The Sound Of Music: The Importance of the Video Game Soundtrack

Super Mario Bros

There are certain pieces of music that are nearly universally recognized. Film score composer John Williams is known for his work on Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jaws, and so much more. These iconic songs elicit memories of powerful scenes, moving quotes, and the original, awe-inspiring experience of that first viewing.

A truly great soundtrack can elevate a solid film to the status of cultural icon. Similarly, the soundtrack of a game can magnify the qualities of a game, raising it to a significantly higher level of cultural relevance while also improving its overall quality. Some games are exceptionally well known for great music. Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy VII, Halo, and Pokémon Red/Blue are examples of games that feature iconic music. The songs and soundtracks from these games are recognized by a large percentage of gamers, and they are even recognized to a lesser extent by the broader culture.

Amps are a great way to level up your game experience. Even with low quality sound, the music in these games transforms the entire gaming experience; great music improves the

"Play! A video game symphony V": Anno 1701 soundtrack (2 June, 2007)

“Play! A video game symphony V”: Anno 1701 soundtrack (2 June, 2007)

gaming experience. More often games are using classical-style orchestral music to express a sense of grandeur and depth. Skyrim and World of Warcraft are two examples of massive games with varied, sprawling landscapes that feature unique scores that give the player a sense of gravity, regarding both the scale of the game and the importance of the moment.

It is important for video games to have beautiful music that makes the gameplay experience better without being a distraction or too overstated. If the music is too loud or too fast, it can easily become the focal point and the plot or action is pushed to the background. Great music works in the background, almost unnoticed, all the while improving the overall gaming experience. Sadly, outstanding soundtracks in video games receive very little recognition despite their contributions to the games.

There are three key ways in which music improves the overall quality of a game. First of all, the soundtrack gives the game a deeper identity. Secondly, the soundtrack is able to convey weight and majesty within the universe of the game. Finally, music affects the gamer’s emotions and assists in building a connection with a game and its characters.

Well-written music is able to stick in your mind. All games feature music; the best games feature memorable soundtracks. Certainly, great music cannot transform a subpar game into an all-time great, but an all-time great will almost certainly have at least one memorable song. Even non-gamers are capable of identifying the theme song of Super Mario Bros. While simple, that music is transformative. Solid music causes the game to become bigger than itself; it transforms a game into a cultural icon.

Secondly, music has a way of adding awe and majesty to the game. Developers and musicians can even use certain styles of music to emphasize some cultural connection to the real world. There is a distinct sound to Scottish style music, and when that music plays in a game, it brings all of the connotations of that musical style and its culture. Developers can make use of this to add unwritten depth to gameplay.

This use of music within a game is likely most significant within the genre of Role-Playing Games, in which a sense of importance and majesty is necessary for immersion. However, other genres can make use of music in this way by adding a specific tone to the game. Even music at a title screen can have a way of saying “whatever you are about to do is going to awesome.” It makes you want to play the game; you need to complete this quest, beat this bad guy, and save the world.

Finally, music carries an expressiveness of human emotionality that cannot be achieved in silence. The right music at the right moment can raise the gamer’s emotion to newfound heights. The significance of that moment paired with those notes sear those few minutes into the mind of the gamer. When this takes place the game becomes something greater than the sum of its parts. It is more than thrilling gameplay and beautiful music; the game tugs at the heartstrings and resonates within the depths of the soul. It is undeniable that anyone who has played Final Fantasy VII will certainly remember the haunting music playing in the moments leading to Aeris’ death.

It is no secret that music can beautifully and powerfully express and manipulate human emotions. The best games will utilize the best music possible in order to achieve the greatest pathological impact on the gamer. Fast-paced music can give a sense of danger and urgency, whether in a team fight in Destiny or facing a boss in Diablo. Nearly all games are attempting to immerse you into a story and into a universe. In order to do that more than your fingers needs to be involved; your heart and your mind must also engage with the game in order to experience the highest level of enjoyment. The best games will engage your heart and mind.

Skyrim Soundtrack Cover

It is an exciting time in gaming. Developers are placing a focus on the quality of the music. This is evident by the number of Collector Edition games that come with the soundtrack, and the number of soundtracks available for purchase. In addition, symphonies are performing video game theme ensembles. For example, the Houston Symphony will be performing music from Portal, Final Fantasy, Destiny, The Elder Scrolls, and more this July[1]. Quality music in video games is being recognized and celebrated. We, as gamers, must be careful not to miss or overlook the importance of this aspect of our most beloved games.

Ultimately, music cannot, on its own, create an iconic game, but great music working in harmony with solid gameplay and content, produces a truly brilliant game. Beautiful, well-written music leads to satisfaction beyond escapism or time consumption; it produces within the soul of the gamer something that sticks and lasts. Later, the gamer will recall fond memories of nostalgia accompanied with those notes that played during that pivotal moment.

As I close, here are my top 5 favorite (my favorite; not necessarily most iconic or greatest of all-time) Video Game Soundtracks:

5. Pokémon Red/Blue

4. Dragon Age: Origins

3. World of Warcraft

2. Final Fantasy VII

1. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

Leave a comment. What are your favorite game soundtracks?

[1] Houston Symphony. “Summer in the City at Jones Hall.” http://www.houstonsymphony.org/Concerts-Tickets/Browse-Concerts/14-15-Season/14-15-Summer-Concerts/summer-in-the-city

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Seth Woodley
Seth is a high school English, History, Writing, and Rhetoric teacher in Houston, TX. He plays a variety of games on PC and Xbox One. His favorites include World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, and Skyrim.
About the author

Seth Woodley

Seth is a high school English, History, Writing, and Rhetoric teacher in Houston, TX. He plays a variety of games on PC and Xbox One. His favorites include World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, and Skyrim.