Music is one of the most influential parts of life. It has the potential to evoke a baffling amount of different emotions, and within video games it is possibly the most important tool for bringing a world to life. While I write this I am listening to the ‘Ori and the Blind Forest’ soundtrack on Youtube. The first time I saw footage of Ori was during E3 last year and I was shocked to find myself chocking up at the sheer beauty of it. The footage was a story, told through visual effects and hauntingly peaceful music, the kind that warms your heart – like watching one of the countless puppy videos my girlfriend (Becca) sends me.
When the motherly figure dies and leaves Ori all alone in a dangerous world that, only yesterday, was a wonderful autumn paradise, I died inside. To this day I have never seen anything like it in a video game. It was like watching Disney’s ‘UP’ for the first time: seeing the young couple have a love filled life, then within 2 minutes having the wife grow old, succumb to an illness and die. You are left with the knowledge that you’ll be on the edge of tears for the rest of the movie (Just me? Ah…).
If it wasn’t for the music I’d have been stony faced watching the Ori trailer, rather than blubbering like an infant. This is just one example of the power soundtracks have in video games.
The Timelessness of the Orchestra
The Classical Era (1775-1825) along with the previous Baroque and Renaissance periods gave us some of the most technically advanced and incredible means of creating music. Although choral and orchestral music have long left the mainstream, they have remained strong in movies and increasingly in video games where an extra layer of substance is needed to really build an atmosphere. It is easy to generalise and say they are most effectively used in fantasy ‘Lord of the Rings’ like RPGs, but classical music is at the forefront of most genres ranging from racing games like Forza to FPS games, the most famous being Halo. The strong male choir in Skyrim’s or Halo’s theme gives a sense of power, weight and importance, whilst the peaceful woodwind music that is a precursor for Morrowind’s theme makes the world seem humble but epic at the same time: putting you in a wooden hut next to a softly crackling fire then panning out into the vast and magnificent world beyond – all there for you to explore. I’ll never forget the first time I heard the Oblivion theme song on loading up the game, (sounds like Skyrim but better in my opinion) it seriously gave me goosebumps.
Video games and Popular music
Stepping aside from classical music, many games do have modern music backing them. More action orientated games support these better, like CoD and Battlefield, see my terrible YouTube videos for examples… They can be more risky to implement into a game since everyone has such varied music taste, therefore you tend to find a complete mix on offer. Games like Fifa only have music outside of gameplay, but since most time is spent sorting out squads and contracts etc, the tunes NEED to be good. So the developers of such games (including Forza Horizon 2) have to predict what music will be most popular throughout the coming year. Some tracks are so catchy that they end up in the charts! In these cases however I feel that often the music is put on-top of the game rather than made specifically FOR the game, and it leaves less of an impact on me personally.
I’ve never in my life played a Final Fantasy game, and yet when I heard this tune (without even seeing gameplay) I instantly wanted to go and buy it. To me there is no better advocate for a game than music. The Witcher 3 came with a disk filled with JUST the soundtrack of the game. Aside from advertising games, the soundtracks seem to sell themselves. It is possible to buy soundtracks on Itunes, and there are many people who prefer to listen to movie/video game themes than popular music.
But why listen to soundtracks outside of games? You nerd…
Regularly, I don’t. But there are many reasons for why I do occasionally delve into the endless YouTube soundtrack library (btw that’s not an actual thing). When at University I couldn’t listen to music whilst studying because of the lyrics. I tended to follow the words sung into my ears rather than the words on the article infront of me. Most soundtracks are solely instrumental, so I found they actually positively enhanced my studying by blocking out exterior distractions.
I also found that specific soundtracks were good for different work. For my dissertation I needed to write a LOT and fast, so I put on dramatic soundtracks like Hans Zimmer’s CoD MW2 and Gears of War 3 to pump myself up. For revision, where it is more of an endless marathon, I put on peaceful and atmospheric music like the ‘Journey’ soundtrack to keep myself calm (even if all the harp music made me feel a bit high…). I also love finding old soundtracks from games I played years ago and being instantly transported back, music can have that effect as I’m sure you all know.
There was no overarching conclusion to be gleaned here, other than to make you think about what really makes video games special and evocative. Once again, thanks for reading, and let me know in the comments what kind of thing you’ve enjoyed reading about!