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Video Game Soundtracks Are Great Background Music for Focus
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf. Read more...
It can be hard to focus in a world with so many distractions. The right kind of music can make all the difference, and video game soundtracks often make for perfect background audio to help you focus, even if you don’t play games.
Why Video Game Soundtracks?
Music in video games is used to set atmosphere and pace, just as it is in film and TV. But video game soundtracks usually go a little further in that they often underpin everything you do in the game. Whether you’re engaging in battle or just moving from point A to point B, your actions are usually accompanied by music.
This music is often designed to motivate without being distracting. It’s ultimately designed to help focus you on the task at hand. Based on our previous examples, battle music may be fast-paced and dramatic, but wandering around an open world is usually accompanied by far more sedate and ambient tones.
There are other reasons to pick video game music, particularly games you love. People play games to have fun, or even as a way to escape the mundane and stressful real world. Listening to music from your favorite games can help elicit a sense of that enjoyment and escapism while working. Not everyone loves their job, but even if you do, work is still work .
There’s no shortage of upbeat and energetic video game music. Take arcade classics like Outrun or home console favorites like Mario for example. Many people listen to fast-paced electronic music like house or drum and bass while exercising to maintain a rhythm, and upbeat video game music can help in this regard too.
But not everyone needs a groove to feel focused. There’s no shortage of downtempo and ambient music YouTube channels designed to help you study, and there’s a huge pool of this type of music in modern video games too.
Different Music Suits Different Tasks
The phrase “different strokes for different folks” certainly applies here. Not everyone will find it easy to study or work with a frantic Mario ditty playing in the background, while the ambient open-world tones of Skyrim could put others to sleep. Ultimately your choice of music depends on what you’re doing, and how you respond.
Mundane tasks may be boring enough that upbeat music improves your productivity . Just like the aforementioned workout music, keeping up a pace or a rhythm can be useful in some cases. The same isn’t necessarily true if you’re trying to read or absorb information though.
One of the most important things to get right is volume. This is important whether you’re listening to classical music or the Undertale soundtrack. Music that is too loud and sits above the “background” threshold is likely to be more distracting than helpful. Noise-canceling headphones can help you keep music at a low level, even in loud environments.
RELATED: What Is Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)?
Avoiding the “Wrong” Kind of Music
One helpful thing about game soundtracks is that vocals are generally kept to a minimum. Outside of the odd song that might play during the credits or a particularly memorable scene, most game music is instrumental. In terms of focus, this is a very good thing.
An article by a lecturer in psychology at the University of Wollongong from 2019 looked at published research and drew the conclusion that avoiding “wordy” music was important in aiding students. It is also recommended that students avoid fast music at loud volumes, and focus on music that puts them in a good mood.
Music in games is varied, but much of it is designed to melt into the background while you play. Vocals are generally used sparingly in original scores, like “Glider” by Japanese Breakfast in Sable (2021) or “Still Alive” by Lisa Miskovsky in the original Mirror’s Edge (2008).
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Some soundtracks like the Forza Horizon series and Grand Theft Auto games are filled with radio stations attempting to emulate the real world. Jet Set Radio has one of the finest soundtracks of any game but it’s filled with vocals and distracting samples. And what would Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater be without its signature 2000s punk rock style ?
Some Ideas to Get You Started
You’ve probably got a good idea of where to get started, based purely on your favorite games. Think of games that you’ve played for hours, that you never get bored of, and that always put you in a good mood and start there. But we also have some recommendations that you might not have considered.
The soundtrack for Fez (2012) by Disasterpeace fuses ambient and chiptune and is one of the finest examples of its kind. C418’s work on Minecraft Volume Alpha for the original Minecraft (2011) release sets a similar scene. Japanese Breakfast’s aforementioned Sable (2021) soundtrack is perfect for exploring the desert on a hoverbike or doing your homework.
Strategy games are designed to make you think. If you like a little jazz with your city planning then give the Sim City 3000 (1999) and Sim City 4 (2003) soundtracks a shot. Embrace planning on a far smaller scale with breakout hit “house move simulator” Unpacking (2021) and its sedate-yet-upbeat soundtrack.
Inon Zur has been called upon by Bethesda to write music for some of the company’s biggest open-world RPGs, including The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) . There are countless collections of Skyrim music on YouTube, but the best ones combine both music and open-world ambiance. If you enjoy these, check out the background ambiance for Fallout 3 (2008) , New Vegas (2010) , and Fallout 4 (2015) .
