The opening of Diggin’ the Carts says it all, “…the music of video games played more in our households growing up than any other form of music.” And that was true in my home as I’m sure it was yours. This series of documentary shorts covers the history of video game music from early on up to current. It’s well produced and seeks out some of the composers that created the music we love so much.
Diggin’ the Carts, a documentary series
What I found most interesting from Diggin’ the Carts is just how little the music played a part in the creation of the games. Sure, music makes a huge impact when playing (and beyond) but as the series interviews the composers, many of them were just “doing their job” to make a tune for the title sequence. They weren’t thinking about legacy or trying to influence a generation (or even their game) they were just making music because they were asked to.
In many ways while watching I almost felt insulted. Here’s a soundtrack that I feel made a huge impact on me but it was created in 2 minutes by some woman due to a time crunch? Come on! There’s supposed to be some deep insightful story right? I want my music made by people that believe in it, not mercenaries…actually, I guess it doesn’t matter. If the pressures of game development timelines is what created such great music, so be it.
Of course, as we all know, every game generation got better music. From Atari to the NES to SNES to Playstation. Every jump saw improvement in graphics, speed and music. Well…maybe.
The fall of video game music
The dawning of the 16-bit generation brought new sound abilities and that meant more “realistic” music. Gun shots sounded more like gun shots and drums sounded like drums. I don’t want to discount the technical achievement of this evolution but, with few exceptions, I feel that video game music started to get worse. Between the SNES and Playstation the music sounded awful. It lost all of its charm and was stuck in the middle ground where, “yeah, that kind of sounds like a trumpet” but not really. But then jump ahead a few generations and it’s all real music that is played by real musicians and not computers.
I like to think I’m making this claim purely for the sake of nostalgia. Sure, I have fond memories of these old games and their music, but I also appreciate the music as music. I listen to music to games I’ve never played and have no connection to. Hell, I listen to chiptunes that aren’t even tied to games.
Just enjoy the sounds
I watched an interview with Trent Reznor not long ago (sorry, can’t find the link) where he talks about the evolution of electronic sounds. He complained about how synthesizers started obsessing over sound “real” rather than embracing the unique sounds the computers were creating on their own. And he hits the nail right on the head. If you go back and listen to old game music and try to substitute sounds for real instruments – “I think that’s supposed to be a trumpet” – then you’re missing the point and missing out on what makes that old game music so great.
But regardless how you feel about retro or modern game music, Diggin’ the Carts is a great series to watch if you have any feelings about game music. I do suggest you watch it on your TV or someplace that has good speakers, however, as the music from the ages is what really makes the series worthwhile.
And while you’re watching, think about and share what your favorite video game soundtracks are.