As some of my regular readers surely know, I am a huge believer in the impact that music has within video games, and really all forms of entertainment. Why is this? As explained in a great scholarly article HERE, humans naturally process, and enjoy, music through a few specific “dimensions”: cognitive, emotional, social/cultural, and physiological/arousal-related functions. The dimension I identify the most with, and think applies best to video games is that of emotional response. A great, and very relevant video HERE (Please watch at least some! Very relevant, and very well put together).
So all this brings us to the topic and reason for me sitting my butt down to write this post: why impactful music is essential to a truly great game. Some games you play, a user can almost tell that the musical component is an after-thought, and not implying that this is the norm, but I do feel it is the most commonly, and tragically, overlooked component to many games. Do me a favor and look deep into your heart, and recall a tune from a game that impacted you as a kid/teen so much so that every time you come across the soundtrack, it sends chills down your spine and goosebumps up your arms. The music has the power to instantly take you back into the universe of that game. We as humans are able to absorb so much emotion into even the simplest of songs, and this obviously doesn’t only apply to video games. So then why would any game design lead allow such a powerful way of encapsulating the emotion of a moment, or a period of time for a player to not be made a priority of any sorts? Rhetorical question. Obviously not every studio has time or resources for adequate care to be put into something that head honchos at a studio would deem possibly one of the least important things things in regards to releasing an operational game on time. This isn’t something we see at all big studios, but I would say its fairly common amongst some of the largest (EA, Activision, Ubisoft). On the reverse end of that, we see some of the largest studios in the world taking the musical component at a higher priority, and I would definitely argue that the games from studios such as Rockstar, Nintendo, or Bethesda have seen much more positive reactions from the fanbases of their games lately, as I feel that these games and their stories have found a home in the hearts of many fans. I’m not saying that music is the only contributing factor to this, but in an era where some studios don’t even care enough to include any semblance of a story beyond a brief “bio” of their characters, the games that are strongly story driven seems to resonate better with fans, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that these same studios sticking to the tradition of strong story telling and all enveloping universes also seems to be putting much MUCH more effort into having a strong soundtrack to aide in this.
None of this means I haven’t been playing Apex: Legends and enjoying every second of it, but the point I’m mostly trying to make here is the longevity of the games which are taking the time and effort to put in a masterful soundtrack alongside their gameplay are the ones that I will never forget. Twenty years from now, I can promise you that every time I hear an ocarina playing those simple notes, or any of the songs from Zelda Ocarina of Time for that matter, I will be instantly taken back to
Hyrule my pure love and adoration for that game, and likely feel more compelled to find remasters, share it with my friends, or maybe even dust off the old N64. As an aspiring game designer, all I can hope for is that my works and universes that I create live on in the hearts of those who I have touched with meaningful stories, compelling plights, and enjoyable gameplay. There is no reason that I could see that music, which is a vehicle to fully immerse every past present and future gamer into your world, should be overlooked by a studio. So please, as a favor to me, go and find that song or that soundtrack that gives you those same feelings. If you are personally unaware of any games that have that impact, I’ll list below some of my personal favorites, and most notable examples:
• All Legend of Zelda games
• Skyrim, Oblivion & Morrowind
• Red Dead Redemption 1 & 2
• All Halo Games
• All Silent Hill Games
• All Final Fantasy Games
• All Kingdom Hearts main installments
• All Super Smash Bros. Games
• All Pokemon Games
• Fallout 3
• The Last of Us