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The Importance of a Game Soundtrack


Some people don’t particularly like game soundtracks outside of when they are playing games. Some people think they’re fine and that they serve their purpose. Others, like me, love game soundtracks and listen to them ferociously. As this medium moves forward, the type of soundtrack required for our games has changed.

Soundtracks used to be music that accompanied the 2D gameplay, but because of the space on the cartridge, it was almost always created with synthesizer-like instruments, giving the games from the NES and SNES generations a recognizable sound, and some outstanding and memorable soundtracks with the likes of The Legend Of Zelda and Super Mario Bros.

child of light music

However, with the current age of video games, we’re finding more and more orchestral elements being introduced. This is as well as a more instrumental approach, with various themes and instruments being used to create a soundtrack which resembles the feeling of playing the game, but also to heighten the game experience when playing. Child of Light, for instance, is a game which is greatly enhanced by its soundtrack and the mood which it resembles. I love this soundtrack so much that it has stood out in my mind well beyond the game itself.

It now stands as its own impactful piece. When I listen back to its melodic and peaceful piano compositions, I am reminded of the time when I was first playing the game, and the feeling I had whilst taking it all in. It becomes an extremely impactful nostalgia tool and allows me to almost replay the game in my mind, just by listening to its music.  

However, just because I want to listen to the soundtrack outside of playing the game doesn’t make the soundtrack any better than one which I never want to listen to alone. In fact, I think the purpose overrides its ability and/or necessity to stand on its own two feet.

The sound for a game is designed to be listened to alongside the playing of the game, usually composed in order to make the overall experience that bit better. Just because I haven’t listened to the soundtrack for INSIDE apart from when I played through the game doesn’t mean I don’t think it is extremely effective at what it does. The same goes for DOOM (2016).

doom pic 9

The roaring guitars and lethal synthesizers provided another essence of enjoyment while you smash, crush, and chainsaw your way through hundreds of demons. I don’t particularly want to listen to it on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but if I was playing DOOM then I would certainly enjoy the elevated experience it provides, when combined with the addictive and ultra-satisfying gameplay.

The importance of a game soundtrack depends on the game of course. What is the music trying to make you feel? What scene is it trying to elevate or emphasise? What is it trying to describe? What feelings are trying to be expressed within its notes?

There is something special about the feelings I have towards certain game music and its provocation. Whether it’s the eerie sense of being a young teenager again playing KOTOR 2 listening to the opening scores of that game’s soundtrack, or the wonderful trip down memory lane the Spyro soundtrack gives me, both are just as impactful as playing the games themselves.

It could be the intense memory of sadness I feel when I hear the lasting notes of The Walking Dead: Season 1 ‘Alive Inside’, or the similar yet perhaps even more haunting ‘All Gone’ featured in The Last of Us.

gears of war 2

The addictive air-drumming I have to play from the main song of Sunset Overdrive or the cinematic strings from the Gears of War 2 main opening are further examples of game soundtracks (modern ones at that) becoming more to me than just a piece of audio. And that’s why I love them.

There are some games in which I can’t even remember a single note of its music. Others, like the ones above, are embedded into my skull for the foreseeable forever. But the music that grows on you and becomes one with the gameplay or scene, and the music that provokes some deep memories and feelings, is the game music which supersedes its need to be listened to alongside the game; one that will, without question, leave an impact on my general music listenership for a lasting period of time.

Music that isn’t just fantastic game music, but beautiful music. That for me is the real importance of the video game soundtrack. Its contribution to the wider world of music and its impact on my life.

Nick Burton
Nick Burton
Believer in the power of video games and the conversations surrounding them. Writer, creator, and thinker above all else.
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