This week I’m sharing an interesting video about game music that was produced in 2012 by the Penny Arcade network as a part of the Extra Credits video series. This video, titled “Extra Credits: Video Game Music,” contrasts classic game melodies against modern video game scores. It breaks down a complicated subject into a user-friendly introductory lecture that sheds light on a topic of some contention in the game industry:
Should game scores be highly memorable, or should they set a mood and avoid drawing the player’s attention?
While this video doesn’t really address that subject head-on, it does outline the basic ideological rift between the two viewpoints. A memorable game score possesses compelling melodies and arresting arrangements that serve to astound players while simultaneously exerting a strong influence on their emotional states. On the other hand, an atmospheric game score tends to avoid melodies in favor of musical textures and effects that set the mood without impressing players. With such an atmospheric score, players might not even be cognizant of the existence of music at all. This phenomenon seems to be what the video addresses when it expresses the dissatisfaction that some players feel with the state of modern day game scores. In the video, writer James Portnow tells us, “modern game music has become a lot less memorable.”
Is that true? Or do these early game scores enjoy the benefit of the numerous repetitions that each melody would receive in the classic loop structure that was so universally prevalent in older games? We all tend to remember something we’ve heard many times far more clearly than something we’ve heard only a few times. Pop music in recent years has acknowledged this fact by making sure that the hook or refrain of a song repeats as many times as possible within the body of the song. Take the song Happy by Pharrell Williams as an example, which repeats the refrain “Because I’m Happy” a total of 24 times – and this is just in its 4 minute duration as a single. The song also has a long-form “24 Hours of Happy” music video in which that 4-minute song repeats constantly over a 24 hour period. That is a lot of repetitions of the refrain “Because I’m Happy.”
While the Extra Credits video doesn’t discuss how repetition figures into how memorable a video game score will be, it does touch upon other interesting subjects. These include the technical and artistic restrictions placed on early game composers by the limitations of the hardware, and how complex instrumental arrangements may alter a listener’s perception of a melody. Here’s that video: