The Art of the Video Game Score 

Video game music, once as crudely synthesized as the 8-bit graphics it accompanied, used to be valued for how pesky it wasn't—for the way you could listen to it all day as it looped indefinitely and never tire of it. How did one wander through Hyrule for hours on end and keep blithely humming along to that rousingly heroic theme? (Contrast it to the peskiness of today's crudest ringtones.) But these days, as games' visual resolution has been enhanced by a seemingly infinite factor, so too has the complexity of their music. The Super Mario Bros. ditty, if a triumph of populist melody, is a nostalgic relic, a series of bloops and bleeps, as crude as Bulgarian folk songs are to Beethoven. The music in Halo 3? That's scored for a full orchestra. That's art.

Music from that franchise and many others—Resident Evil, Final Fantasy, Gears of War, Myst—can now be purchased on CD soundtracks, moving video games closer to the realm of film scores. Wataru Hokoyama's music for PlayStation 3's Afrika, widely praised for its lush sonic vistas, nabbed a prize at the 2008 "Hollywood Music Awards." Courses in composition are taught at the Berklee College of Music, instructing students, for example, on how to adapt their musical ideas to the ever-changing gameplay—just one of the form's particular challenges. Some video game music is even beginning to be heard in concert halls.

Japanese orchestras have given live performances of video game music since the 80s; such concerts made their way to the continent in the early aughts and to these shores shortly after, when the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed music from Final Fantasy at the Hollywood Bowl in 2004. A musical program called "Video Games Live" has toured the world since 2005, packing concert halls with fans costumed as favorite characters.

It may still take a while for such performances to take place in the hallowed halls of New York (not the Beacon Theater), where mainstream classical music performance is largely beholden to stodgy institutions. But with rapscallion Alan Gilbert now leading our Philharmonic, maybe such an event will be previewed in these pages in the not-too-distant future. After all, Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings score was heard at Radio City last year. If legitimate orchestras can play non-Prokofiev film music in legitimate concert spaces—a feat Max Steiner or Dmitri Tiomkin could hardly have dreamed of—how far behind can "An Evening With Halo 3 at Carnegie Hall" be?


Halo 3:

Final Fantasy:

Mario Brothers, arranged for orchestra:


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