More than just background noise: The importance of music in video games

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

The debut of Shizukesa as inspired by Ghost of Tsushima

In our first entry in the Art x Gaming collectors’ series, we established that gaming is an art form with the ability to drive compelling stories and acts as a powerful medium to express creative designs. There are many artistic layers that comprise the memorable and emotional essence of a game. Each creative layer building on the next until a masterpiece is created. One layer that I think has been pivotal in the success of some of the most iconic games is music.

If you are like me your childhood was filled with classic games with badass soundtracks like Streets of Rage, Super Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon. One of my all-time favorite soundtracks comes from the timeless “Tony Hawk Pro Skater”, which to this day has me singing Goldfinger’s “Super Man” anytime I think of it. In my humble opinion, it would be hard to argue that it did not have one of the most memorable soundtracks in gaming history.

Tony Hawk Pro Skater
Tony Hawk Pro Skater

Games like Tony Hawk, Super Mario, Zelda, and many others have the special ability to invoke an emotional connection, in large part because of the nostalgic feeling that’s triggered by the joyful tunes we associate with our favorite game. According to Psychology Today, “Music has the ability to evoke powerful emotional responses such as chills and thrills in listeners. Positive emotions dominate musical experiences. Pleasurable music may lead to the release of neurotransmitters associated with reward, such as dopamine. Listening to music is an easy way to alter mood or relieve stress”.

Video game music composers use this very concept to immerse the player into a new world, taking video games from just a visual connection to an emotional connection.

Who can honestly say their hands don’t get sweaty when they hear Mike Gordon’s “Rip & Tear” while playing doom on nightmare difficulty? The screech of heavy metal music while gamers bludgeon blood-soaked demons is a powerful way to get the player's adrenaline pumping. These type of auditory queues reach players in memorable ways, furthering the connection and nostalgia of a game long after your done playing.

Doom Eternal
Doom Eternal

But game music has ascended past just the complimentary aspect of games and has become a vehicle for musical appreciation. Concerts have been created for the sole purpose of re-creating the timeless musical classics from our favorite games. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performed pieces of music from Crash Bandicoot, Resident Evil, and The Last of Us at the Royal Albert Hall. Video Games Live! is an interactive concert/light show extravaganza that showcases video game scores played by a live orchestra. There is a growing appreciation of video game composers and their music.

As the video game industry continues to grow and dominate popular culture, we see video game music become an essential part of marketing plans for musicians and managers as it presents the opportunity for new artists to grow their exposure.

Companies like EA and 2K games take great strides to curate great music for their titles. “We often begin working on a soundtrack almost a year in advance, trying to identify new music we believe will define the sound of the coming season,” says Steve Schnur. "We knew that video games could become what MTV and commercial radio had once been in the 80s and 90s. Any given song in Fifa 19 – whether it’s a new track by an established act or the debut of an unknown artist – will be heard around the world nearly 1bn times. Clearly, no medium in the history of recorded music can deliver such massive and instantaneous global exposure.” Games like Fifa and 2k have become musical showcases, routinely displaying talented artists from around the world.

Video Games Live!
Video Games Live!

This type of reach and ability to grow an artist’s notoriety is unprecedented. Beat Fever is a mobile game helping to generate better engagement between players and musicians. Players engage with their favorite music by tapping along with it and are then invited to stream the tracks in full on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.

When Steve Aoki’s track Azukita was featured in the game for two weeks, its streams increased by 2.3m. The landscape for musical development in video games has definitely evolved, but it continues to establish emotional connections with our favorite games and provide artists a platform to orchestrate beautiful compositions.

One upcoming game and soundtrack that we are super excited about is Ghosts of Tsushima. The game takes place during the Mongol invasion of the island of Tsushima. Centered around a lone samurai seeking to save his land from hordes of invaders, Jin Sakai will need to traverse and fight his way through his beautiful but war-torn island. Through videos and concept art we were able to see that the game was going to be full of beautiful landscapes and complex emotions.

Having musical composition that was indicative of the emotional complexity was so important that publishing company, Sucker Punch Studios, needed two veteran composers, Ilan Eshkeri and Shigeru “Ume” Umebayashi, to capture the full array of emotions. As Audio Director for the studio, Bradley Meyer said, “Having multiple voices sculpting the score can weave a more diverse and elaborate musical tapestry for the game’s story and action to sit upon. Ilan and Ume both brought something very special to the score that we used to craft the emotional backbone of the entire world: from the story to combat exploring the island”.

Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima

We here at Capitol Underground were inspired by the story, beautiful environment, musical compositions, and attention to detail in Ghosts of Tsushima; we collaborated with producer, DJ, musician, and DMV native ANTY to compose, Shizukesa, an original composition for our next Art x Gaming series.

Hailing from Virginia Beach, Virginia, hometown to juggernaut artists Pharrell Williams, Timberland, and Missy Elliot. He pays homage to those who paved the way for his distinct hypnotically bouncy sound. ANTY’s warm melodies and eclectic use of sounds create an enjoyable journey any listener can appreciate.

We were able to sit down with ANTY and learn more about him as an artist and gamer, his musical journey, and what inspired his unique sound for Shizukesa.

Artist Spotlight

Cap: What about Ghost of Tsushima inspired you to create Shizukesa!

ANTY: I became fascinated by Samurai as a kid growing up watching anime, Rurouni Kenshin, Samurai Jack, and Inuyasha. From there I fell into the rabbit hole and discovered the Japanese culture where I get a lot of my inspiration to this day.

DJ & Producer ANTY