For most people, the fun of computer games is worlds apart from the seriousness of classical music.
This is not the case for Shanghai-based composer and audio designer Ben Houge. With a master's degree of music in composition from the University of Washington, United States, the 32-year-old American is renowned in the gaming world for composing the score for Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura.
"My classical music background does not necessitate a focus on history," Houge explains, sitting in one of Shanghai's small, hip cafes.
"Instead, I use my background to understand the present day." In other words, Houge is a huge fan of the gaming world.
Houge's work as audio designer can be found in successful game productions such as Half-Life: Opposing Force, Leisure Suit Larry 7, and King's Quest: Mask of Eternity.
Presently, he is working with an international team in Shanghai to develop a new game, the details of which are still confidential.
After seven years at Seattle-based gaming company Sierra, Houge opted in 2004 to take his audio talents to the French gaming company Ubisoft in Shanghai. At the outset, the link between China and an international, multilingual, computer game audio designer is not overtly apparent.
And initially, Houge actually did have his mind set on Paris. But when a network contact at Ubisoft suggested setting sail for Shanghai, Houge decided to go east.
"In spite of a relatively limited knowledge about Asia, moving here was not difficult because I have had my share of training in coping with the challenges of new environments," Houge says.
As the son of modern missionaries, Houge grew up in the West African countries of Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire from 1984-1990. "Modern missionaries function as regional advisors and administrators," says Houge on what brought him and his family to West Africa.
During his studies at St. Olaf College in Northfield Minnesota, the fascination for French, a language Houge learnt in a boarding school in West Africa, brought him to France's Universite Catholique de l'Ouest in Angers.
In Shanghai, Houge gets to use his language skills daily, working side by side with internationals at Ubisoft and some of China's top programmers who are hailed from all over China. Now Mandarin has become Houge's newest linguistic challenge.
When it comes to the world of music, Houge's passion is diversified. The computer game audio designer is not only acknowledged for his work on some high profile games, but also has a background as a classical composer of choral, mostly religious music.
At the same time, Houge is keen on the "noise scene" and "real-time electronics".
His passion for computer music recently led him to a cooperation with the locally established NOIShanghai.
"The element I seriously miss in my life in Shanghai is closer collaboration with fellow musicians such as I used to have in the several composers' collectives in Seattle," says Houge about embracing Chinese life. "However, the inspiring thing about Shanghai is that it has so much positive energy."
On his days off, Houge can occasionally be found at the piano performing in front of friends at a local club, singing in English, German, French and even Mandarin.
(China Daily September 21, 2007)