I took a look at the main video game websites and picked some reviews of the most popular video games recently, like The Last Of Us 2, Red Dead Redemption 2, Final Fantasy VII Remake or Doom Eternal. My idea was to check how often critics mention music when they analyse a game. I glanced through more than twenty reviews to have a good overview and I found that a bunch of them didn’t even include the words like “music”, “sound”, “soundtrack” and so on.
Well, game music is still a niche.
To be more accurate – music was briefly mentioned twice, even though soundtracks for these games are widely appreciated and have millions of views on YouTube or Spotify. The term “sound”, when it appeared, was always related to sound design, not a soundtrack. So is there a good reason why critics ignore music in their reviews?
For most video game players music is just an addition to gameplay. We live in a visually-oriented culture because an image is the fastest and easiest diver of information. All in all the culture is using our most primal instincts, like simple cave paintings made by our ancestors used to rely on human instincts thousands years ago. Usually, music is much more elusive and subliminal than a picture. However, what makes an image much more emotional is the sound, especially when you can control the image, the sound increases a feeling that a story concerns you personally.
I’d say that the nature of both image and music when together, sets their place in our heads in a similar way to how a music band is located on stage. The image would definitely be a lead singer, while the music would be a band member standing out of the spotlight who only draws attention during some special moments, like guitar solos. But the performance would be incomplete and get blank stares without him.
Also, looking practically, in most cases video game critics are not too familiar with music theory – with its structure, variety of instruments or musical references, so aren’t the fans. Critics focus on the visual side, emotions and storytelling because they feel comfortable with it and these topics drive the fans the most as well. Well, game music is still a niche, and this is a fact, even though BBC broadcasts an audition on games from time to time, licenced soundtracks for FIFA series work like a radio making many artists famous, and game composers perform with orchestra in fancy venues, like Royal Albert Hall in London delivering game music as a brand new experience for players.
It drives us to an extra (yet tricky) question – does the game industry need the music industry or instead, does it the music industry that needs gaming now? Some spots on the Internet convince us that 87% of Gen-Z and 83% of millennials (18-34 y.o. generally) consider themselves as gamers and that the annual game market revenue was three times bigger than the music industry’s one last year. The other Internet spots argue that music helps set a game’s identity, giving Mario’s main theme as an example of a melody that everyone knows, and mention that musicians are more and more eager to use games as distribution platforms, highlighting The Offspring’s gig in World Of Tanks in 2019 or famous Marshmello’s concert in Fortnite that gathered a bumper amount of people playing the game. It’s all tidely connected.
Game studios that don’t usually pay relevant attention to music while developing a game.
And that also leads us to a conclusion that there’s another one important factor that marginalises game music – game studios that don’t usually pay relevant attention to music while developing a game, which is the beginning of the product cycle. Simply put, they still don’t consider game music as a commercial thing that makes valuable profits. Just an assumption, but perhaps if they were keen to include soundtracks in their marketing campaigns more than now, the music would naturally find its way to people’s minds, and thus, to the critics’ reviews. Marketing creates our reality, after all.