Music in Video Games

Hey there dudes,
Kingblunkers here to talk about Music in video games.
Over my next couple posts I want to talk about music and sounds in video games and how they impact our experiences.
Especially for the old school games, there are plenty of memorable themes and melodies. And thats a topic I will cover, just not today, because there’s a lot. Today we are specifically talking about games with soundtracks comprised of “mainstream” music.

Why music?

Its a simple question, but if you think about why is there music basically everywhere we go? In commercials, restaurants, movies, tv shows, stores. We almost entirely have a sub genre of music specifically for elevators. I am a huge music fan, and I love a good playlist, it makes my day. I note specific restaurants/stores for their music, 54th street grill tends to have good music. Scrubs one of my favorite TV shows has an amazing soundtrack they tend to pick songs that seem to convey the mood of the episode just right. There are even shows I am not crazy about, that I still look up their soundtracks because they make selections I like.

Is it cheating to use other people’s music?

Like I said, you’re probably already thinking of Zelda’s music, or Halo theme song. This music is amazing and was created beautifully and specifically for that world. But there is also an art to taking a song, that its creator made with a specific heart and purpose and throw it into a video game that has an entirely different objective. So while I will talk about some more original pieces, If you’ve ever hosted a party its like picking music for everyone in the room and just hopes everyone will like them.

Successful examples

Below are a few games that I think did this extremely well.


music - music so good
music so good

The intro of Borderlands and playing Cage The Elephant’s “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” Is one of my favorite examples. You take this world that is full of psychos, crude dialogue and silly banter from Claptrap. And its all kicked off with this amazing scene as the intro. I love this band, I love this song, and when playing this game for the first time I already was able to connect with it. The song and game both convey this sense of lawlessness and I think its a perfect fit.

Saint’s Row III


(Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

This is a game I never completed, because I don’t love the game all that much, but one of the early missions you parachute into a penthouse party and go on a one-vs-everyone rampage with Kanye West’s “Power” playing as you jump out the helicopter. This game is outlandish and absurd, it gives one person the ability to take over the world. Again, the contents of the game and the contents of the song convey power, strength, and confidence. You drop in like a BAMF and take back your HQ (some mature content FYI if going to check it out).

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater


I played every game in the series except for the very last one, but what is consisted with all of these games is fantastic music.
And it all started out with the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Goldfinger’s “Superman” I am not sure if a song and game have formed a closer association in my head (Bonus video from Dunkey about how awesome this game is). This game series in general introduced me to a lot of music. I first heard Primus in THPS. I first heard Rage Against the Machine from THPS2. the Ramones and Motorhead in THPS3 and NWA in THPS4. The list could go on and on, but whoever was in charge of picking these always picked great music that went across many genres and eras. I heard new bands and old bands. In the later games you could even modify the soundtrack by turning off certain songs, so if something wasn’t your style you could cut it out.

Bonus EA games

I won’t take the time to name everything. But EA, despite some of the other issues it may have… picks some good songs for soundtracks. Whether it be their sports series (FIFA, Madden, etc) or Burnout, and many more. For a lot of the less story driven games, they can pick a playlist that just makes you feel good and want to have fun.

BioShock Infinite

This game is amazing. I love the worlds built up throughout the series. I love how creepy it is and the symbolism and matters of choice your characters have to make. In the 3rd game in the series, there is an Easter Egg where you can find a guitar and the two voice actors of the main characters actually perform a cover of an old Hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”.
To see the video click here…

if you want the video with some spoilers about some of the plot points of BioShock Infinite and some symbolism to the song click here instead. Its a moment of peace and beauty in a dark world. And while yes it is a hymn, they don’t want to convey religious subtext, but more just a longing for peace.

A Bold move

I don’t know the industry enough to know if there’s any cost advantage to using another song vs hiring out. Overall, I think that choosing other people’s music can be risky. In games like the EA games and THPS, you have a cycle of songs so the songs just have to meet a general vibe the game delivers. However, if you use a specific song for a specific moment, you can very easily miss the mark. If the song in Borderlands wasn’t wild enough you are no longer in the vast borderlands… you’re back in your house listening to a slightly dated radio hit.

Next time I will talk about Video Game with original music, which is a whole other can of worms. Lots to talk about. Cya then.

Tell me what your favorite mainstream song/game pairing.
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1 thought on “Music in Video Games

  1. I’ve always thought that FIFA’s music is done incredibly well. I’ve found a couple of bands/songs that I love listening to now because of them.

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