Words by Alisha Rao
Video games were and still are a big part of my life. Devices were made to last, like the Gameboy Advance I’ve had for around 14 years, or the DS Lite I’ve had for almost exactly 11 years, both in perfect working condition. I’ve made some invaluable friends thanks to some of the games I played, so I have found through my personal experience, there is an interesting interplay between video games and my life. Another big part of my life is the existence of music, both vocal and instrumental. I would say in the last couple of years, my continuous video game exposure has helped me realize my love for music, for video games, and to acknowledge my appreciation and admiration for video game music. In this piece, I want to discuss what the two mean to me as a combined entity, and why I want to express these thoughts.
Yoko Shimomura, Junichi Masuda, Go Ichinose, Hitomi Sato, Mahito Yokota, Koji Kondo, Hiroki Morishita, Tomoya Tomita. These are some of the names of composers who helped to craft the video gaming sounds of my childhood, and I know them by heart now. I spent the last couple of weeks organizing all the video game music I acquired, then editing the files to be a reasonable length, organizing songs by franchise, game, year, and so on. Why is this important to mention? For each track I had to edit (which was almost every single one, amounting to nearly 400 songs), I had to listen for the part to cut the track and automate a ‘fade out’ effect, and I think I was overly impressed with myself once I figured this all out on GarageBand. I was unnecessarily diligent in this task, and I asked myself why I was once I finished editing everything. It took me just short of 3 days to edit everything, which was a relief but also a bittersweet feeling. I enjoyed editing those tracks, almost obsessively, because I was listening to music through the whole experience. Going through each video game series and taking about a minute to listen to each track motivated me and reminded me of so much through the tedious task. As mundane as it was, I became used to editing tracks, and was tempted to continue doing it for other tracks I might have missed. I had to tell myself repeatedly to stop myself from going down that rabbit hole.
Music, to me, is a very empowering art form, one that is so diverse in its genre but something everyone can almost universally appreciate and/or enjoy. Video game music is no different, but in all honesty, it is something of a niche experience to go out of your way to find specific tracks from specific video games to listen to. Even though I consciously say that, I believe that just as much as other music genres, video game compositions and soundtracks are worthy of appreciation, respected as a genre and not just something that comes with a video game. The way the music is integrated into video games is almost always dependent on location. For example, in a Pokémon game, certain tracks are used for similar locations, but almost each city or town has unique music that is reflective of its scenery, how lively or peaceful the location is, the list goes on. I am the kind of person that associates experiences with the music I listen to, so listening to “Welcome to Pi’illo Blimport” from Mario & Luigi: Dream Team not only reminds me of the game location and story context, but also of a simple stroll in a grassy park, where the weather is nice, the sun is out, and it is about late morning in the day. If you listen to this track, it may remind you of a scenery or personal experience, or nothing at all, all of which is perfectly fine. For anyone that likes simple yet pleasant compositions to listen while walking around, I recommend this track.
It may seem unreasonable, but I have always had a feeling that music and video games, two of many things out there, are treated as mutually exclusive, as in they are respected as separate entities. Why not respecting the two together? I recognize my biased standpoint, but I do not think it negates the fact that just as much as widespread music, a lot of work, effort, and time go into making video game music. Growing up, I loathed regimented piano lessons and how monotonous each piece sounded initially, but what prevented from quitting the instrument was the fact that I loved to play. I remember even opting to play video games instead of practicing piano. Now, I can play simple harmonies of tracks I have grown up listening to on piano just from memory, which is a pretty cool feeling.
I have arrived at the end of my ramblings, but I did not forget to answer one of my earlier statements; why I am discussing this in the first place. It feels relieving and almost cathartic to just write about something I love. The more complex answer is to draw attention to idea of something manifesting inside someone. It took many years for me to realize that yes, I will love music and video games as separate entities, but also as a single entity. There were many times in my life where I remember having no one to connect to about music or games, so I am comfortable saying that these ramblings are pent-up and have now been released. If I ever doubted myself, thinking video game music is invalid as a topic of serious discussion, or that I as the only person feeling a certain way about it, I knew I needed to take a step back and just enjoy it for myself, and not something that requires outside validation or approval. It’s natural to feel that way about something you love, which maybe applies to you, the reader. If you have ever experienced something like this, then I promise it will feel good to let it out and express it in some way, whatever ‘that’ is; an emotion, experience, or expressing a hobby. I enjoyed expressing these thoughts about something I enjoy as a topic of discussion; I hope you can do the same and enjoy anything that evokes happiness.