Music in Games

By Liz Danforth — Library Journal, 3/15/2010

In 2005, the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed to a crowd of
11,000 at the inaugural Video Games Live (VGL) concert, which featured
music from games including Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid. Today,
VGL is more popular than ever and continues to tour worldwide.

I first experienced this multimedia extravaganza two years ago,
and it forever changed how I listen to music within games; the video
backdrops put the music in context for games I didn’t even play.

Coming of age

VGL speaks volumes about how games music has matured since the
plink-plunk of Pong or the pew-pew sounds of Asteroids in the arcade.
The conductors and performers responsible for much of this music are
often Grammy Award winners and from world-class symphony orchestras.

As a genre, game music has followed the same historic path as the
music of cinema and television, from the incidental piano music of
early silent movies to the classical music attached to Disney’s Bugs
Bunny comedies to the full-blown orchestrations post_date for individual
blockbuster films.

Music for your collection

Today’s game music holds appeal for gamers and music lovers
alike, yet libraries have largely neglected to capitalize on this
crossover appeal.

A search of for "video game soundtracks" yields 1,595
hits. Contrastingly, a search of WorldCat for recordings with the
keywords "video game music" yields just 369 hits; "computer game music,"
just 202. The critically lauded sound track to the complete Halo
trilogy? Eleven libraries. People, we can do better.

Beyond game music sound tracks, game music scores are another
great value-add for any library collection. Resources like Sheet Music
Plus (
offer more than 100 such scores.

Music to play by

When running RockBand or Super Smash Brothers Brawl events,
you’ve already got game music playing, but have you considered playing
music while running other gaming events?

Thematically appropriate background music can add to the gaming
experience and inspire both players and those running the games. If
you’re putting out board games, load up a boom box with some of those
shiny new game sound tracks you just bought for the collection.

Admittedly, some players might like the extra stimulation, while
others might find it distracting. I’d err on the side of extra
stimulation because if your group sounds lively, new folks may poke
their heads in to investigate, especially if they recognize music from a
game they love to play.

Consider also drawing from your movie sound track collection. Are
you playing a fantasy game like Dungeons & Dragons? Haul out the Conan
or Braveheart sound track. A modern urban fantasy? Escape
from New York
. Is the game set in outer space? Aliens or Star

There is plenty of inspiration online as well. If you’re playing a
steampunk game, check out the free MP3 downloads available from the
wonderfully creepy Clockwork Quartet (
For Lovecraftian Cthulhu horror, the concept albums of a group like Nox
Arcana ( would
be ideal.

Music for your community

If your city ever hosts VGL, get involved and become a catalyst
for music literacy, like Pima County Public Library (PCPL), Tucson, AZ,
recently did.

Late last year, in cooperation with the Tucson Symphony
Orchestra, PCPL obtained 20 discounted tickets to VGL. Teens
participating in any library gaming event throughout an 18-week period
were eligible to win two tickets to the show.

The more events they attended, the more chances they had to win.
It didn’t matter if it was a video game program, a chess club, or a
role-playing game, and it didn’t matter if they were there to play for
ten minutes or two hours.

This program not only gave teens the opportunity to hear the
classical themes underlying some of the music, presented in a concert
hall by classically trained musicians, it also enabled adults to
understand better the gaming activities that so frequently engage their

As I’ve said, the potential for gaming in libraries is about more
than setting up the console and having open play. Enlarge on the
possibilities with the music of games.

Liz Danforth (@LizDanforth), MLS, an
Arizona-based part-time librarian who also works as a freelance game
illustrator/designer/developer, writer, and library consultant, blogs