It Brought Me Here: Music in Gaming

June 6, 2019 by Mobile Beat

If you trawl through the comments under music videos on YouTube, which can be a mind-boggling experience in itself, you’ll often come across series of comments that follow a similar pattern; namely, that a certain advert, television show, movie or video game brought the viewer to the page. Often, this is the case for forgotten artists and remixes, or those who have not hit the mainstream. The viewer has heard a snippet of something they like, then went search of the source on the internet.

Video games, in particular, can pick up some bizarre licensing agreements with musicians. It probably stretches back further than you think. Ocean, a now defunct maker of games for Spectrum and Atari, licensed the music of everyone from Frankie Goes to Hollywoodto Journey in the early 1980s. Neither the games, nor the soundtrack, are very good, but it was seen as revolutionary at the time. Pixies got in the action in the late 1980s, recording a theme for the Nintendo game NARC, aptly called “Theme from Narc”.

Licensing content is lucrative for artists

There are, of course, the obvious examples, with the likes of the Grand Theft Auto series basically releasing adding the sort of soundtrack that you would associate with a movie. The likes of Michael Jackson and Guns N’ Roses feature in all types of games, not limited to video games alone. Yet, it is the left-field examples that intrigue the most. For example, the Call of Duty series famously features the likes of AC/DC and the Rolling Stones – read the YouTube comments on the songs of the latter if you fancy a laugh at teenagers opining on their music – but there are also excerpts from artists as diverse as Mozart, Sinatra, The Prodigy and Johnny Cash.

As any good DJ will tell you, sometimes playing songs that seem out of place with its environment sometimes just work. Brenda Lee’s rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon”, for example, has been used in the ‘hack and slash’ game Bayonetta. Lee’s beautiful, sad and soaring vocals juxtapose with the game’s grizzly theme, but somehow it fits. We have seen this ‘out of context’ theme working in so many other areas of media before: Consider the use of Stealers Wheels “Stuck in the Middle with You” in the ear-cutting scene of Reservoir Dogs.


Prince game featured new music

Prince, ever the boundary-pusher, released a bizarre CD-ROM video game in 1994 – Prince Interactive. It was one of those releases that was perhaps too far ahead of its time in the sense that the technology needed to pull it off had not yet been perfected. But, musically, they really went for music wise, with six previously unreleased songs on the game, 52 music clips and four full-length music videos.

There are some other examples of the games developers just hitting perfection at the right time. Metal Gear Solid 5’s use of the Midge Ure (he of Ultravox fame) version of “The Man Who Sold the World” is perfect, as was the haunting sounds of Gary Jules’ “Mad World” in Gears of War 3. But top of the list – personally – is the use of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in 2010 game Alan Wake. All of us have heard the song a thousand times before, but when its in a different setting, given a different context, you start to appreciate it all over again.

Filed Under: Playlists, Songs & Music Charts