My first encounter with Tim Summers dates back to Ludomusicology in 2013, to which composer and University of Chichester academic Dr Stephen Baysted had invited me as a speaker. During my session, which took the form of a relaxed conversation, I was afforded an opportunity to discuss my work on a wide variety of game types and projects ranging from simulations and strategy titles such as Theme Park World, Freelancer and Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 through to (at the time) recently completed projects such as Dead Space 3, and film tie-ins including the Harry Potter series.
For someone who had spent a large part of his waking life sitting in a darkened studio scrambling to meet deadlines – finding occasional respite in the creation of fun themes such as Soviet March, jazzy ditties for games like Evil Genius and high-octane electronica for EA Sports titles – attending Ludomusicology and encountering so many academics with an avid interest in games music I found to be enjoyable and validating in equal measure. At the very least, getting out to discuss the relationship between sound and music in games and some of the philosophical issues I care most about – such as the varying roles music can take in filmic, first- and third- person games – sure beats ‘slaving over a hot stave’, as my good friend the conductor Allan Wilson often quips when under the cosh.
Several conferences on games music I had attended before Ludomusicology I had found to be technically informative but rather inward-looking, industry-focused affairs devoted mostly to ‘how to’ presentations on integrating music in games, business arrangements, or the ‘novelty value’ of recording orchestras and musicians in ways that are, frankly, pretty familiar to any composers worth their salt or to practitioners peering in from other industries. Such a focus on production, tools and technology, rather than on the function and aesthetic details of music and what motivates it beyond simple visual cues and one-dimensional ‘game states’, is a long term games industry bugbear for me. I can only explain this tendency away by pointing to gaming’s initial emergence from Silicon Valley several decades ago, which must have entailed, I imagine, the carrying over of
software industry values and computer terminology into the realm of entertainment as we now think of it. (As far as I know, no other creative industry uses terms such as ‘implementation’ for the task of editing and applying music.)
Ludomusicology signified a couple of important things for me: first, that it was facilitating a meaningful dialogue on the aesthetics of games music between industry and academia and, second, that the mere existence of the conference, with its global network of ardent academics, reaffirmed for me something I’ve always believed to be true: games music can be unique and is eminently worthy of study and analysis. This in itself may not have much bearing on the day-to-day operation of the games industry – yet – but such serious investigation by Ludomusicology and, indeed, within the pages of Understanding Video Game Music, I believe to be important for future generations seeking to evaluate and make sense of games music during its first forty years. It helps also to establish more widely the idea that games in general are a distinct art form – and that’s something all humanity can surely benefit from.
During my time working in music, the mainstream media has shown increasing interest in games, offering some form of external validation for composers. Yet, as far as I am able to tell, for these pundits the most interesting aspect of games music currently appears to be its similarity to everything else out there. Games music, it seems, is only granted legitimacy as ‘real music’ when it succeeds in resembling (and functioning as, mostly for narrative support) music existing for other forms such as film and television, or when it is presented as a linear, radio-ready soundtrack. Everything else from games, I can only assume, continues to be thought of as a series of meaningless bleeps and bloops. Such increasingly wide- spread recognition is, however, most welcome, if a little one-sided, but I look forward to the day when the music of games, in all its splendour and diversity, is more widely understood in its original ‘interactive’ context by the public, gamers and industry alike. Understanding Video Game Music I firmly believe will become an important work in helping to bring about this kind of awareness and appreciation.
When Tim asked me to pen a foreword for Understanding Video Game Music, I felt not only honoured at being asked but also thrilled at the mere prospect of his book’s existence. Having thoroughly enjoyed reading it, I was especially delighted to see that even I had a mention in it. (Way to go, Tim – your cheque is in the post.)