From “The Legend of Zelda” theme to the infectious “Super Mario Bros” score, sound and music have long been foundational to the gaming experience.
And now, in a move many fans and insiders consider long overdue, the Recording Academy for the first time has created a Grammy category specifically honoring a video game soundtrack, an acknowledgement of the major impact gaming and its music have made on pop culture.
Previously video games were included in the Score Soundtrack for Visual Media category, which also featured music for film and television.
But many industry players saw that as comparing apples and oranges, pushing for a standalone video game category they’ve finally achieved.
The inaugural class of nominees honor the composers behind “Aliens: Fireteam Elite,” “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn Of Ragnarok,” “Call Of Duty: Vanguard,” “Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy” and “Old World.”
The winner will be declared at this Sunday’s gala in Los Angeles.
“It still doesn’t seem quite real just yet,” said Richard Jacques, the British artist who wrote the Marvel score said.
A classically trained musician who studied at the London Academy of Music, Jacques has been in the industry for almost three decades.
In 2001 he scored his debut major orchestral project, the first video game score ever recorded at the iconic Abbey Road studios.
But earning mainstream “recognition of the craft we put into our scores” has been slow-going, Jacques told AFP.
He said the new Grammy category “is finally giving us the sort of gravitas that we’ve been searching for for so long.”
The global gaming industry could hit close to $200 billion in 2022, according to a projection from the Global Games Market Report, and a recent Deloitte survey taken across the United States, Britain, Germany, Brazil and Japan said that video games are the top entertainment source for Gen Z.
Many young gamers cite music as integral to the experience, with one third of respondents saying they looked up game music online afterwards, and 29 percent saying they often discovered new music while gaming.
“Gamers really listen… it’s a huge part of shaping their experience for that game,” said Grammy nominee Stephanie Economou, a Los Angeles-based composer who has also scored films and television shows.
“A lot of them cannot separate the music from a game — and that’s a really exciting opportunity for any composer coming in,” the “Assassin’s Creed” composer told AFP.
The new category “is an important step for people to recognize that video games have been in the zeitgeist for so long now.”
Video game composing is “a new way of experiencing music and listening,” Economou said.
“It’s immersive and it’s ever-evolving.”
Economou said the transition to video games after years working in film and television “was a pretty steep learning curve” given the non-linear nature of video games, as opposed to the fixed window that is a film or series.
“In video games, it’s kind of this living, breathing thing,” she said. “It’s constantly evolving and the music needs to be loopable, and have these multi-layers on top of other layers that can be triggered at any moment.”
Jacques said a key part of the challenge — and the fun — is that “the music has to react to what the player is doing.”
“The main thing is about player choice,” he said. “We could have so many outcomes of the game’s result or story.”
“Whether they’re in a combat situation or exploring or solving a puzzle, or whatever the nature of the game is, it’s our job as video game composers to make sure that that is a completely seamless interactive experience.”
Recognition of video game composition is a full-circle moment of sorts, given that plenty of Grammy-winning artists are themselves gamers.
In 2019 jazz musician Jon Batiste — last year’s Grammy royalty who took home five awards — told the Washington Post that games have inspired him since youth.
Games “subconsciously taught me about theme and development, how to create catchy themes that you want to hear over and over again,” he said.
“Stories come flooding into people’s minds when they hear these songs.”