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A love letter to the video game music movement

10th July 2023

We all know somebody obsessed with a particular film soundtrack, but what about video game soundtracks? Our resident video game music fanatic, Debbie Lloyd, shares her thoughts on how it has evolved over the years, why we should all be listening to more of it, and the positive impact it can have on so many aspects of our lives

I’ve got a confession to make; I’m a video game music addict. From Final Fantasy through to Animal Crossing, Danganronpa and more, listening to video game music brings me joy, and improves almost any situation. Struggling to concentrate? Pop some orchestral Koichi Sugiyama on to get some focused work done. In need of some motivation? Try some upbeat boss battle themes from Nobuo Uematsu to get the adrenaline pumping. 

 

Regardless of genre, music is a huge part of the games we enjoy and even designed to motivate players, remaining in the background without distracting from the core objective. But what are we actually talking about when we refer to video game music? 

 

It’s likely that you typically associate it with retro midi files and the ‘bleeps and bloops’ of the likes of Pacman and Tetris, and you’d be forgiven for thinking video game music hasn’t changed much since then.  But this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

 

Video game music has evolved into a cultural phenomenon and is being increasingly created and performed by classical orchestras worldwide. The music of Final Fantasy has its own concert series, with fans flocking to venues like the Royal Albert Hall to relive some of their favourite moments with compositions from the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. The video game music movement is also being supported by fans sharing their love for the medium, with the likes of the London Video Game Orchestra and Ready Singer One allowing other fans to perform their favourite pieces in front of an audience.

 

It’s also becoming increasingly mainstream, with scores from the likes of Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Sonic The Hedgehog used in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening ceremony. The Grammy Awards announced its inaugural ‘Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media’ category this year, and the Super Marios Bros. Theme became the first piece of video game music to be enshrined in the National Recording Registry. 2022 was also the first year that video games got their own concert at the BBC Proms

 

The Classic FM Hall of Fame has also featured video games for several years, despite some initial hesitancy from classical purists arguing that video game music doesn’t belong alongside the likes of the mighty Chopin or Tchaikovsky. But why not? Video game music is just as spectacular and emotive as some of the well-respected classics, and should be recognised.

 

A handful of my favourite video game composers have appeared in the Classic FM Hall of Fame for several years, including Nobuo Uematsu and Koji Kondo, who are responsible for the Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda series’ respectively. Uematsu is probably best known for his dramatic boss battle theme, One Winged Angel. An adrenaline-pumping delight, this classic gets players in the mood for a long and epic battle at the end of the game. 

 

You’ve also got the likes of Koichi Sugiyama and his incredible orchestral score for Dragon Quest VIII, offering up-tempo battle music to motivate players through a fight, with a much more soothing composition for exploring the world map and local towns.

 

While most of my favourite composers hail from Japan, which says a lot about my genre preferences, there are plenty of Western composers to celebrate, including Martin O’Donnell for his work on Halo and Destiny. Renowned composer Danny Elfman also dabbles in the world of video game music, working on the action role-playing game series Fable. Garry Schyman is known for his haunting soundtrack to underwater first-person shooter, Bioshock, featuring an eclectic mix of genres, with a vinyl of the full orchestral score made for the second game. And I can’t not mention Jeremy Soule’s work on the Skyrim soundtrack, receiving awards from the Game Audio Network Guild, and even a BAFTA nomination.

 

Without music, gaming may not be what it is today. And as the movement continues to gain momentum and new fans, I look forward to the day when it’s no longer labelled video game music, but composers are known by name alone. 

 

If you fancy checking out some video game soundtracks, here are some of my favourites, including some compilations from the London Philharmonic Orchestra: 

 

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