It’s not particularly controversial, these days, to make a statement about video games as an art form. Video games went mainstream a long time ago. Even the debate on violence in video games making people more violent seems to have long been settled now. So when I say I love video games, I know that I need to tell you – I really love video games.
I’ve been playing games for my entire adult life. I got my first computer as a teen, in the 90s, and have been playing video games ever since. In school, we played Oregon Trail on the Apple IIe and at home, I played games like Myst, Might and Magic, or Duke Nukem 3d. (My memory of those years is fuzzy so I can’t tell you the order in which these games were played or the exact year they came out, only that I did play them.)
Years passed and I moved on, I played Counterstrike – back before Steam was a thing and they changed the whole game and all the weapons in it. I played console games too and have very fond memories of the Final Fantasy series. Like so many others, I was fascinated by these virtual worlds and the escapism of it. Being able to escape into a game like Final Fantasy, playing the hero that saves the world and gets the girl – well, at the time it was far better than life.
I graduated from all of that and went on to MMORPG which is short for something like Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game – and if you’re in a younger crowd, this will mean nothing to you because you’ve had games online for your whole life. It’s not a novel thing to login to a virtual world and be able to adventure with anyone around the country. It’s just… normal now. I played many MMOs – World of Warcraft, Everquest 2, Final Fantasy 11, Age of Conan, Saga of Ryzom, and Final Fantasy 14. I know I’m missing some but that’s what comes to mind at the time of writing this post.
Just so we’re clear on this – I love many games but my time in massive multiplayers will always be a big part of my life. I still miss Final Fantasy 14 near daily. I have a tattoo of a chocobo (that I drew the design for) and then I went back and had a White Mage tattooed underneath that (also my drawing). Eventually, I want to go back and add more to fill it in – perhaps a Black Mage or some of the common monsters from the series. I don’t cosplay but, if I did, it would be a Final Fantasy character.
As I’ve aged and my life has changed, I’ve stopped playing these games. I target more casual games now – things I can pick up and play for a little bit at a time but when I walk away, it’s okay. The game is saved and ready for me to pick up whenever I have the time again. I like games, now, that let me have other hobbies – something that isn’t often true with MMOs.
Anyway, I tell you all of this to tell you that I do regard video game production as an art form. A good game has a well told story, a good visual aesthetic, and good music. If any one of these are off, the whole game can be ruined.
The music needs to be engaging enough to provoke a feeling or a mood but it also can’t be so overpowering to distract you from the level design or the creatures you are fighting. And honestly, without music, the game wouldn’t be the same.
Music, at least for me, is the single best way to convey emotion or action or a sequence change. You can hear it whenever you go from “peaceful meandering environment music” to “mega battle fighty fight music”. They may be similar in some ways but will typically have a different tempo, possibly a different key, and they’ll just set a different tone.
The music can tell you when you are nearing the end of a dungeon, when a boss fight is about to start, or tell you to beware of the area you are in. Music does all of this without words and often without the listener being actively aware.
Sadly, though, the music will just be a side note to everything else most of the time. There are some games out there where the music specifically gets called out and might even get a special soundtrack release, but mostly – it’s just a side note to the whole project. For example, I can’t name a single composer in video game music but I could name several music composers known for their work in movies.
Game developers, the visual artists, and musicians involved in making all those great games out there deserve our support for their art. And, yes, it is definitely a form of art.