The Great Video Game Music backlash

Credit Bryan McDowall - Flickr

If you’ve been listening to Classic FM or frequented their website in the past few days, you’ll know that over the Easter weekend they broadcast their annual Hall of Fame – a top 300 list of classical music pieces a voted by the public. In that list are your obvious candidates, like Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky along with scores to operas, ballets and films – a whole cacophony of orchestral and classical genres.

Last year heralded the first ever inclusion in this list of music from video games – The soundtracks to The Elder Scrolls series by Jeremy Soule appeared at number 238, while Nobuo Uematsu’s music from the Final Fantasy games (represented by Aerith’s Theme – all votes for Final Fantasy music were, like film music, combined into just one entry), which following a successful online campaign, dropped in at number 16. At the time it seemed like a big step to try and get more exposure and acclaim for games scores, but barring two Saturday afternoon specials, not a single piece was played on Classic FM for an entire year (not even those nominated to the Hall of Fame) until this weekend. And if the impact made last year turned out to be a bit of a damp squib, this year it went a little bit mental.

The facebook campaign from last year continued, and it looked to be going well – Grant Kirkhope’s excellent soundtrack to Viva Pinata was first to appear at 174, but then nothing for two whole days of broadcast. Monday evening hit and it was time for the top 10. Surely Skyrim and Final Fantasy wouldn’t be included in there. Well, they were. And they caused an absolutely massive storm among listeners, by ending up 5th and 3rd respectively, above Beethoven and Mozart’s highest entries.

Now, it’d be daft to try and argue that these two pieces of video game music are in the top 5 of classical music ever to be written – this was obviously a result of a campaign and probably not reflective of an average Classic FM listener’s tastes. However, some of the reactions were a bit over the top – various people labelled it as garbage and not worthy of being played on the station, some were angry at Classic FM for letting this sort of music in, while a few had obviously never heard of the definition of horrified, as they claimed to be just that. (N.B. There was a lot of support from listeners for VGM too melded in with the tide of hate, just to be clear).

Now, I understand that people perhaps weren’t happy with the campaign that was run to encourage people to vote for certain pieces which quite definitely slotted them a bit too high, though I still feel they’d be deserving of a place. However, I believe this campaign was completely necessary and that these pieces of VGM had to make it very highly otherwise it would just be a flash in the pan. The whole topic has provoked huge discussion on VGM, discussion that would not have happened had these pieces just drifted in low down in the chart – hell, this wasn’t even being discussed last year when Uematsu made the top 20. Maybe it can mark a step forward in the treatment of some of the magnificent scores like Journey and Flower we’ve had the good fortune to be able to experience while playing the games we love, while also exposing a whole new audience to a genre that they would never have heard before and may actually really enjoy.

Video game music has come a long way from the bleeps and bloops of chiptunes, through tonal MIDIs all the way to full blown orchestral movements and some of these later soundtracks have been my gateway into classical music over the past two or three years. Many of these orchestrated compositions evoke emotion and have been played by Philharmonic and Symphonic orchestras worldwide, especially in the last five years – most notably Distant Worlds and Video Games Live. I want to share what I love with other people and if this is a step to do it, then I’ll more than back the campaign. After all, ‘Best Of’ and ‘Hall of Fame’ lists are just a bit of fun – the order doesn’t matter, it’s the fact that it’s being celebrated that counts.

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