Replay, Relive, and Reminisce
The sound of a memorable melody can invoke emotions like joy, sorrow, stress, and most prominently, nostalgia. Why is it that when we hear that one song, we feel the urge to crank the volume, start dancing, and are suddenly gifted with Moves Like Jagger? Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. Many things can trigger this overwhelming feeling like a scent, a location, food, or any item really. As long as there is a strong memory attached to it, we are immediately transported to the time that we first experienced it. Just how powerful is nostalgic music? Let’s find out.
In a study conducted by Hébert et al, it was hypothesized that if two groups played a video game -one with background music and the other without- the group exposed to music would have higher levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Besides the many functions that cortisol has for the body like metabolizing sugar and fat for energy, it also helps the body manage stress. The players who were exposed to video game music had an improved response to stress. It could be argued that videogames are either stress-inducing or alleviating, as mentioned in Patrick Felicia’s book Game-Based Learning: Challenges and Opportunities.
Who hasn’t felt their heart pumping loudly during a boss fight in an RPG? I’ve felt it many times! One game that helped set the mood for me as a young gamer was Mega Man X. Imagine being a seven-year-old, going through the icy and frigid stage of Chill Penguin. You wall climb to get your first armor piece from Dr. Light, and you learn to use the Dash ability. You trudge through the heavy snow, dodge snow balls being thrown by a rampant Reploid, and finally make it to the boss door!
As X dashes into the boss lair, the music suddenly changes, letting you know that it’s time to do the tango with a Maverick. As you see the Maverick’s life bar fill up way higher than yours (yikes!), the boss music starts –at first somewhat tame, but soon escalating into a rapid crescendo on the keyboard that gets you pumped for the battle!
Not all songs are rapid and exceeding 180 bpm, though. Some songs are nice and relaxing, or inspiring, to enhance certain activities in the game. Consider the music of Wave Race 64, specifically Sunny Beach. The calm & soothing trumpet accompanied by the piano really sets the mood for “Hey, let’s go have fun in the sun!”.
It’s no question that video games and music go hand in hand when it comes to creating a complete experience, but does great music always mean a great game? There are some instances in which that isn’t the case. Does anyone remember Gremlins 2: The New Batch – The Video Game? It’s one of the few licensed video games based off a movie that was actually good, but then again, you can’t go wrong with Sunsoft because everyone loved their NES Batman. Let’s look at online reviews of both Gremlins 2: The New Batch – The Video Game, and Abadox. Both games came out in the same year, and both have mixed reviews. I would love to compare sales figures for these games, but unfortunately that information is nowhere to be found on the internet.
In general, Gremlins 2: The New Batch – The Video Game had positive reviews from gaming websites like ScrewAttack, Gamespot, and even Septicor. Some complained about its high level of difficulty and unforgiving pitfalls, but that’s why the term “NES Hard” was coined amongst gamers. All of them agreed that the game is fun to play, and more importantly, the music is fantastic. The first level background music sounds very similar to the theme from the movie. Go ahead and give it a whirl:
NES: Gremlins 2 – The New Batch Video Game
Next up, we have Abadox. The majority of reviews about it said that the game is insanely hard, stress-inducing, and just downright difficult. The upside, though, is that Abadox’s music & visuals are a driving force to keep you playing, as mentioned by the flyingomelette.
Basically, the relation of good music to good games is relative to the gamer’s opinion. If you look on YouTube and other websites, there are plenty of Top Ten Video Game Music lists; check out The Completionist and ScrewAttack for theirs. Gametrailers even has a show dedicated to video game music called BackTrack, which is worth taking a look at despite it not having many entries.
Video game music has definitely become an integral part of our popular culture. How else could there be a whole website dedicated to video game music remixes? The artists on OCRemix use their passion for videogames to interpret songs from their favorite childhood games. Some artists, like Anamanaguchi, are heavily influenced by the game music of yore. That name might sound familiar because they’re the ones responsible for the awesome soundtrack heard in Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game.
Now, there are even four touring ensembles dedicated to various video game franchises. Namely, The Legend of Zelda with the Symphony of the Goddesses, Final Fantasy with Distant Worlds, Video Games Live (all video games), and now the Pokémon series with Symphonic Evolutions, which is currently playing in three locations: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Los Angeles.
What are you all time favorite video game soundtracks? Let us know in the comments below.