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The Functions of Music in Video Games

Video game controller


The digital entertainment industry is growing. This also increases the demand for music in video games. How is video game music different from that in movies? Learn more about this topic here.


Video game music includes all works of music used in a video game produced by developers like computer games. This can involve the use of music composed specifically for the game or existing songs can be used as soundtracks.

Video Game Music History

The history of video game music begins in the70sof the last century and, like film music, has a long development behind it. Technological influence also plays a role, because video games were a digital products right from the start.

1970s: First sounds

The first notes in a computer game were heard in 1972. Atari launched Pong– a kind of electronic table tennis. In addition to a minimalist look, the sound design stood out here and should lay the foundation for the later video game music. Three tones were decisive and gave the player acoustic feedback.

In the mid-1970s, sound chips were developed, which led to a better generation of sound and music. The best known was the four-tone music of “Space Invaders” in 1978 – and thus founded the beginning of the 8-bit era.

1980s: First game soundtracks

One of the first and most famous video game scores is the melody from the puzzle game Tetris, released in 1984. It was written by the British composer Wally Beben and, at 26 minutes, was probably the longest SID (Sound Interface Device) composition of its time.

In the following years, video game music became more and more important and thus contributed significantly to the gaming experience. This resulted in popular feature music, e.g. “Super Mario Bros” in 1985 or “The Legend of Zelda” in 1986.

1990s until today: Music as identity

From the 90s, video game music became more and more complex and was based on the model of film music. For this reason, so-called triple-A games today have original soundtracks, which are often recorded by large orchestras and thus contribute to the identity of a computer game.

The Best Video Game Songs

In the following, I would like to introduce three of my personal best video game songs/soundtracks in recent gaming history. If you also have a favorite game soundtrack, feel free to write it to me in the comments.

Mass Effect 3: Intro Song

The “Mass Effect 3”, released in 2012, starts with an emotional intro. The intro song shines with its catchy melody and its grandiose tension build-up and mixes sounds of the Reaper (The Great Threat in the Game) with atmospheric piano and orchestral sounds. As a special feature of the soundtrack of “Mass Effect 3”, several composers were involved in the creation, including Sasha Dikicyan and Sam Hulick.

Skyrim: Dovakin

Another formative soundtrack was the main musical theme from “Skyrim”. The game was released in 2011 and sold a total of 30 million copies by 2016 and is arguably one of the most successful video games of all time.

Gothic 3: Soundtrack

One of my favorite games is the Gothic series from the German developerPiranha Bytes. The soundtrack from “Gothic 3”, composed by Kai Rosenkranz, stands out. For me a masterpiece of video game music, especially when it comes to dynamics and variety.


ALSO READ: Ways Numerology Was Inspired by Music


Producing music for games

In the production of music for video games, the same rules apply as in film music, tension must be built up and moods must be transported. It is a supporting element and must never be too dominant.

Differences to film music

Film music and video game music are similar because they have the task of conveying emotions and feelings. They should either strengthen the identification with a place or acoustically represent a character or a situation.

Production of video game music

How is video game music produced? Thecomposeris faced with a great challenge here because he has to compose music that is supposed to react to an unpredictable course of action. The following four tools are available to him:

  1. Blocks are created that are of different lengths in their composition and can thus be combined with each other in their order.
  2. An intro is created that introduces a game sequence and prepares for what is to come (calm or dramatic).
  3. The loop is a short piece of music that repeats itself until the game changes in its mood. Whether the player needs 10 seconds or even longer for a fight, this has no effect on the transported emotion of the loop.
  4. Other techniques can be leitmotifs that appear again and again in the course of the game. In addition, the music as a whole can carry a predetermined basic tone of the game developer.

How do you become a composer for video games?

To become a video game composer, you naturally need a passion for music. On the other hand, you need skills and understanding to create harmonies and melodies. Here are three important points for getting started with video game music:

The right software

It is a matter of taste which music software is best suited for music production. Hans Zimmer, for example, works mainly with the theDAWCubase. For my part, I use FL-Studio for film and video game compositions. Each music program offers its advantages or disadvantages. Important are the personal preferences and what you want to implement with it.


Self-marketing plays a crucial role for a musician. In addition to a well-optimized website, you should also be represented on the relevant social media channels. It is important to know your target group or fans and to satisfy their needs. “What do your listeners want?”, background information or insights from the everyday life of a composer are available. I recommend my article “Music Marketing”.

Music references

The best figurehead is, of course, presentable songs. I have created a subpage with royalty-free music, where I offer a selection of songs for listening to and free download. I see this playlist as my music repertoire for possible commissioned compositions.