Video Game Soundtracks: Underappreciated by Virtue of The Medium?


By EJ Jolly

Making a video game is a massive undertaking. The complicated programming and design alone are usually enough to turn the average consumer back towards blissful ignorance of everything it took to give them the game they got their hands on. Whether it’s a big budget studio making a shameless cash-grab, or a small team of people making an indie dream project – the amount of work going into a game can be hard to grasp. But, times are changing; games are no longer just games, but works of art. Art design and programming aren’t any less technical, because of the medium they reside in. But, what about the music that brings all that work to life? Are they given the same appreciation as the rest of a video game? Or the same appreciation as other types of soundtracks?

Take Grand Theft Auto V for example: the most recent entry in the 20-year-old franchise, the game continues to be praised for its realism. The music and sound design lends a huge hand in that. The cinematic score was composed by The Alchemist, Oh No, and Tangerine Dream. Each is as prolific in the music industry as the series is for its violence; The Alchemist and Oh No are well-known rappers and record producers, and Tangerine Dream is a legendary electronic group active since the mid-1960s. In addition to the score for cinematics, there is an in-game radio featuring current artists across all genres of music, such as Tyler The Creator, Wavves, and Little Dragon to name a few.

This soundtrack sounds like a music fan’s dream come true – all these legendary artists coming together to create an original score, and even more contributing to an in-game radio?

But other than critics, all the game’s soundtracks seemed to fall flat after the game’s release. Even the compilation of radio hits only peaked at 18 on Billboard‘s Top Soundtracks charts.

It is because it was for a video game?

Experiencing what the score and music were designed for isn’t as easy as it would be for a movie or television show – all that’s required for that today is a Netflix subscription and a laptop, which most already own. Playing a video game might require buying a whole new device (games exclusive to a single system are a source of constant annoyance), and learning new controls, dedicating at least double or triple the amount of time watching a movie might take. It’s not that hard to understand why the average music fan might not jump into that, and not every gamer is as invested in the music.

What’s the point here? Video game soundtracks are underappreciated, because they’re difficult for the average person to engage with, and the average gamer may not be as appreciative of a soundtrack over gameplay and design. What can we do to change that, as active and engaging fans of music? I think that we should do our part to bridge the gap between the two, and give them the appreciation they’re not currently getting.

Here’s my list of video game soundtracks everyone should check out, whether they’re a gamer or not.

  1. Grand Theft Auto V, Vol. 1: Original Music (also available on Spotify)
  2. Jet Set Radio
  3. Life is Strange (also available on Spotify)
  4. Animal Crossing: New Leaf (also available on Spotify)
  5. Professor Layton And The Unwound Future