Melodies of Distant Realms: World Music in the Context of Video Games



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When players discuss video games, their attention often gravitates towards graphics, gameplay, story, or even the company that produced the game first. There is another component that is as significant to complete the video game experience, and that is audio such as sound effects and music. In regards to academia, the study of video games is still a field that has yet to expand the way other media has. Despite this, it is one that is growing alongside the industry, particularly the field of video game music, often known as “ludomusicology.” While the timeline of video game music is considerably shorter than its other cousins (e.g. film and television), the properties and influence it has on today’s media culture are significant. The question now arises regarding what composers think about regarding instrumentation and other components (such as environment) of cues in video games. What happens when composers draw influence from non-Western culture? The focus of this paper will be on the music in video games, continuing the discussion of the historic components of sound as well its correlation to my primary focus, world music. I will have three case studies in which I will analyze various cues. The titles of these video games are: Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo, 1998), Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (Nintendo/Square Enix, 2003), and Civilization V (2K Games/Firaxis Games, 2010). The composers of these games are Koji Kondo, Kumi Tanioka, and Michael Curran and Geoff Knorr, respectively. I will be analyzing the various uses of non-Western music in the environments in which they appear, and how they are communicated to the player. My main goal is to investigate whether the music is appropriating other cultures’ musical traditions and if this is a perpetuation of stereotypes. While there are potential issues of sensitivity at hand, this paper will also focus on how the exposure to world music in video games has an overall positive influence, leading to a growing awareness and understanding of music as a whole. Due to the fact that video games are marketed to a global audience, this study will conclude with why it is important to understand ludomusicology as an important subfield of musicology and ultimately, how it impacts the world that we live in today.



music, ludomusicology, video games, world music