Let’s Set the Score Straight

Link directing music
Link directing music

Since video games have become commonplace in today’s society, their influence has grown in ways that may seem unexpected.  When we look back at some of the very first video games and compare them to the games we see in stores today, it seems like we followed some natural progression to get where we are, and I would have to completely agree; stories have become more in depth and intricate, graphics have almost reached the realism many FPSs aim for, and the sounds! Voice acting, effects, and, yes this is what I’ve been setting up, music has become exceptional… so much so in fact, that video game music seems to have gained an unprecedented-in-video-game-communities following, which is that of non-gamers.  When I say video game music you might think of the beginning 8bit music of Tetris, or maybe something like the always recognizable Mario theme.  What I want to get to is not how easily recognizable these classics have become, but how they have influenced actual artists and fans outside of game production and inspired them to create something beautiful, whether those creations follow cannon, are covers, or are something that is a combination of old and new, cover and creation.

Many artists and groups cover video game theme music, and add their own personal flair to make it their own.  Take Lindsey Stirling for example.  She is a violinist and dancer that covers these themes and imposes her own style on them, which is expressed in how she dances or the actual video she creates and the idea it presents, like in her cover-creation Zelda Medley or in her Pokemon inspired video.  Other famous groups include the Minibosses, Japanese group The Black Mages, and Powerglove to name a few of varying styles.


What really amazed me and who I personally enjoy is The Protomen.  “We basically gathered up all of our good friends from the local rock bands of Murfreesboro, tied ourselves together, and tried to walk. And somehow it worked. At the time, we noticed a void in rock and roll. A hole that could only really be filled with grown men and women painting up like robots and playing some fierce and furious rock music based on a 1980s video game. We were fairly certain no one else was going to fill that hole. But, by god, it’s filled now. You can thank us later.” (Wikipedia)  They compose based around the Megaman storyline, but where other video game cover or tribute bands take some part of the music from the actual game score, The Protomen utilize the plot, not only that, but far more liberally than other bands of the same nature.  They use the Megaman storyline as a sort of set-up.  Their two albums are written as prequels to the actual plot presented in game but do not necessarily stay cannon.  The first is about the origin of Megaman himself setting us up in a dystopian world of mostly robots ruled by a human, Dr. Wiley (the series main villain) through the story of his “older brother” and his fight to save the world.  Their second album is a prequel to the first and is about Dr. Wiley’s struggle with and against Dr. Light (Protoman and Megaman’s creator) and his subsequent rise to power.  These albums are beautifully composed and emoted, but not only that, it is the creativity of the story itself and the world building in the songs that make them so atypical and has given The Protomen the cult following that they have.

8bit Megaman and Protoman
8bit Megaman and Protoman
The Protomen Act I concept album cover
The Protomen Act I concept album cover

Video game music has not only affected fans though, it has influenced more mainstream sounds too.  It can not only be heard in electronica artists like Dizzee Rascal and Keiran Hebden, but also in rock bands like Dragonforce and in pop songs like Ke$ha’s Tic Tok which was the best selling single in 2010.  It can be seen in music videos that have become more cinematic, telling stories that show video game-esque themes like in Switchfoot’s music video to their song Awakening referencing rhythm games or in The Red Hot Chili Peppers song Californication.  Video game music is a growing genre that is beginning to gain more of a following in pop culture. 




  5 comments for “Let’s Set the Score Straight

  1. eppsilon
    February 16, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Very interesting. I think we can also see a reverse phenomenon. As video games have become bigger and bigger, and many rivaling big-budget films in budget and sophistication of plot, character, and so on, video game music has also changed–or, we could say video game music has evolved. Of course, the nature of a video game’s soundtrack depends on the nature of the game itself. For many RPGs, especially sweeping epics of high fantasy and/or science fiction like Bioware’s Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises, soundtracks tend to be highly orchestral, on par with classic soundtracks like those composed by Howard Shore or Hans Zimmer; though science fiction tends to incorporate plenty of computer-generated music as well. Blends of traditional orchestra music and contemporary electronically-produced music can be heard in the Halo games, the aforementioned Mass Effect games, and Bungie’s (the original creators of Halo) newest release, Destiny.

  2. mclark6
    February 18, 2015 at 3:29 am

    I’m glad to see an article about music in video games!! I think a lot of video game music is taken for granted — most players appreciate it, but I often see beautiful soundtracks pushed aside by an audience. Music is CRUCIAL to a game’s formal elements, whether the soundtrack is 50+ pieces of orchestrated bliss or endless, intentional silence.

    One of the most interesting uses of music in games that I’ve seen is in Ocarina of Time, whose music has become extremely culturally significant out-of-game. In-game, however, the music accomplishes the goal of blurring the line between diegetic and non-diegetic. When Link plays a song on his ocarina, the game often “joins in” with the player to complete the tune. Link presumably can’t hear this, but the player can. Furthermore, the songs that play in the background of certain areas are often the songs that you will learn on your ocarina to interact with or move the player to that area. The player will often hear this background music as non-diegetic and atmospheric, but in-game this melody is one that carries great significance in the world.

  3. Aspen
    February 21, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    Finally! I have been waiting for a blog post to talk about music. Granted it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be about but I will still pleased! I love that you mention artist that remake popular videogame music, on of my favorites is Taylor Davis who is also a violinist. I think by outside musicians coming together to remake videogame songs is great. It sets up more of a community between different mediums of art. I also love that real artists are even now making soundtracks to videogames. The importance of music in videogames cannot go unnoticed. From evoking a feeling to just making the player have something to listen to other than silence. Also, it would be really cool if you talked diegetic and non-diegetic sound too. Not in this article, per say, but in your next blog post maybe?

  4. amandariffe1
    February 24, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    I’ve never really thought about video game music as its own genre but it’s a really interesting idea because you’re absolutely right: video game music has definitely surpassed just belonging to gaming culture. People who have never played the games recognize the music. It’s also, as you pointed out with Lindsey Sterling, being remixed and changed. I know that the London Philharmonic Orchestra has a “Greatest Video Game Music” album (which people should definitely check out). In other words, the music is making it’s way into pop culture separate from the games they belong to.

    What would also be interesting is an article on the use of gaming sounds in pop culture: for instance, the sound from Mario’s jump and the sound from his coin-grabbing is almost as popular, if not moreso, than the actual music.

  5. cliberty
    February 27, 2015 at 11:34 am

    The importance of music to video games and music as it has evolved from video games is an intriguing topic. As other people have also commented you made a very interesting connection between video games and a music culture that has originated from those games. While I had heard of artists like Lindsey Sterling who adopted music from games into their own tributes and styles I was particularly struck with the group Protomen you brought up. The idea of musicians trying to create or enforce a history to specific games seems like such a novel idea that I had never considered possible, yet it makes sense. When people love and feel dedicated to a game they want to share their love for it, some people do this though writing positive reviews or drawing fan art, and Protomen does this through music. After reading all article the real question I found myself left with was are there other groups out there that also try to represent game histories or plots directly in their music. In the quote you had it seems Protomen themselves did not believe that there was anyone really filling this category but I think it would be worth while to try and research and find out if the music groups have also tried to tackle this type of music.

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