Let the Games Begin
I don’t consider myself that old, but I’ve never got the bug for interactive video games. The games I’ve seen my young male relatives and friends playing, from the vantage of a disinterested voyeur, seem to me distasteful—filled with violence, misogyny, and adolescent fantasy which doesn’t float my boat. Before you call me a closed-minded curmudgeon, I’ll add that I’m open to the idea that if I delved further in, or focused on games like SimCity, I might see that these games may be harmless fun for people, and that there probably are redeeming and positive things to be found in what appear to be Wagnerian moral quests (although it would be interesting to know how many fantasy deaths occur per minute in some of these games). But I’m of the attitude that there is so much alive in the world to look at and relate with, that the manic and hyper hand-eye get-off that kids have with video games, is a poor alternative to real world human contact and sensory integration. Looks to me like you train a generation with virtual screen games, and you have them psychically prepared for waging war with weapons guided from computer screens—clean, emotionally detached, never having to look a real human victim in the eye. This relationship is discussed in among other places, the book Moths to the Flame—the Seductions of Computer Technology.
So, while it’s nice to know this field is providing employment for composers and musicians, there are larger questions for me about what the effects of game-playing experiences are on people’s lives, families, and our culture, and what kind of practices people are engaged in when playing these games (as opposed to playing musical instruments). Yes, “Games Studies” exist now and graduate students everywhere (no doubt experienced game players—and true, they are not psychotic woman-hating mass murderers) are thoughtfully asking these questions too. This is a direction we need—knowing more about how such games and the supporting technologies might be positive forces in educational pedagogy and social relations.
That there’s big money to support the musical production of these widely-selling games, and that our talented colleagues in commercial music have found this genre to offer different and interesting challenges than film soundtracks, is not so surprising. That the fans of these games dig the music and want to hear it live is nice extra work for musicians (though one resentful LA Phil player described the Final Fantasy concert as "cheesy" and said some of the players felt a little soiled). Beyond that, can you tell me why we should be excited by this?
Maybe this opens the possibility of other kinds of interactive artforms and musical scores. Maybe we’re seeing the infancy of new media musical style. (But as with other commercial music, you can bet that funding and opportunity will be market-driven largely by what sells to adolescents.) Maybe the innovations game composers use will open ears and attract new listeners to other kinds of music. Maybe the technologies developed open possibilities for new kinds of music-making and experiencing. Maybe in another 10 years, there will be interactive video addiction therapy with biofeedback musical scores, used for video game addicts raised on these things.
In the early days of film, many wonderful composers worked in the genre (as some do today). Did the genre drive or change their essential approach to music? Were post-World War II composers influenced by the Straussian orchestrations and turn-on-a-dime style in cartoon music? Is video game music just another chapter in the history of theater music? Does this new genre suggest something to you that we should be excited about?