Post-rock band 65daysofstatic composed the No Man’s Sky (2016) soundtrack, a game about exploring a procedurally-generated universe that morphed into a building and trading simulator you can play with your friends. The Halo series has always had impactful orchestral scores, with Halo 3 (2007) being a highlight. Since then Halo 3: ODST (2009) dabbled in jazzy sax and recent return-to-form Halo: Infinite (2021) fuses the classical orchestra with shimmering post-rock guitar riffs.
Don’t Just Play Your Favorite Games
Listening to the soundtracks of your favorite games can help transport you back to the first time you played them. If you’re fond of a particular world or setting, the music can take you there while you get on with the more mundane tasks that pay the bills.
There’s a lot of different music you can turn to help you focus . But why stop there? Block distracting websites , use a Pomodoro timer , and turn off your notifications to help you focus throughout the workday.
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10 Video Game Soundtracks That Will Increase Your Productivity
These tunes are designed to get you focused and motivated..
It can be difficult to work in silence, but finding music that won’t distract you from high-concentration tasks—like writing—is also a challenge. But it turns out that video game tunes could be the perfect background music when you need to focus. No, seriously. As this Reddit post points out , video game music is usually instrumental, so it’s less intrusive, and it’s specifically composed to keep you focused and motivated. You may be skeptical if you don’t play games, but I assure you game music is much more than inane bleeps and bloops. This NPR radio segment from 2014 explains that video game composers are often classically-trained musicians who apply the same techniques to their work as any classical composer.
For a lifelong gamer like me, this isn’t exactly surprising—I often listen to game soundtracks while I work. That said, as a newbie, finding a good soundtrack for concentration will be tough—there are thousands of games out there, and unless you already have a list of faves, wading into the world of video game music can be overwhelming. To save you the effort, I’ve put together a list of 10 of my favorite video game soundtracks to listen to while you write, or study, or draw, or whatever it is you do. The list collects beloved classics and personal favorites, but it’s in no way definitive—if your favorite game soundtrack is absent, it’s not because we don’t think it’s worthy, so by all means, name drop it in the comments.
Let’s kick things off with a recent indie release, Umurangi Generation , a first-person photography game set in a cyberpunk city seemingly just before the apocalypse. Composer Adolf Nomura’s lo-fi beats are the perfect accompaniment as you snap photos and solve puzzles in the colorful dystopia, and are great background vibes when you’re focusing on work.
Unlike other Nintendo franchises, the Metroid series is all about atmosphere, and each game’s soundtrack perfectly encapsulates the alien worlds you explore. However, if I’m picking just one Metroid soundtrack to listen to while I work, Metroid Prime ’s is it. Kenji Yamamoto balances the eerie ambiance and heroic anthems Metroid games are known for, but his work on Prime redefined the series’ musical identity, and is a joy to listen to while you work.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
There are few gaming franchises as iconic as The Legend of Zelda, and much of its popularity is owed to its memorable music. Every Zelda soundtrack is great, but Ocarina of Time is arguably the best, or at least, the most memorable for a certain generation of Nintendo fans. Ocarina of Time (and its follow-up, Majora’s Mask) feature a magical musical instrument, the titular ocarina, and require players to memorize many of the songs composer Koji Kondo wrote for the game. (No wonder so many of us are still humming “Zelda’s Lullaby” nearly 22 years later.) It’s great music to keep you moving, whether you’re exploring a dangerous forest, delving into a dark dungeon, or collating some spreadsheets.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
Everyone has their favorite Final Fantasy game (mine is 12), but Final Fantasy VII is easily the overall fan favorite. But while I highly recommend the original PlayStation 1 game’s soundtrack, I think the one for the recent Final Fantasy VII Remake is even better. Remake updates many of Nobuo Uematsu’s iconic tunes with full orchestration and remixes from a range of genres without losing the spirit of the original compositions, making for a richer, more immersive listening experience.
Developers Supergiant Games might be best known for the recent cult indie hit Hades , but the studio’s first game, Bastion , has been on my writing playlist since it dropped in 2011. Darren Korb’s twangy guitar and hip-hop beats never fail to get my energy up, and the few vocal tracks featuring singer Ashley Barrat are moving even if you’re not familiar with Bastion’s story or gameplay .
