It is said that smell is the sense most closely linked to memory. Its direct link to the limbic system (which controls basic bodily functions like heart rate, as well as plays a strong role in emotion) tends to support this theory. But I’d wager this is not memory as one tends to think of it, as actual, fully formed scenes with fully formed events.
Rather, I’d say smell evokes emotion (limbic is more emotion than memory), and that combination of emotion and scent may stir up the feeling of an event past, a visceral reaction. You’ll eventually get to memories, perhaps just one, but it’s a couple of jumps down a line.
Music, though, can call a ten year old memory to mind with the clarity as if the event had happened yesterday. In fact, most people around you identify certain times of their life by music. Music reflects our times, and we, in turn remember it, incorporate it into ourselves.
There are songs that when they play on the radio take me back to 20 years ago at the school skating party. I remember (perhaps unfortunately) my winter of Radiohead – I still get in an anxious funk when I hear the intro to Street Spirit. Music is so much a part of us, so ingrained, so recognizable, there have been entire gameshows built around people’s ability to Name That Tune in but a handful of notes.
So, when the first bleeps and bloops appeared in 1970s arcade games, did we have a slight inkling of how grand this genre (yes, genre) of game music would become? Well, analog was still the name of the game in sound, so actually, we probably didn’t. But in the mid to late 80s, when a round of home consoles and PCs came through, using digital music readers, the future was wide open. Game music went from highly repetitious, infectious sounds to virtual symphonies supporting the increasingly intricate stories and gameplay.
And this leads us to today, where fans can buy the soundtracks alongside their favorite game titles. Final Fantasy fans can go spend a night among friends, enjoying the surprisingly deep anthology of music from the decade old series. Entire bands make their (at least partial) living sampling, covering and making up lyrics to old favorites from games gone by. And so, because this genre has grown to become part of the foundation of games, we turn our eyes and ears to the subject videogame music in this week’s issue of The Escapist, “The Beat Goes On.” Enjoy!
Doot doot doot,