For centuries, writing a symphony or an opera was the highest ambition of a composer. But that was challenged in the 1970s when film music was also considered “classical”, and releasing a film gave both an original artistic title and the potential for huge financial rewards.
But the new generation of classic composers has its own highest ambition: video game scores. This emerging genre represents an artistic challenge of its own. Because the narrative sequence of a game will be dictated by each individual player’s actions.
A video game is a virtual world that combines words, stories, designs, and music to create an imaginative world.
The potential audience is also very extraordinary. It is estimated that about three million million or forty percent of the world’s population are now regular gamers. This also includes 81 percent of Internet users belonging to Generation Z. It is estimated that around $180.3 billion of video game sales were accumulated in 2021, well above sales in the film industry in the same year, which was $21.3 billion globally.
No wonder writing music for a video game is such a lucrative business, especially with the fact that 15 percent of a video game project’s budget is for music.
However, despite the immense commercial success of game music, these famous composers are rarely seen as equals to film composers. Everyone has probably heard the name Hans Zimmer before, but how many of us know the composer for the classic Donkey Kong game, Yukio Kaneoka? Well, even though computer games are “Moving Pictures,” the Academy refuses to include video game composers for nominations for the Oscars.
But since 2010, everything has changed.
The video game score for Killzone 2 won the Ivor Novello composition award for the first time. BBC Radio 3, the “home of classical music” now hosts the regular “Sound of Gaming”, and in 2023 we will welcome a new category at the Grammy Awards – Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games.
At first, many did not imagine that video game music could be one of the luxurious events that would fill famous concert halls around the world. When Nintendo brought the Famicom console in 1983, there were five chips in the machine that was capable of making shrill little melodies. Even though the pitch is limited, the composers didn’t lose their minds and were able to score from those limitations.
With modern tools, the complexity also increases so that it is able to provide a variety of musical styles that can be developed. One composer who can vary this style is a Japanese composer, Yoko Shimomura who wrote the score for Kingdom Hearts. Kow Otani’s latest score for Shadow of the Colossus is also very interesting because there is a surprise factor in the music in the form of a feeling of prayer or requiem.
Departing from five chips to write a music score a few centuries ago, now music is no longer bound to the same space and time as it was back then.