Video Game-Inspired Music

For people of my generation (and the younger ones of the previous one) video games are cultural phenomenon no less important to the way our brains work than books, music, or movies.  So it’s no surprise that our music, which has been inspired by books and movies in the past is now being inspired by video games.  What was surprising to me were all the different manifestations this inspiration has taken.

Those of us who played video games before the Playstation 1 era had to deal with synthesized music in our videogames.  While today’s soundtracks can be multi-channel masterpieces on the same level as a movie, those old, primitive sounds aren’t as bad as they’d seem.  Sure, there were plenty of game developers that were phoning it in.  But those of us who played the Squaresoft JRPGs and games like Donkey Kong country knew that these systems were capable of producing music that was just short of CD-quality.  And there wouldn’t still be endless covers of the Super Mario Bros. theme if it hadn’t been amazing.

For the past ten years I’d heard of people making music by messing a Gameboy or NES.  But recently, a few bands have decided to take things to the next level.  One group of chiptunes bands uses the old video game hardware as the sole way of creating their music.  One of the big acts in this scene is Dr Octoroc.  Even though he’s just using these synthesizers he was able to put out a CD cover of Dr. Horrible and all the songs are identifiable.

Then there are groups that add traditional instruments.  At opposite ends of that spectrum are I Fight Dragons and Anamanaguchi.  Anamanaguchi composes original songs the feature their Nintendo as the main instrument.  Their conventional instruments work as second-fiddle (no fiddles involved) to this sound.  It’s pretty amazing how complex they can get – it realy harkens back to those Squaresoft games.  Their music just evokes certainly feelings and often has nothing to do with video games.  I Fight Dragons, by contrast, is more like a regular band (including vocals) that has the Nintendo as another instrument.  Most of the time if the Nintendo doesn’t have a solo it’s just in the background and you can barely even tell it’s there.  The lyrics tend to focus on geeky stuff, but not exclusively.

Inspired By
Then there are those who go off in very different directions.  The OneUps take video game songs and cover them as lounge songs.  It’s so odd to hear your favorite video game songs transformed into CD-quality music that sounds like something you might hear in an elevator or in a classy club.

Then there is The Protomen.  They removed themselves a whole extra level by creating a series of rock-opera CDs that are based on the Megaman video game.  But the songs, at least the ones that I’ve heard, sound nothing at all like video game music.  They sound like the rock operas groups like Styx were doing in the 1980s.  The music is epic and over the top and it just brings a whole new perspective to the game.

I think I’m least excited by pure chiptunes acts like Dr. Octoroc.  It’s great to revisit that time in my life, but it just seems a bit too gimicky and I tend to skip those tracks.  Groups like Anamanaguch and I Fight Dragons are a lot of fun and I know I’m looking forward to the next IFD CD.  But I think as a trend, I’m most excited about The Protomen.  I want to see more bands of my generation and younger to really explore this space.  These games were some of the first challenges we faced in our lives – our first demons that we had to conquer.  They were the most fun brain teasers.  It brough siblings together and tore them apart.  I want more people to explore the stories from our classic games and I want more people to write about how they made them feel and shaped them as human beings.  As more and more of our population plays games and they become less and less geeky, I think I may have my wish.