As the summer heat ramps up, I’m frequently cooling off indoors playing video games. This habit formed over my grade school summers when I had three months off from homework. That time let me game to my heart’s content (and read, and bike, and swim, etc.). But games are way more advanced now than when I was a kid. Did you know two hours of game play per day can potentially improve cognition, memory and even mental health?
The complexity, graphics, writing and production values are also in another dimension now. Games borrow actors and composers from Hollywood regularly. They even have their own award shows. Game sales and earnings are starting to approach the movie and sports industries. And they’re more widely played than ever thanks to easy accessibility on devices and more diverse subjects.
In the same way music functions in the background of the games themselves, I sometimes like to listen to video game soundtracks while reading, running errands or exercising. It might sound nerdy, but they’re often no different than lots of movie soundtracks. Video games have epic tunes that can pump up your mundane daily downtime and motivate you. Here’s a few the library offers!
God of War Ragnarok – Bear McCreary (CD)
One of the best reviewed, bestselling and fan favorite games of last year was this ninth entry in the PlayStation mythological action franchise. A huge part of what makes GOWR so memorable is Bear McCreary‘s epic, moving soundtrack. In fact, it won best score and music at the 2022 Game Awards (the game was nominated for a ton of other categories too). McCreary has forged a distinctive sound for himself, fusing pulse-pounding tribal drums and heightened atmospheric tension. He’s best known for his work on the Battlestar Galactica remake and The Walking Dead TV shows. But it’s his work scoring Outlander and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power that find closest kin in these games.
The game series began as a bloody retelling of Greek mythology, but these two most recent titles transposed it to Norse mythology. Thoroughly researched in its pantheon, the action takes place in the nine realms as they’ve frozen over before Ragnarok occurs. As such, a lot of the music sounds treacherous and lonesome (when it’s not hyping you up). Chanted choruses sound like the rowing of Viking longboats. Nordic instruments like lutes, harps, flutes and longhorns give a feeling of authenticity that does wonders to elevate the material. It’s enough to make you feel like you can take on Thor and Odin themselves. It would make perfect background music for any of your favorite fantasy books.
DOOM – Mick Gordon (CD)
DOOM is one of the oldest and most (in)famous first-person shooters in all of video games. The story behind it is almost as interesting as playing it now. It was made by only a couple talented guys in Texas. And it was an early example of shareware, giving PC players the first levels free before asking them to purchase the rest. The game moved the genre forward with its atmospheric lighting, hellish enemies, fast pace and rockin’ tunes based on the developers’ favorite ’80s metal. It also inspired two movies of questionable quality.
In 2016 they rebooted the series from scratch. But the goal was to stay faithful to the original while modernizing things where possible. Naturally, that includes a new soundtrack that would attempt to be as iconic as the original. But it trades the hair metal influences for industrial and djent styling. In fact, Periphery drummer Matt Halpern performed a medley for the Game Awards where the soundtrack won the best of 2016. Composer Mick Gordon gave the guitar he used for the game to the Swedish band Meshuggah afterward. The soundtrack fuses the action with creepy ambient elements and sci-fi electronics (the franchise takes place on Mars where a hellgate’s opened). Often the industrial whirring, programmed drums and guitar drone reminds me of Nine Inch Nails. Just watch your speed if you listen to this in your car.
Stumbling upon this soundtrack at the library surprised me! After all, Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse was a 2005 action-comedy stuck exclusively on the Xbox. Though it’s recently been re-released on all modern gaming platforms, this soundtrack has stuck around all that time. Why? Because it’s such a cool concept and fun collection of ’50s covers! The game parodies hokey 1950s sci-fi/horror movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space, but instead of fending off zombies, you are one. Panicking humans are your adversaries.
In the theme of ’50s schmaltz, this soundtrack is composed of covers of malt shop classic songs of that era. However, they’re all covered by indie and alternative bands of the mid-’00s when the game released. The Raveonettes put some synth-stomp into “My Boyfriend’s Back” and Death Cab for Cutie keep the reverb in “Earth Angel” vocals. CAKE‘s signature nonchalant vocals and horn flourishes oddly fit “Strangers in the Night.” The Flaming Lips’ surreal psychedelia finds a perfect pairing in “If I Only Had a Brain,” a fun choice in a zombie game. Owing a bit to the nostalgia bug of the Back to the Future soundtrack, it’s a blast to hear these alt-rock acts put their unique stamp on drive-in standards.
While the library doesn’t own many CDs of video game soundtracks, there are lots more to be found on Hoopla! Next to Mario, some of the most iconic themes in video game history are in the first two Sonic the Hedgehog soundtracks. In fact, some of them are Easter eggs in the Sonic movies and Jon Batiste did a jazz-orchestral cover. Hoopla also has the soundtracks of the fantastic games in the Star Wars and Spider-Man franchises. Although they’re not composed by John Williams or Michael Giacchino, they could fool even the most astute fan. I often listen to soundtracks like these while reading the comics or Star Wars books in the expanded universe. What video games have some of your favorite music?