Opinion: Video game soundtracks deserve more respect from music fans


photo via Wikimedia commons via Bailey DeLong

Kellin Quinn is one of many artists who were vocalists on the music for the game Sonic Frontiers

Seth Franco, Staff Writer

Oftentimes, music composed for video games, especially atmospheric tracks without vocals, goes underappreciated. 

Music created for video game levels or battles serves a dual purpose of being an enjoyable and catchy tune while also fitting the atmosphere of the area that it is matched with. This can mean conveying not only the tone of the level itself but also the tone of the game’s storyline at that point in the progression.

Composing music that fulfills all of this is an impressive feat and sometimes requires more from a composer than writing typical music would. In essence, the songs require more depth.

Usually, video game albums are longer than mainstream music albums. This means that the composers have to put in more hours to make an album where every track is memorable and fitting.

Additionally, to match the tones of various levels and moments, composers have to write in a variety of genres to make the game feel like a journey. This is in contrast to many mainstream musicians, who only write in one genre.

Video games also have a more consistent standard of renting out recording studios and instruments to use in their soundtrack, which means hiring talented musicians. Micing up and recording from instruments is expensive and complicated. For games that have orchestral pieces in their soundtrack, this can mean paying orchestras to play the composers’ pieces and paying for recording equipment. On the other hand, much of today’s pop and rap music uses instruments that are mostly sampled through digital audio workstations.

After all the effort that goes into creating a game soundtrack, the genre is still looked down on by mainstream music listeners as lacking seriousness and not being worth listening to.

Video game music is frequently stereotyped as having no vocals and always being instrumental tracks. However, that has not been the case for as long as video games have had CD-quality sound on their side – since the mid-’90s.

In the ’80s and ‘90s, video games had to make entertaining and memorable tracks while being disadvantaged by working with marketable sound chips for the consoles they composed for. These chips had a limited number of channels and usually relied on square waves or FM sound playing out in real-time. Sampling was very limited and the samples used were compressed.

Many games nowadays hire talented vocalists to sing on their tracks. These songs are often used as the main theme of a game or songs for crucial moments. 

After all the effort that goes into creating a game soundtrack, the genre is still looked down on by mainstream music listeners as lacking seriousness and not being worth listening to.

— Seth Franco

For example,
Sonic Frontiers, a hit game from last year, hired many vocalists and bands for its whopping 150-track soundtrack. These included Kellin Quinn of Sleeping With Sirens, Merry Kirk-Holmes of To Octavia, Tyler Smyth of Dangerkids, Nathan Sharp, One OK Rock, Yuri, and more. Among its best tracks are “Undefeatable,” the catchy drum and bass-styled “Flowing,” “One Way Dream,” and “Find Your Flame.” The soundtrack also includes many orchestral pieces.

Another example of a professionally recorded and experimental video game soundtrack is Doom Eternal, composed by Mick Gordon. Gordon used a variety of instruments to compose an atmospheric and energetic soundtrack in a new genre, argent metal. “The Only Thing They Fear Is You” and “At Doom’s Gate” are both highlights of the soundtrack.

For a much different experience, the iconic soundtrack of Minecraft, composed by C418, brings out strong feelings of nostalgia and adventure. “Mice on Venus” and “Subwoofer Lullaby” are both exceptional atmospheric tracks.

Alongside any mainstream artist, video game music can usually be listened to on Spotify, and for the exceptions, YouTube is another place to find them.

Video game music can be just as great and sometimes even superior to mainstream music. It is music that can get people invested in a storyline and take them to another world.