Video games have slowly crept into the mainstream over the last ten years. With the dawn of the smart phone it has put video games in millions of Americans hands. From Angry Birds and Clash of Clans to just basic card games and people everywhere are playing some kind of video game these days. Just check your Facebook inbox for the countless requests for lives, spins, power-ups and notifications that it’s your turn to play a word with your “friends.”


But one thing that you may take for granted is the key role that music has played in video games over the years. No matter if you log countless hours on your XBOX, your PC, or just your phone, there is usually some kind of music involved in your game.


Menus and loading screens are notorious for have some classing little ear ringing that sets the tone for the fun that awaits as well. Movies use this as well to evoke certain feelings toward characters or to build suspense in certain situations.


For video games however it really started back in the Nintendo 8-bit days and now we have a whole genre of videos and songs dedicated to the crude technology, just visit YouTube. Pac-Man, Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, and Zelda all showcased music that is now timeless and instantly recognized. The music in these games helped to generate their own specific brands. Then in the mid-90’s music games started to come out as their own genre and music was the centerpiece of the games themselves. Based on rhythm and timing, games like PaRappa the Rapper and the first person shooter Revolution X starring Aerosmith were huge success and still have a cult following to this day. But it was in the early 2000’s with the Madden NFL Football franchise that video games became a launching tool for bands and a way to get music to a mass of people who may have never heard this type of music on their own. Despite being geared for a male dominate audience these games had successful bands from different genres on display and broadened the horizons of many people to new bands and new types of music. Games were using music in a new way and bands were eager to have their songs on these game titles. It was a crossover of two cultures and it elevated the gaming experience.


Then came the huge success of Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and for the first time, games were being played by more than just kids in their parents basements. Also these people were also finally in a real band, or so it seemed. Ok so what, we played on little plastic guitars and drums, and sang our hearts out in the worst possible way but it was fun no matter how silly you looked. Playing those five buttons was awesome and it also proved a challenge if you moved off of the easy difficulty. Bars would have karaoke style contests with the games, and it was a huge party success for people of all ages. But the one thing that stayed constant was the music.


Recently  games that have their own background score and games that license out hit songs use the music in very interesting ways that help push the story along and evoke feelings of accomplishment and enjoyment. It’s as if these songs sometimes are just as important to the game as what is happening on the screen. Two personal examples;


While playing Call of Duty Black Ops from 2010 with my teenage nephew last weekend, a level in the game where we were raging down a river in boats shooting bad guys the classic Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the Devil” starts eerily playing in the background. It was kind of a surreal moment for me, when he paused the game so that he could focus on the mission at hand as he stated “I love doing this mission because I love this song” as I had always felt the same way and for the same reason. He had no idea who the band was or the history of why it was a great song, but he felt moved by the song and enjoyed something that he might not have ever felt had he not played this game.


Second example; In 2002 Grand Theft Auto Vice City was released. The game was set in the 80’s and had a huge soundtrack of awesome songs from that decade. Some pushed the story some were just songs that you heard after you boosted a car. No matter what you were doing the sound of 80’s pop and rock was everywhere in the game. So much so that my other nephew who is now 22 still has automatic flash backs to playing that game with me every time he hears “I Ran” by Flock of Seagulls. These are connections I might not have had with my family otherwise.


Game developers give us these audio cues to spark interest in even the smallest forms such as a rewarding bell or whistle, that make us connect with the game or task at hand. It’s like a reward for your ears when playing the game or getting to a certain point. Pop culture is now soaking in video game references from the 80’s and 90’s and in turn new games are turning kids onto very important and successful bands and artists. I can’t say for sure that these kids are turning into fans of classic rock, but I can tell you that some kids these days are learning who the Beatles and Rolling Stones are because of video games, just as I learned about newer bands like Paramore and Freezepop from playing Rock Band. Music and video games go hand in hand now and it’s a great marriage to say the least. Having a deep soundtrack in a game whether it’s original or not goes a long way in making a game playable and giving games replayabilty.  Two games with amazing original soundtracks from recent years is “The Last of Us” and “Little Big Planet” both exclusive to PlayStation 3 but definitely worth a listen. Also the last installment of the Grand Theft Auto series GTA V(5) has countless hours of music from over 15 different styles.


I’m excited to see what the next step will be for the crossover of these two formats. It has been such a natural progression, almost organic in a way, to see these two mediums of art work together so fluidly that I don’t know how much better it can get. Hopefully this isn’t the peak and just a plateau on the way to a better gaming experience for us all. Now go break some blocks with your head and jump on some turtles or try out running to cops while listening to Los Santos Radio!

Written by Fusion Alternative Blogger: Bill Blount