If you need to get stuff done, just pop on the Doom (2016) soundtrack. Mick Gordon rearranged many songs from the classic ‘90s shooter into a mix of fast-paced heavy metal and electronica, and the results are perfect for ripping through a to-do list—or, even better, doing some heavy squats. It’s not a relentless avalanche of riffs, though; there are plenty of more atmospheric tracks for when you need a breather.
Persona 5’s soundtrack is full of jazz, soul, and funk—musical genres not normally associated with 100-hour long Japanese RPGs, but a perfect fit with the game’s stylish aesthetic—imagine if Cowboy Bebop was about high school demon slayers who pull daring heists within the minds of others. Composer Shoji Meguro’s style is equally eclectic, ranging from relaxing keyboard-driven tracks, to face-past battle themes with violin leads and punchy bass lines.
It’s hard to say anything new about Chrono Trigger’s masterful soundtrack, or the game itself, for that matter. If you’re a fan of RPGs, video game music, or just video games generally, chances are you’ve heard its most iconic tracks . It’s widely considered to be one of the best RPGs ever made, and its music—composed by Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu—shares similar accolades. It pushes you through an epic, time-twisting quest, so it can certainly get you through an afternoon at your keyboard.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
While Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and its predecessor, Donkey Kong Country Returns , were made by a different studio than the original Donkey Kong Country games for the Super Nintendo, developers Retro Games brought in one of the original composers, David Wise, to score them both. Wise recaptured the sound of the original Donkey Kong Country games well, and Tropical Freeze has some of the series’ best music—perfect jungle beats to jam to while you concentrate.
Crypt of the Necrodancer
Crypt of the Necrodancer is a challenging dungeon crawler in which every step you take, item you grab, or attack you launch must be timed to the beat of the background music. It’s a brilliant touch that gives the game a unique twist in an otherwise crowded genre. Naturally, for a game so dependent on its music, the soundtrack is excellent, and composer Danny Baranowsky’s catchy beats are just as fun and focus-enhancing to listen to while you’re not playing. Plus, you can enjoy the songs without worrying if you’re on tempo.
For a bonus pick, the game’s follow-up, Cadence of Hyrule , is a spinoff integrating characters from the Zelda universe into Necrodancer ’s rhythm-based gameplay; it features an incredible soundtrack of remixed Zelda tunes, also composed by Danny Baranowsky.
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Teens are using Mario Kart music to finish last-minute homework
It’s anxiety-inducing, and that’s the point
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When people think about tunes meant to help you study and focus, the first thing that might come to mind are the relaxing tunes of lo-fi beats . But when the clock is ticking and you’ve got an essay due in the morning that you haven’t even started, “chill” may be the last thing you want.
This might explain why, in late October, a TikTok of a woman hunched over a computer as the fast-paced tunes of Mario Kart boom overhead has gone viral , with well over a million likes on the video platform. “My stress levels went [up] but so did my word count,” the caption reads.
@daniellev98 my stress levels went but so did my word count #fyp #school #foryoupage #viral #foryou #mariokart ♬ original sound - Danielle
To be more specific, the song appears to be what plays when you use an invincibility star in Mario Kart. While the item is active, the music shifts to highlight both your newfound power as well as its limited-time status. You are meant to try and make the most of it as fast as you can, which is why it lends itself so well to a stressful situation like pulling an all-nighter or busting out a multi-page essay.
“I’m totally doing this,” the top comment on the TikTok says. “WHY IS THIS SO SMART,” another exclaims.
Consequently, Mario Kart music in general has seen a surge on platforms like Spotify, according to chart trackers. What’s curious is that none of the uploads on any sites, whether YouTube or Spotify, are Nintendo-official. There is now a huge demand for something that the Japanese company is not providing.
The Coconut Mall theme music from 'Mario Kart Wii' debuts at #15 on the US Spotify Viral 50 chart, top new entry. — chart data (@chartdata) October 23, 2020
On social media, a cavalcade of teenagers are saying that they are trying the method out, or reporting how using Mario Kart music is helping them finish their homework.
“I AM LITERALLY LISTENING TO MARIO KART MUSIC WHILE I DO MY SCHOOLWORK AND TELL ME WHY I FEEL LIKE IM ON ADDERALL RN LIKE IM SO FUCKIN CONCENTRATED IT IS INSANE,” one tweet reads .
“Guys listening to mario kart music while ur working IS SO EFFECTIVE i’ve been doing work for two hours straight & it felt like 30 mins this is magic,” another tweet says .
