Wednesday, April 13, 2011

69. video game music gets some overdue respect

[Article first published as Videogame Music Gets Some Overdue Respect on Blogcritics.]

have you ever sat down for a nice gaming session and found yourself humming a tune from the game after you log out or put the controller down? how about replaying game cut scenes in your head because the music in the scene is really what tied it all together for you? i sure do, and I don't think I'm alone. there must be countless gamers who spend their days at work, school, or even on the bus or train silently rocking out to their favorite game diddy. whether it’s some rock rendition from an action game or a slow melody from an RPG, game music is far more sophisticated now than the beeps and boops you’d get from pac-man back in the day. i’m actually playing the song “hepatica” from xenosaga episode III in my head as i type this.

when used properly in a game, music just has that ability to wield power over us. it’s what’s responsible for evoking feeling and delivering subtleties to the player that dialogue and visuals can’t do alone. for example — the ending to final fantasy X would have done absolutely nothing for me if it was just dialogue and sound, nobuo uematsu’s music that went with it is what made me want to keep beating the end boss over and over. there are a ton of scores and songs from games that do the same for others, and i’d like to see them get more recognition, because in my opinion, they’re every bit as good as those from movies and require every bit as much work and talent to pull off.

one song that garnered a large fan base is “baba yetu,” by composer christopher tin. The piece was used in sid meier’s civilization IV, and after hearing those choir vocals, it’s tough to shake it out of your head. are you wondering why it sounds familiar even if you’ve never played civ IV? it is probably in your short term memory banks as it was honored with a grammy in the 2011 grammy awards as part of tin’s album calling all dawns. mr. tin left that day not just with a grammy, but with the first grammy ever awarded to a song written for a videogame. “baba yetu” has been a huge hit for years before the award, it was used as a song during the opening ceremonies of the world games of 2009 in taiwan, and featured in video games live, a concert series based solely on music composed for videogames performed by top orchestras and choirs.

it looks like this moving of game music to the mainstream is just the beginning. recently, the grammys were restructured a little bit, and in that restructuring was the addition of videogames to the description of four awards, instead of just keeping them lumped in as "visual media." in an interview with industry gamers, bill friemuth, VP of awards for the recording academy, said, "I think this could be viewed as a first step in the direction of videogames getting their own category.” he also added that “many people from the game community have been asking us to create a special category for games over the years, but the main reason we haven't is because we have received very few entries from game publishers.” well why would you be receiving submissions if they were probably just going to be ignored anyway? steve schnur, worldwide executive for music at EA has his own opinion as well: "This acknowledges that film, TV and games can stand side by side and be independently recognized," and further, "hopefully, this will create an even playing field when people vote next year. I expect there to be a tidal wave of submissions from the game industry.:

for those interested, here are details on the four awards i mentioned earlier:

  • the music for visual media (motion, television, video game music, or other visual media)
  • best compilation soundtrack for visual media (motion, television, video game music, or other visual media)
  • best score soundtrack for visual media (motion, television, video game music, or other visual media)
  • best song written for visual media (motion, television, video game music, or other visual media)

so finally, we see a little bit of respect for a score (no pun intended) of songs that have so long gone unappreciated outside of those nerds who love them. i hope this allows people to see games on the same standard of movies and TV — not just as playthings for children, but art.

industry gamers
joystiq (image)

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