Video Games, Revisited.

A while ago, I had the pleasure to be an honourable member of my school’s band as a violinist during their end-of-year concert. (A.k.a. I attended a couple of their rehearsals and despite my lack of practice, I still went and risked the overall tone quality of the band for my personal enjoyement). Our complete repertoire consisted of video game music, and although there were some shaky parts, it was all in all an inspiring performance. Because not only was the music really, really good, this concert also compelled me to completely revisit the generalized idea I had made of video games.

I’ve played my fair share of video games during my “gaming” years. When I first received a DS the Christmas of when I was in Grade 3, I was introduced to a game named Horsez. Back then, I wasn’t such a grammar freak, so thankfully I wasn’t turned off by the shortage of proper spelling. It was basically a game where you took care of a horse, but there were some instructions I never really understood so I never got past the first level. Soon though, my two best friends introduced me to the wonderful world of Pokémon. I was blessed with Pokémon Diamond for my birthday in March, and the game, as well as the TV show, quickly became part of my daily routine. Now, Pokémon Diamond was definitely a one-up from Horsez, as it was a well-structured journey where the characters (so basically the Pokémons) developed as you played further on into the game. But, my video game days never went past Pokémon, and at the end of Grade 4 I bid farewell to my very abrupt one and a half years of gaming.

As close as I got to a “gamer”

Even with my stated passion for Pokémon, I never thought of video games as much of an art. Books, yes. Movies, yes. Paintings, yes. But video games? I didn’t see much art in blasting enemies with armed artillary or gaining XP points for you Piplup by summiting it to a battle. Additionally, all the guys I knew only talked about COD and GTA and FIFA, games that were seemingly made just to pass time, to entertain. I wasn’t opposed to video games, but I didn’t necessarily have the best generalized impression of them.

That all changed the night of the concert. You see, our band conductor is very passionate about music. And also very passionate about video games. So before each piece we played, he explained to the audience the video game the music came from. He explained to the crowd the story of the game, the emotional impact it had on the player, the messages it tried to convey. Already, I was surprised at all the different meaningful elements a video game could contain. Then, we proceeded to play the piece. You must remember that I hadn’t practiced with the band much, so that night was the first time I heard most of the pieces played with a full band. The result blew me away.

As the notes steadily weaved into a developing melody, my brain slowly started noticing the beauty of a video game. Journey was the first one we tackled. Our conductor explained to the crowd that it was a video game that could be played in one sitting. You start in a desert, with no instructions whatsoever. Basically, you have to figure out the purpose of the game yourself, whilst at the same time discovering this mysterious, whimsical world you were dropped in. Then after our conductor concluded with his explanation, we played Nascence, the first piece from Journey’s soundtrack. It starts with a rich, mellow cello solo playing a languishing melody, which is steadily passed on to different instruments. The delicate strings and the soft harp serves as accompaniment, further concentrating the mysterious, enchanting mood. And during that magical moment when the music filled up the room, our conductor’s explanation came alive in me, and made me realize just how deep a video game could impact you.

So yes, that night it was the music that unveiled to me a whole new side of video games, and that in turn lead me to new discoveries. I learned that video games had plots, morals, lessons. It makes you think, makes you see, makes you feel. Even if not all video games benefit your well being (say, the extremely violent ones), many, many of them have a goal to inspire its players, to offer them a reason in the form of art. And so even if I have long passed the prime of my gaming years, I will never seem to stop learning to appreciate this incredible piece of innovative expression.

I also love this piece from the video game Okami.


8 thoughts on “Video Games, Revisited.

  1. Sounds like it was a beautiful concert! I’m really glad to hear it opened you up to different type of video games. I’ve always wanted to play Journey but it’s only available on PlayStation :( I play a lot of indie games on PC through Steam. Portal 2 is not a ‘pretty’ game but it’s the game that most blew me away with the storytelling and characters – playing that game was like reading a great book.

    1. Hi Reno, thanks for lovely comment! Oh that’s unfortunate Journey is only available on the PS, it seems like a quite successful game so that’d be cool if they could expand it onto other platforms! Love the way you describe Portal 2 as “like reading a great book”, it’s lovely how art comes in different forms!

      -Grace :)

  2. I agree with Reno – this does sounds like a beautiful concert! I’m impressed by anyone who plays a musical instrument well – I struggled with piano for years and it never really clicked – and both the music and the realizations it inspired sound fantastic. I’m not a video game person at all, even if you hand me the most artful video game ever, but there’s definitely more to the entertainment form than the stereotypical image of mindless males sitting around and shooting at each other. I love that so many games have great songs that can be performed at various concerts, and I hope you find some great games as a re-inspired gamer. :)

    1. Hey Emily, thanks for your awesome comment! Sorry to hear piano never clicked, but I mean, there are plenty of other instruments that are just waiting for you to master it! :D And you are definitely right, it sucks that some people (including me, before) have the generalized idea that video games are just about shooting down people and stuff like that. It’s so much more, and that’s the beauty of it.

      -Grace :)

  3. Grace, this is one of your most well-written posts yet. I love how you show your developing ideas about video games and what they can offer – I, too, never considered myself a huge gamer even though I ventured into the lands of Pokemon and Final Fantasy. I still think there are games that are designed to “pass time,” but as you note in your post, the combination of music and storytelling and character development can cause some games to transcend typical labels and launch themselves into players’ hearts. I’m glad you decided to participate in the concert, because I feel like your part in it has made you grow not just as a musician, but as a person whose eyes are opening to different mediums of self-expression.

    1. Wow, beyond thank you Thomas, I appreciate it so much. But honestly, I might as well replace my whole post with your comment, because you expressed exactly what I wanted to, but so much better! And yeah, I do hope that this recent revelation will lead to even more impactful ones. Thank you again for your comment, Thomas!

      -Grace :)

      P.S. Actually, we played Pokemon and Final Fantasy music too! :D

  4. Brilliant piece. It’s amazing how most music lovers take the classical genre for granted, when it’s used for movie soundtrack scores, emotional and uplifting pieces and even some gaming soundtracks. My husband is a huge gamer, and he clicked onto this a long time ago. There’s quite a few classical versions of game and movie soundtrack playlists on Youtube, and he really enjoys them. He can sit for hours with the headphones on.

    I love that you’re all able to think outside the box when it comes to performing. It’s always the unexpected that delight and surprise us :)

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly, glad you liked my post! And you are so right, the classical genre is often overlooked, but it produces some of the most poignant pieces of music! I will definitely try looking up some video game soundtrack playlists on Youtube, thanks for the suggestion!

      -Grace :)

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