Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Video games, ugly buildings, and whores...

...all get respectable if they last long enough (apologies to N. Cross). The Times is paying attention to video game music, although, predictably, they focus on the recent big-budget productions (which, after all, provide the news "hook") and overlook older, smaller gems that made the medium's limitations into virtues. My musician friends would no doubt gag at the following litany, but I'll list a few of the game soundtracks that rang my personal chimes...

First, there's the shockingly diverse music from Star Control 2 (a game which I loved when I was a teenager, and which some cognoscenti class among the greatest games of all time). This bizarre alien-planet bachelor pad music spans and explodes nearly every genre of techno, from ambient to house to breakbeats to weird-ass shit that doesn't even have a name.

Then there was the (much smaller) Privateer soundtrack (alternate links: [1], [2]), whose best pieces were essentially dime-store ambient knockoffs of the soundtrack Vangelis composed for Blade Runner. Call me crazy, stupid, and deaf, but I think there's something genuinely evocative about these minimalist pieces, something that speaks of loneliness and vast distances.

Finally, there's Grim Fandango (unofficial site), which had, among other things, some terrific jazz numbers. Grim Fandango was also a superb game in so many other ways --- the distinctively surreal visual style, the memorable characters, the well-crafted story and dialogue --- that it's one of the few games I've ever played that I'd cite as an example of the storytelling art, on a par with a film or a novel. It's essentially a comic picaresque --- a genre whose "lightness" may lead people to underestimate the work's brilliance --- but it's a superb example of the genre. And, if I recall correctly, at least one other historical medium first discovered its voice in the picaresque.

While I'm at it, I suppose I should also point to OverClocked ReMix, whose existence indicates that at least some electronic musicians were even more taken with computer and video game music than I was.

Anyway, I've basically quit playing video and computer games --- my life's too crowded these days --- and, objectively speaking, I have to admit that if I'd spent those hours of my youth doing something more productive, my life would have been qualitatively better. But, really, that's hardly less true of most people's childhoods. As a kid, you spend too much time watching teevee, or reading junky genre fiction, or playing video games, or (these days) on instant messenger or blogs. The best you can hope for is that you find some accidental beauty along the way.

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