For my last blog I highlighted (for many of us) the importance of background music when writing or undertaking creative pursuits. And not just any kind of music – Music To Write By.
For me, this always means the same thing: classical scores, soft piano music and film soundtracks. Essentially, anything without vocals which creates atmosphere and unlocks the imagination.
But there is another form of this music which must not be overlooked – game soundtracks. Games have changed and evolved a staggering amount considering the industry is still, to a certain extent, in its infancy. Home consoles and gaming PCs truly took off in the 1990s, which is still just over 30 years ago. It is a small dip in human history – but during that time we have seen games evolve from low-res graphics and bleeps, to mega-budget titles complete with symphonic soundtracks and complex soundscapes.
As a 32-year-old, it never ceases to make me smile at how easy it is to take adults back to their childhood by playing a simple game theme tune from the past that they had almost forgotten. One example is the Cosmo Canyon theme from Final Fantasy 7, a relatively simple, repetitive tune which can reduce grown adults to emotionally nostalgic wrecks.
While the following game scores may not have quite the same result, they will, I hope, offer new form of inspiration for many of you on your next writing session:
Myst and Riven
What amazes me most about these soundtracks are how well they have stood the test of time. Both these classic games were released in the 1990s, and while some visuals seem dated, the story and haunting background music have rarely been triumphed in my opinion. This is impressive considering the music for Myst was recorded almost as an afterthought, on a simple keyboard hooked up to a piece of primitive music software. But with these simple tools, the composer created the atmosphere of a host of lonely, empty worlds. Check out tracks such as ‘Moeity Theme’ and ‘Planetarium’ to see what I mean.
Dear Esther is a game that almost single-handedly created the walking simulator – a gaming genre derided and adored in equal measure. The soundtrack is a weird and wonderful symphonic journey that transport you to a grey, empty island on the Outer Hebrides. It is perfect music to escape into a writing session for any genre.
As a game, Firewatch sweeped up a host of awards on its initial release. The soundtrack is no less impressive, with an intricate mix of keyboard synth and acoustic guitars that create a hazy, summery feel that soon transforms into tense drama, much like the game itself.
Journey is universally considered one of the most artistic games ever made, with colourful visuals and design rarely seen outside art-house cinema. The soundtrack provides a perfect accompaniment, with sweeping strings and eastern wind instruments; breathtakingly beautiful and original.
Whether you’re using it to drown out background noise, inspire a new idea, or simply because you like it, a good playlist is any author’s perfect companion.
As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Do you have any game soundtracks you would add to this list?
About the author
Alexander Comley is currently studying an MA in Creative Writing at Surrey University and holds a special interest in reading and writing ghost stories, fantasy, and historical fiction. You can also check out his gaming blog here. When he is not writing, Alex can be seen headbanging with his heavy metal band, Bangover.