Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Early Video Game Music

Do I have any video game fanatics out there? Did you know that video game music is actually an area of musicological study that emerged within the last decade? This month I would like to step away from the highbrow topics in music history and look at something that any modern-day gamer can appreciate: video game music. We will briefly look at how the use of music in gaming has evolved from the first coin-operated games all the way to present day entertainment systems.

I must admit that I am not an expert when it comes to video games. That’s why when this topic idea came to me I immediately contacted longtime friend, musicologist, and video game music specialist, Sarah Pozderac-Chenevey. She kindly provided much of the information you will read in the coming weeks.

Did you know that the earliest known coin-operated game with sound was developed in 1897? Invented during a gambling prohibition, this game was marketed as a music machine. Though the sounds it created were more mechanical rather than musical, this new music machine allowed avid gamblers a means to satisfy their addiction while avoiding breaking the law.

Into the 20th century, arcade games became the avenue by which people could experience this early form of “gaming.” It wasn’t until the 1970s that we see the first game with continuous sound: Space Invaders. Because they were limited on space, programmers could not do much with the Space Invader soundtrack and stuck to using a lamenting tetra chord heard in the clip below. What they did not realize when developing the game, however, was that the game sped up during gameplay as fewer items remained on the screen. As the game sped up, so did the music. Coincidently, this added tension and suspense to the game. Watch here.


Have you ever played the Space Invader arcade game? Though an early form of music in gaming, do you find the accidental increased music tempo an effective way to build suspense in the game?


Join me next time as we look at Atari and NES!

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