Some time ago our editorial office colleague – Maciej Baska wrote an article with a title containing a very bold statement: that we live in the golden age of game music. Having read the whole thing, it’s hard to disagree with him: game soundtracks are available on all streaming services (including the giants like Spotify or YouTube), concerts with game music are organized pretty often, albums are being released on vinyl records. The examples go on and on.
Game music has been walking a very straightforward path for about 12 years.
This year marks 12 years since I have joined Gamemusic.net editorial team and, taking into account my experience, I can say that what Maciej wrote is true – game music has worked hard in the last 12 years to become a medium noticed by a wider audience, yet another 12 years of work still awaits it.
I remember how 12 years ago video games were neglected by non-players and mainstream media. An undemanding entertainment for not very demanding people, incomparable with movies and literature. The turning point arrived when the news dropped that the value of the video game market exceeds the film market, and then also the music market. In Poland, a huge factor that allowed for games to be treated as serious business was the premiere of The Witcher games. Suddenly they no longer were some mindless, lower form of entertainment for a narrow group.
And how was the game music situation at that time? Undoubtedly, the wildest dream was to release a soundtrack on CD and sell it online, and maybe you could find a biography of the composer inside. I myself am a happy owner of several such albums. And if someone told me then that in a few years I would be able to listen to music on my phone, I would probably call them crazy.
Undoubtedly, the wildest dream was to release a soundtrack on a CD.
It’s still not perfect by any means. I listened to the music from God of War or the latest installments of Assassin’s Creed on Spotify on the day of their release, but I still cannot find something like the Persona 5 soundtrack there. You can notice how companies from the east are slowly opening up to Western listeners, as evidenced by the extensive soundtrack libraries provided by Square Enix or Capcom, but they still seem to be neglecting the issue.
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that technology definitely favors the promotion of game music, but the human factor is also important – someone (or something) who will lead people by hand and show that game music can be treated as art. Of course, you can do it with YouTube videos or a few podcasts, but the best and most effective way to show big fish that game music can be on a par with film music are, for example, concerts. Since we have a Film Music Festival, why shouldn’t it work with the Game Music Festival?
In the field of organizing cultural events using music for games, Japan is second to none: one time there is be a big concert in Tokyo, and another time, a whole tour through the largest cities, lasting up to several months. Usually they take place on round anniversaries of specific games, but sometimes a concert is organized around the premiere of a new one. They are mainly organized by the composers themselves or even institutions directly related to culture. It’s easy to get the audience – tickets sell out almost immediately. In a country where games like Final Fantasy or Kingdom Hearts are treated as sacred, it’s not even surprising.
What does it look like in the West? Well, the beginnings didn’t look promising. In the United States, concerts like Video Games Live were especially popular (they still are today) – lots of lights, rather loud music and that from the most popular games boiled down to the best pieces. They are usually organized by enthusiasts who want to combine their hobby with something bigger. It’s good entertainment and a lot of people partake, but I would have doubts when asked to provide funds for a next edition. Of course, over time, more formats and events were introduced (see The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses), but this is still not a lot compared to Japan.
In case of Europe, it can be said that just as rare as in US (and the beginnings were very shy, so it’s baby steps here). A full-fledged symphony orchestra was definitely liked more than strange romances of orchestra and rock bands. Nowadays, almost every European country has a game music concert and Poland joined this proud group not so long ago. At first they were small, almost chamber-hall-like performances, but as the audience grew, we finally managed to create a real festival.
The Game Music Festival turned out to be a great success, as evidenced by last edition. However, during the first edition, we saw the real degree of what game music is. I will skip the details, but believe us, it was quite a challenge to convince large cultural centres, media or institutions supporting similar initiatives to this idea. Fortunately, fans of videogames from Poland (and abroad) did not disappoint and there were so many people flying to Wrocław – the entire building of the National Forum of Music was bursting at the seams. After second edition of the GMF, music for games finally started to be discussed in the mainstream media. Thanks again!
Game music is as much an art form as film music.
Also, what Maciej wrote about is 100% true. After 12 years, gamers have much more choice and options when it comes to reception of game music. It’s common nowadays, and has been noticed by people unfamiliar with videogames. Nevertheless, I think this is still only the beginning of the road. Because although there is a huge gap between things done today to popularize music for games and those we had a decade ago, I think that it’s even more necessary to ensure that at least the same level of care and effort is maintained for the next patch.
It is only through our joint commitment that we manage to build and preserve people’s conviction of game music being as much of an art form as film music. Only then can we bring the works of Hans Zimmer and Austin Wintory together on the charts of major radio stations. That is, of course, if there’ll still be radio stations around.