In the world of entertainment, music is an integral part of the total experience. Music is there to complement the visual experience, mainly since it would be boring to only hear dialogue, sound effects, and silence. Also, music helps set the mood. Most times, you know what is going to happen next based on the music, although sometimes music can even be used to misguide us. However, when the music is the game, can you even call it the soundtrack?
Two weeks ago, at the VGAs, the award for Game Soundtrack of the Year went to DJ Hero; however, there was a category for Music Game as well — I think that the industry needs to better categorize these awards — I digress, back to the actual article (I will get to the VGAs later in the article). I think that these rhythm games are causing some confusion to what a soundtrack really is. The music in Guitar Hero/Rock Band/DJ Hero is the game itself, I would like to argue that there is no real soundtrack for these games.
As far as awards go, when you see best soundtracks for movies, you don’t ever see concert DVDs get nominated. That is because it is a concert, and not music for a feature film, so it cannot be considered for an award regardless of how amazing it may be. I feel that music games are live performance simulators, and since you are playing the songs in a simulated live setting, I don’t think that the music can be counted as the soundtrack.
Music games don’t set the mood for anything. Also, the music, as stated before, is an integral part of the experience. Without the music, there would be no music game because the music is the game. I feel that a soundtrack is something that adds to the experience, but it can be something that the game can still function without.
Another aspect is that the track listing of music games can evolve over time which leads to more confusion. The soundtrack is never DEFINITIVE until a new game in the series arrives, (Although yearly installments of music games seems a bit ridiculous to me) and the previous title stops being supported. DJ Hero won the award for best soundtrack, but since tracks will be added in 2010, what stops it from becoming a candidate for the title again? I know that they can just say the game has to be released in 2010, but it could always happen that the DLC could be counted since it would come out in 2010.
Going back to the VGAs, I feel that it is downright appalling to see that Guitar Hero 5, Beatles Rock Band, and DJ Hero were in BOTH the Soundtrack of the Year and Music Game of the Year categories. Off the top of my head, I can name 3 games that should have been in that category instead: Shatter, BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, and the Street Fighter IV Theme Song, just kidding, but really, Flower. Those games all had soundtracks that really added to the overall experience. Shatter had a crazy electric soundtrack that had a consistent pulse which put you into a trancelike state, which prevented distraction while playing, it was varied and was something that I would actually listen to (I proudly own it). The consistent pulse is important because, like a metronome, it keeps you attentive. BlazBlue had a very Japanese soundtrack, because it was so guitar heavy. As a guitarist, I loved to hear the crazy solos. The soundtrack added to the high octane nature of the game. Lastly, Flower had a soundtrack that really took you on a journey. The way the music shifted with the story of the game was brilliant. The music is what made it so that no dialogue was needed to explain the story. The games sound effects also added to the music of the game, each flower acted as a tube in a wind chime as you would cause them to bloom. The speed at which you moved caused constant crescendos and decrescendos. I could go on for DAYS about this haha. Some people may ask why I did not say Uncharted 2 or Modern Warfare 2, and that is because those games have scores.
Just for a bit of clarification, I will provide a quick definition of a soundtrack and a score. A soundtrack can be recorded music accompanying and synchronized to the images of a motion picture, television program or video game; a commercially released soundtrack album of music as featured in the soundtrack of a film or TV show; or the physical area of a film that contains the synchronized recorded sound. Where a score is essentially the background music of a game (which is generally categorically separated from songs used within a game). A score is written specifically to accompany a game, by the original game’s composer(s). Each individual piece of music, within a game’s score, is called a cue and is typically a composition for instruments (eg. orchestra) and/or non-individually featured voices. [Ed. I replaced the word film with game, it translates the same.]
As I was saying, I feel that music games should be kept out of soundtrack category because it leads to actual soundtracks not getting the recognition they deserve. I hope that community awareness of things like this can lead to a change. I, for one, would take the VGAs more seriously if they categorized the awards correctly (among other things that I won’t get in to). These rhythm games need to stay in the music game category, just like scores need to stay categorized separately than soundtracks.
Definitions for soundtrack and score via [Wikipedia.org]
Photo Copyright Luke Chueh [http://www.lukechueh.com/]