaborative design process – involving MSO, MEGA, and university researchers and students – pointed out central values and motivational factors pertaining to the gaming community:

  • Gamers view gaming as a serious art form, equal with classical music, and that it should be respected as such.
  • Gamers want a collaboration to start early in the process, else their input simply becomes a badly organized add-on, resulting in a bad outcome.
  • Gamers are willing to share their knowledge, as well as become ambassadors that ‘spread the word’ and connect the cultural organization to gaming communities.
  • Gamers want that communication about an event should happen over a long time, and that it should be transparent and adjusted to their way of expressing themselves. Communication should be less formal and instead be more bi-directional and frequent.

An online game-music community is built
The above values and motivational factors led to a unanimous vote: A person from the gaming community should take on the responsibility of communicating about the concert and about game music in general. The Joystick Blog ( was quickly set up.

The objective of the blog was to establish an online community where game-music lovers could gather to read about and discuss game music. Through the blog, the gaming community was invited to influence the concert set list through requesting songs they wanted to hear. The blog was also the place where the gaming community was invited to take part in other events, such as helping create the scenography. The overall aim was to build momentum up to the Joystick concert, and thus expanding and extending the concert experience, but also to acknowledge that game music is a serious art form.

DIY Pixel Art
Other results from the collaborative design process was that:

  • Gamers see gaming as an active (not passive) cultural expression, and, to them, engagement with a concert format means active participation.
  • Gamers want a consistent and holistic experience, and they want a ‘folk’-festival experience rather than a formal concert.

The above values were guidelines when designing the side events and the scenography. The concert set list was divided into two quite distinct themes, where the first half of the concert was dedicated to music from retro games played on 8-bit and 16-bit game consoles such as Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Amiga, and Commodore 64. These games have a distinct visual expression, and it was decided that ‘pixel aesthetics’ should inform the scenography. One of the reasons for this was also that MEGA has a tradition of working with the pixel aesthetics of early videogames. For example, they used beads to build the first level of Super Mario Bros.

Given the size of the concert hall, it was not an option to work with beads, and it was decided to work with sticky notes instead. A Do-It-Yourself Pixel Art concept was designed. Gamers had an active role in both planning and executing the concept, and the aim was to decorate every window of the concert hall. This resulted in a dynamic scenography that slowly grew into existence. It was a scenography created by the audience, expressing their passionate engagement with computer games. The motives ranged from simple Pacman figures made by families with children that were waiting for the concert to start, to very complex motives that took several days to make. The scenography was thus created through the involvement of many concertgoers, which contributed to the feeling that it was ‘their’ concert hall and that they were part of a larger community.

Producing a set design built on audience engagement needs to be arranged differently than a traditional set design. It demands that the production team is comfortable with the uncertainties that handing over some of the ownership to the audience entails. The set-design team also needs to have the skills to engage and facilitate other people’s creative engagement. It also demands that the team can connect to the right people, and that the ‘invitation to participate’ is made in the right way. The co-creative framework also needs to be such that participants find it inspiring and challenging. MSO working with MEGA and university staff, and having the Joystick Blog as a gamer-to-gamer communication channel, made the DIY Pixel Art a success.


The community is willing to share
More than one hundred concertgoers answered a survey about their experiences from the event. Many respondents gave long and detailed accounts, which is often difficult to achieve through online surveys. Given the amount of time many respondents must have spent on answering, it can be assumed that they believe that they are listened to, and that they can influence the event. Many of these accounts reference particular gaming knowledge, and it is as if they take for granted that the receiver (MSO) has a broad and deep knowledge of the gaming culture. MSO is seen as credible and knowledgeable.

The concert and the overall event was considered to be one of the most successful Joystick events ever. But, there is room for improvement. Almost half of the respondents said that they engaged in social activities prior to going to the concert hall. By offering the right context, and making sure that the information reaches ticket buyers in time, MSO could be the facilitator of these social activities.

It is also clear that the audience is willing to become involved in a mutual learning process. Many respondents say that they have attended other MSO concerts, and surprisingly many express a willingness to learn more about classical music. The conditions to create concert formats where the audience and MSO meet in a mutual learning process seem very good.

One of the questions in the survey was: According to you, what would the ultimate concert format be? Many answers relate to formats where classical music meets popular culture in various ways. Others are more concrete: They want to hear themes from television drama series, concerts where symphonic- and electronic music meet, combined film- and game-music concerts, science-fiction themed concerts, and music from arthouse films.

Given that Malmö is a stronghold for computer-game companies, large and small, another future development could be that MSO helps write and record music for independent game producers – this as a way to promote the artform of classical music in games that rarely use live-performed music.


Malmö Symphony Orchestra, MEGA, researchers and students at Malmö University, and members of the Joystick audience and the gaming community in Malmö.

Learn more
Read the full Joystick report
Reaktioner från spelmusikkonserten Joystick
MSO bjuder in publiken att utsmycka Konserthusets fönster
MSO bjuder in publiken att önska låtar till #joystick6
Följ förberedelserna inför Joystick!
Välkommen till Joystick-workshop nummer fyra den 21 januari
Joystick: resultat från workshop 3
Välkommen till Joystick-workshop nummer tre den 19 november
Fan-kultur sprungen ur TV-spel och tecknade serier
Joystick: 8 bitar som ett sammanhållande tema
Välkommen till Joystick-workshop nummer två den 15 oktober
Joystick flyter ut på gatan, eller kanske en t-shirt?
MSO:s publik bjuds in att utforma “Joystick Challenge”
The Joystick Arena: Students working with Malmö Symphony Orchestra

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