Game soundtracks are great, but sometimes your own soundtracks are better (A Guest Post)

Many, many thanks to Chip of Games I Made My Girlfriend Play for this submission that will wrap up Voluntine’s Week here on RoP. We all have our favorite game soundtracks, but sometimes, listening to something other than an OST while playing can add a new dimension to a game. It’s this notion that Chip explores in his post below. In addition to maintaining his own blog, Chip also contributes to United We Game and Geek Force Network.

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Image from flickr user TheStouffe
Image from Flickr user TheStouffer

Thanks to years upon years of playing video games, I have a strong appreciation for the music featured in my favorite pastime. Okay, a strong obsession might be a better choice of words. Most of my iTunes playlists contain phrases like, “Official Game Soundtrack” or “Dwelling of Duels.” I listen to podcasts like VGMpire and The Sound Test. I may even be guilty of making fourteen different CD mixes of my preferred game remixes to listen to on road trips (fine, I admit it!). I just can’t help myself: the music is too damn good.

Of course, there is something to be said for the influence of these tunes on my memory. I can certainly appreciate video game music as a standalone medium, but there are plenty of songs that have the added bonus of a warm fuzzy factor. For example, the ragtime beat of Super Mario Bros. 2 immediately takes me back to my childhood home; huddled around the television with my cousins while my father and uncle try to take down Tryclyde. Perhaps this sort of nostalgia skews my feelings towards the music, but to be fair, Koji Kondo is an amazing composer.

However, it’s not always the official soundtrack that throws me back down the rabbit-hole of my mind. There are several moments over the course of my life where I would listen to other music while playing games. These albums would replace the usual bleeps and bloops, becoming a sort of alternate soundtrack to whatever I happened to be playing at the time.

There was a period of three years in a row where my brother and I received a game in the Donkey Kong Country series for Christmas. On each of those snowy mornings, we would also receive the latest album from our favorite group at the time, DC Talk. With Christmas enthusiasm only a child can muster, my brother and I would barrel into the den, drop the cartridge in the SNES, slide the cassette in the boom box, and spend all morning playing the two together. The dope beats of DC Talk became synonymous with swinging across Donkey Kong Island, and I still associate the two to this day.

The advent of compact discs provided even more opportunities to swap in new soundtracks for video games. After getting a worthwhile PC in the late 90s, I started to play video games while listening to an album through Windows Media Player. Entries from the Best of Entertainment Pack, like Chip’s Challenge and JezzBall, united with my rather eclectic musical tastes of the day, such as System of a Down and Blues Traveler (no judgment, please). When Microsoft’s Xbox hit the scene, the idea of alternate soundtracks to games was a selling point of the system. The expanded hard drive could have compact discs burned to it, and many games offered the chance to drop in your own music through the options menu. I particularly recall making a habit out of this for racing and sports games, frequently switching between heavy metal and classical violin pieces (ProTip: Metallica makes for great racing tunes).

These days, I tend to keep my media experiences separate. I will only listen to music from my collection while I am in the car or working at my desk. Similarly, I try not to multitask when I am playing video games. I want to immerse myself in a game in its entirety, and that includes the original soundtrack. But there will always be those moments from my past where a game happened to get an alternate soundtrack, permanently tying the two unlikely pieces of media together forever in my memory.

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