Life is full of music. Getting in your car and turning on the stereo to listen to your favorite song, or hearing it on your headphones, can turn a bad mood into a good one (or vice versa if that’s a thing you like to do). Movies use soundtracks to help guide the audience on how to feel throughout the narrative, and such is the same with video games. A soundtrack can really make or break a game; for those in the horror genre, using piano stings or soft undertones to startle the audience or to build up their anxiety is basically tradition. A veritable host of talented composers and musicians have lent their sound to the industry, providing something you may or may not have even realized was an essential part of your gaming experience.
Series’ like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row are known for their in-game radio stations that play a variety of popular songs from different genres. Some songs are even used as devices for character development, such as your character in Saints Row III and IV singing along with the NPC “Pierce” as the two of you go on driving missions (which is literally the best part in both of those hilarious and awesome games, in this writer’s humble- but correct- opinion). Other genres, like fighting games and action shooters, practically assault your ears with fast-paced techno and dub-step in an attempt to match your mood to the intensity of the combat. All of this is meant to set the stage for you to immerse yourself into the world of whatever game you are playing. There are musical or sound cues in games to let you know that you are being attacked, as well, besides the odd bullet zipping past your character’s face. There are also cues to let you know that you have leveled up, or that you have reached your destination, or that you have died (in case you hadn’t already noticed your avatar flopping to the floor, unmoving). You would likely still be able to figure out that you are about to be crushed by a Reaper (see Mass Effect), but would you feel as anxious about it without the intense music and telltale garbage can sound to accent your dire situation?
Sometimes the music becomes more than a soundtrack and takes on a life of its own outside of the game. The original soundtrack of Halo 4 debuted at number 50 on the Billboard 200 chart back in 2012, selling 9,000 copies its first week (ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halo_4_Original_Soundtrack). This was a record for the category of video game soundtrack sales, and the series as a whole is well-known for the epic scores that sweep you in from the moment the main menu appears, to the very end of every campaign. Music connects us, it speaks to us in a way that is arguably more universal than any other art form. Inon Zur has composed four of the original ambient soundtracks to the Fallout series from Bethesda Studios, and each of them handily convey the heartbreak and dangers of the Wasteland. The Fallout series is also notorious for using licensed songs of nostalgia to complete the feeling of a world stuck in the era of beehive hairdos and martinis, right as it ended in a nuclear fireball. Similarly, the BioShock titles by 2K Games include a host of old songs from the 1930’s and on to induce a sense of lost time as one traverses the dystopian wreckage of the underwater city of Rapture. Those two titles alone raised the interest in the classics with the millennial generation, causing a not insignificant upswing in downloads for artists such as Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin.
The soundtrack of a game can crawl into your brain and live there, just like any hit on the radio. Take Nintendo’s Mario Bros., for example- what would that series be without the instantly recognizable theme music that you can probably hear in your head right now just because you read a reference to it in this sentence? Sonic the Hedgehog is as easily recalled for the themes to each level as it is for the iconic blue rodent that is its eponymous hero. It is easy to become enamored of the majestic beauty of The Elder Scrolls series, especially as the dynamic visualizations of Bethesda’s fantasy epic are accompanied by composer Jeremy Soule’s equally amazing score. It creates an even grander sense of scale in the already stunning and expansive world. There is a lot of affection from gamers for the Metal Gear Solid V Original Soundtrack, with particular notes on the licensed Bowie (R.I.P.) track, “The Man Who Sold the World,” and the haunting melody of “Shining Lights, Even in Death,” by one of the game’s main composers, Ludvig Forssell. Violinist and performance artist Lindsey Stirling owes a fair amount of her fame to her covers of hits and themes from various video game soundtracks such as Zelda, Halo, and Assassin’s Creed. In an interview with GamerHub.TV, Stirling said “I think there’s a certain nostalgia that comes along with video game music because it’s something that takes people back to their childhood.” 1 The music doesn’t always just come from childhood, though; even as an adult, the games you play can become something more than a simple escape or time-killer.
Some games immerse you so completely- whether through the graphics, storytelling, or the ever-present thrall of the music- that you might see the shadow of a bird when you go outside and yell out loud to no one in particular, “Crap! A dragon!,” as no one this writer knows personally ever did… (It was me, I did that. It was after a full night of Skyrim and much mead. Whatever. Don’t judge me.) We have come a long way since the days of 8-bit graphics and music made on Casio keyboards, and those things are now considered classics of the genre and even enjoy remixes from time to time that get people either in the feels or sometimes on their feet. If you just take a moment to type “Tetris Remix” into Google or YouTube, you’ll find a few more than half a million musical tributes, most of them dub-step, to a game originally released in 1984. Music impacts us, it can make you feel like the whole world wants you to be sad, or it can make you think that there is hope for your dreams to come true. If you’ve never wished to have your own personal soundtrack or incidental music cues in real life, perhaps you’ve never really lived.
When asked what their favorite soundtrack to a video game was, the other writers at Untold Gaming were largely unable to select just one. I was given back a long list of songs and games that were more often than not preceded with (warm and loving) death threats if I didn’t include at least one of their choice titles. Here is a list composed of a few of those favorites:
“Deadman’s Gun” by Ashtar Command from Red Dead Redemption Original Soundtrack
“Heaven’s Divide” by Akihiro Honda from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Killer Instinct soundtracks by Mick Gordon
Mass Effect Original Soundtrack by Jack Wall and Sam Hulick
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt soundtrack composed by Marcin Przybyłowicz, Mikolai Stroinski and Percival
Devil May Cry Original Soundtrack produced by Masami Ueda, Misao Senbongi, Masato Koda
Do you agree that music is a vital part of your gaming experience? Let us know and tell us what some of your favorite video game music is or what your favorite soundtracks are at UntoldGaming.com.