Find me walking down the street with my earbuds in, and I could be listening to a new song by some train wreck of a rock star or pop icon. Maybe its Lady Gaga or Charlie XCX. Maybe I am listening to some old-school Metallica, or Rob Zombie, or The Offspring. But there is a good chance that I am also listening to a game soundtrack.

It wasn’t too long ago that it would have been hard to image video game music being any good. I know we all love the classic Super Mario Bros. theme, but I think we can all agree that it’s great for sound bites and other such novelties (it’s currently my main ringtone). But around the turn of the millennia, when the Xbox and the Playstation 2 were released, something happened. Suddenly it became very possible to have real, recorded in a studio music in a game.

I remember playing Halo and listening to the music and thinking, “Wow! That sounds great!” I eventually bought the soundtrack and enjoyed other songs from it like, “Rock Anthem for Saving the World” a track that threw in drum, impressive string instruments and some awesome guitar riffs.

Final Fantasy X, a franchise that has a cult following just around its music, had a great soundtrack too. The haunting track of “The Sending” to the metal “Otherworld” and tons in between, make it my number one listened to Final Fantasy soundtrack.  Nobuo Uematsu is lauded as a must-listen-to composer by many fans of gaming music. If you haven’t explored his music, I highly recommend it.

I tend to get more excited for game music than most other music. Partially because that music comes with the experiences from playing the game. A track can remind you of a boss battle, or an emotional high point in a game, invoking more from you than any mainstream music could

Video game soundtracks have the challenging job of capturing the essence of the game in general, as well as the feel of the game in particular moments. There are the tracks for when you are wandering the country side, there is music for day time or night time, the exciting beat that plays during battle, the solemn piece that plays at the inevitable low point in a game. These pieces all invoke strong emotional responses, and often times without lyrics. It means that the composers and the musicians have to solely rely on the sound of the music to reflect what is happening in the story so inherently must pay more attention to every note they produce.

The music can range everywhere in a given game. This inherently makes game soundtracks more exciting; the album as a whole is more dynamic. A recent study discussed how mainstream music has largely been homogenized. There is less experimenting, and a lot of the music literally uses the same elements over and over again. This means the music is less dynamic. Now you can take this study with a grain of salt, but if you are like me, variety is the spice of life, and therefore gaming music, offering amazing compilations spanning genres and cultural influences is way more appealing.

This is one of my other favorite aspects of game soundtracks. Because the variety of games is vast, the music also shifts to match the games. The result is a collection of instrumental pieces that range from very classical European elements to music with influences from the Middle and Far East. These influences are not seen in mainstream music, and it is this mixing and experimentation that always draws me towards game soundtracks.

That’s not to say that game soundtracks are without flaws. Since they often times serves as background music, some of them can be rather simple and uninteresting to listen to on their own. But more and more I have found soundtracks with at least one or two great tracks that are the flagships of the game’s musical score. Dragon Age Inquisition’s theme is a superb piece but there are many other pieces that I enjoy and others that are background music. Bastion has a superb soundtrack, mixing folk, rock and electronic music.

Whether you love music that’s just telling you to dance like tomorrow will never come (lets be honest- it probably will and you’ll simply wish it hadn’t to avoid the hangover) or you listen to sappy love songs, or whatever your taste is, video game music offers a range of horizon-broadening stuff, and it deserves some notice and recognition for its contributions to the art.

– Dave Hill (GamingU Editor)