“I just wrote 600 words out of my 1000 [word] essay in half an hour, this shit really works,” another Twitter user says , in reference to Mario Kart music’s effectiveness.
Most tweets seem to agree on one thing: Mario Kart music helps you put words on the page faster. Are those words any good? Hard to say, but quality may be beside the point when you just want to get a draft on the table.
Polygon spoke to one 19-year-old student, cosplaybysab , who recently tweeted about using Mario Kart melodies to complete a 1,000-word essay for her mythology class. According to cosplaybysab, the ditty helped her write 500 words in less than half an hour.
While many are jumping in on the trend now, for her, Mario Kart’s effectiveness is nothing new — she’s been a gamer long enough to know video game music.
“I’ve actually been using Mario Kart / fast Nintendo music for years and it works for all of my classes really!!” she said over Twitter message. In the past, she says she has also used Kirby music as well as dubstep to get in the right mindset to crank out words.
The synergy between video game music and productivity makes sense, as many tracks are specifically constructed to help put players in the zone while doing repetitive in-game tasks. This just happens to be one of the more stressful choices one could make, and accordingly, it’s not a method that works for everyone .
In cosplaybysab’s case, she doesn’t know whether or not her mythology essay got a good grade yet. But she’s very happy that more people are discovering the magic of video game music paired with homework.
“People deserve to get good grades and finish work fast!” she said.
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You should be listening to video game soundtracks at work
Productivity studies suggest you can boost your output with the right music.
By Sara Chodosh | Published Jan 26, 2018 6:00 PM EST
As I write these words, a triumphant horn is erupting in my ear over the rhythmic bowing of violins. In fact, as you read, I would encourage you to listen along—just search “ Battlefield One .” I bet you’ll focus just a bit better with it playing in the background. After all, as a video game soundtrack it’s designed to have exactly that effect.
This is, by far, the best Life Pro Tip I’ve ever gotten or given: Listen to music from video games when you need to focus. It’s a whole genre designed to simultaneously stimulate your senses and blend into the background of your brain, because that’s the point of the soundtrack. It has to engage you, the player, in a task without distracting from it. In fact, the best music would actually direct the listener to the task.
Plenty of studies show that having some sound around you can help you focus, probably because it gives your subconscious something to tune out. It doesn’t have to focus on that coughing coworker or the occasional sound of doors closing, so you aren’t distracted by intermittent interruptions. Music seems to focus us the best, but not just any music. The latest #1 single is more likely to make you sing along and tap your toes than settle into your work day.
Silence, on the other hand, seems to make office workers slower and less proficient than their music-listening compatriots. Even some surgeons use music to get in the groove, and research suggests those who do perform operations more efficiently and with higher accuracy.
There isn’t a wealth of research on working while listening to video game soundtracks, specifically. But they do seem to check off several evidence-based boxes for creating an optimal work environment.
#1 No lyrics
Thanks to endless years of evolution, your brain is designed to detect humans in all forms. Your eyes have a propensity to see faces (even where there are none) and your ears are tuned to the frequency of human voices. This is why hearing someone talk is so distracting—your brain keeps trying to turn your attention to whoever is speaking instead of whatever you’re supposed to be doing. Bustling coffee shops don’t have this effect, because the voices blend together and stop being recognizable as language. But in an open office plan, human speech slips into your range of hearing just often enough to keep your mind wandering. In fact, a study on open offices found that broadcasting speech was the least conducive to productivity, while continuous background noise actually boosted performance.
Video game soundtracks rarely have human voices, and when they do, they’re generally singing sounds (ethereal oooohs, spooky aaaaaahs, and the like) rather than actual words.
The one strange exception is The Sims. Some of the radio stations in-game feature Sims talking, but since your virtual world citizens speak Simlish, your ears don’t really pick it up as language—because really, it isn’t. The soundtrack to The Sims is incredibly conducive to efficiency, probably because you’re supposed to play the game for hours doing tasks that are arguably kind of boring. You draw walls and place furniture, you tell your Sims to go to the bathroom, then you wait as they slowly eat the lasagna they made for dinner. Just try playing The Sims in silence. It’s kind of dull. But with that cheerful music in the background, you’re compelled to keep going.
