Likening Games to Music (Videos)

March 11th, 2009

They may appear foreign on the surface, but the inherent qualities of music and video games are arguably quite similar. To prove this, I thought it’d be fun then for me to take – what I consider to be – a couple of meaningful music tracks and directly contrast them against their approximate video game counterparts. Pretty self explanatory huh?

Slight Disclaimer: Some of these songs feature comfronting material, themes and a little bit of language.

Angel – Massive Attack

Massive Attack are a widely acclaimed trip-hop/abstract, musical pact that produce provocative music which is highly sensory, intimate and personal. Each track they write seemingly relates to some abstract form of emotion or issue with deep emotional issues – birth, a mother’s anxiety over losing her children, cloning, love between anyone etc. I selected Angel and Inertia Creeps for this experiment, so starting with Angel (the easiest of the two) let’s try and relate the experiences created by the music with similar experiences in video games.

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Angel is a slow burn of energy, a build up, a rush and then a hasty warm down. The name of the song, soullessness of the lyrics, pictures in the video clip and insensate singing all converge at this one idea of some mysterious being in pursuit, some sort of angel perhaps.

The momentum of the song paces itself like many euphoric experiences – think of a few, go on. In terms of games, the flow is very akin to a standard boss battle. You begin in search for a way to damage the boss, you then discover how and continue to exploit that approach. The intensity of the battle increases as your life diminishes and the boss becomes more aggressive. Finally you initiate the final blow and the boss is defeated, you can relax.

The angel part itself is thematic rather than structural. The video clip depicts a man being followed and eventually chased by a mass of people. The same theme of hurried pursuit echoed by the strained in the music is present in games like Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and the Clock Tower series, both which centralize around escaping from the pursuit a dangerous foreign being.

Inertia Creeps – Massive Attack

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The second Massive Attack song is furthermore unsettling and even more difficult to interpret. You may wish to read the lyrics which can be found here. My interpretation is that this song is related to some twisted murder or rape with interjections of psycho sexual undertones as sung out by the lead. He is in fact the perpetrator of these terrible acts, and the song is a frustrated description of what took place with intimate details clued along.

The closest game experience that I can relate this to is Silent Hill 2, which I haven’t played but have heard much about. The game’s narrative seems equally subjective, with similar psycho sexual themes regarding the protagonist and his obsession to find his supposively deceased wife. The nurses are a good metaphor for this, but I don’t know enough about the game to say much more. It’s on the shelf though. >_<

My Name Is – Eminem

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God I love this song,  it’s mastery of annoying and smart arsery – hate the soft radio edit though. The lyricalism obviously carries a lot of weight, but so too does the simple background loop and occasional added sound effects. Like a lot of Eminem‘s work, as much as you may loathe him, he does make a strong point. Trying to interpret whether his words are somewhat justified is another matter of untangling his own hypocrisy and mangled identity. It’s brilliantly destructive in that sense.

Eminem‘s self referential announcement to the world is similar to cult hits, ill of convention such as Wario Ware, Bishi Bashi Special among many others. The back cover of Wario Ware Inc. Mega Party Game$! on the Gamecube has Wario speech-bubbled stating “Hey! Buy my game!” followed by a paragraph of Wario self wankery. Its the same unabashed love for oneself that the song emits. The game itself is full of this too.

Segagaga is another title of the same vein, while Wario Ware is similar in pieces to Eminem‘s introduction to the music world, Segagaga is self referential through and through. Released only in Japan, late in the Dreamast’s life cycle, Segagaga sees you, a young boy saving the ailing Sega corporation from financial ruin.

Paralyzer – Finger Eleven

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The Canadian hard rock five-some bang out some pretty rocking tunes. Paralyzer is probably my favourite track from the band. The clip is typically high production, a staple of Wind Up Records with a style that matches the sense of lyrics. I love the wicked dance posse too.

Like many radio rock songs of this nature, there isn’t particularly much that distinguishes this song from similar productions. At the same time the song is fresh, modern and catchy. It reminds me a lot of action games that steal heavily on existing mechanics but hide their unrestrained borrowing with polish or a decidedly new premise. New games built on familiar foundation. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, The Club or Dead Space.

Jack Johnson – Go On

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You can go ahead and listen to the whole album if you like. ‘Go on’ is the track of interest, but the following playlist is also okay.

All At Once
Sleep Though the Static
If I Had Eyes
Go On
Monsoon
Losing Keys

Jack Johnson‘s music is beautifully melodic, almost soothingly so, with clever, sometimes completely non-caring lyrics.

The pacifist intent behind these songs almost clashes with gameplay itself. Born and still evolving from the arcades, conflict is more often than not the catalyst for gameplay in videogames. Very few games rely on anything but conflict to constitute themselves. I guess this example is a bit of an anomaly then? Not so. Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing are grounded on similar terms. Both Jack Johnson‘s music and the worlds created by these two game are filled only with the trivial conflicts of day to day life. Both media teach you the trade of the simple life. They are born detached from serious drama or threat.

  • How did you come up with what you think of as these songs “video game counterparts”? Does sharing similar themes or emotional aims really make them counterparts? What’s stopping someone from then applying the same criteria to compare videogames with modernist paintings or anything else equally abstract that aim for a similar emotion in them?

    I dunno, it all seems a little absurd to me. Comparing interactive games with non-interactive, non-participatory music videos seems a bit like clutching at straws. Don’t we know by now that games can share themes with other media?

    Sorry, I guess I’m just not convinced that music videos actually are “arguably quite similar” to videogames. =P

  • Hmmm..I don’t think that there is anything wrong with contrasting games with music, or games with anything else that’s up to interpretion. Of course, these comparisons are obviously not absolute, but that’s besides the point. Loosen up.

  • Look, I’m sorry you didn’t like my comment but you solicited feedback via twitter and I provided some. Whatever.

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