#2 Relatively constant, low volume
Most music meant to engage you varies in volume, because, well, loud music is exciting and quiet music is soothing. Flipping between the two is an easy way to change the whole tone. But if a song suddenly turns up to 11 while you’re in the middle of writing a sentence, you’ll get distracted. That’s the opposite of what you want. You’re looking for no surprises. Smooth crescendos, which video games definitely tend to have, are noticeable without being totally distracting—they carry you on, which is exactly what you want.
Even too-loud ambient noise is distracting. One study found that loud sounds impair your ability to process information, whereas low or moderate background noise actually boosts productivity and creativity .
#3 Fairly fast-paced
Not all classical music is slow, but there’s a reason that it’s often relaxing: plenty of it is sweet and melodic. But you’re not looking for calming melodies. You need to stimulate your mind.
Video game music, almost by definition, can’t be soothing. No one will play straight through a 22-hour virtual plot (multiple times) if they’re chilled out. Composers need to create some sense of engagement and excitement—without making it exhausting.
It’s a bit like why rap and hip hop are great workout music—the rhythm and flow push you along and keep up your motivation. Actual scientific studies show that athletes perform better when given rhythmic music to listen to. Those genres also work well if you’re doing any sort of mindless, repetitive task, since they give your brain something else to focus on. But if your work involves any reading or writing, you need something without lyrics.
There are a few excellent playlists on Spotify that offer hours of music, or you can just listen to The Sims soundtrack endlessly on YouTube. Just don’t learn Simlish or you’ll never get anything done.
Sara Chodosh was an editor at Popular Science for more than 5 years, where she worked her way up from editorial assistant to associate science editor. In that time she slowly took over running the Charted section of the now-defunct print magazine. Her love of graphics eventually led to her current job as a graphics editor at the New York Times. Contact the author here.
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5 Sites to Download Free Video Game Music
These sites will help you find your most loved video game music and soundtracks, so you can download them.
Video game music is incredibly iconic. For older games, it invokes nostalgia of childhood and a simpler time. Newer games often have world-famous musicians collaborating on the soundtracks. And there is a whole lot of content in-between that appeals to both casual fans and hardcore gamers.
But where can you get your hands on video game music? If you want to relive video game soundtracks without the stress of playing the game itself, check out these top sites.
1. A Game Music Index
A Game Music Index includes hundreds of game soundtracks from three platforms: Commodore 64, NES, and SNES.
Some classic titles available on the site include Donkey Kong Country, The Legend of Zelda 3, Super Mario World, Outrun, Final Fantasy, Zoids, and Kirby's Adventure.
Before you download anything, you need to make sure you have the right players and plugins on your computer to be able to read play the music. The exact plugins depend on whether you download C64 soundtracks, NES soundtracks, or SNES soundtracks.
If you download C64 music, you will need the Sidamp plugin for Winamp. For most NES music, you need the NotSo Fatso plugin for Winamp. And for SNES tracks, you need the SNESAmp plugin for Winamp.
Various alternative plugins and players are available. Check out each gaming system's section on the A Game Music Index site for more information.
2. OverClocked ReMix
OverClocked ReMix has been online since 1999 and is still going strong. In that time, it has built up a huge library of video game music for a number of different consoles and platforms. They include the Game Boy, N64, SNES, Wii, Dreamcast, Game Gear, Mega Drive, Xbox, PlayStation, and even Amiga and Atari.
Each track has all the accompanying information you'd expect for any song, such as composer, length, and various bios.
Where the site really thrives, however, is the fan arrangements. OverClocked ReMix has a massive number of users who use the original tracks as inspiration for their own version. That might be modernizing music from an old 1990s title, converting a classic video game song into a different genre, or something else entirely.
Remix.Kwed.Org is a site that is solely dedicated to remixed versions of C64 soundtracks. All of them are created by either passionate fans or already skilled music producers.
The community is remarkably active. In August 2021 alone (the last full month before the publication of this article), there were more than 15 new remixes added.
If you want to grab all the music released on the site, make sure you subscribe to the site's RSS feed. You can use it to instantly download the video game music to your computer or mobile without needing to visit the site itself.
The Khinsider site is focused on official soundtracks for PC games. And unlike many other sites that let you download video game music and soundtracks, all the files on Khinsider are available in the MP3 format.
That means you will not need to mess around with plugins and little-used specialist players. Just add the tracks to your usual MP3 player/app of choice, and you will be listening in seconds.
Even though PC games are the main focus, Khinsider offers plenty of official music from other platforms and consoles too. They include NES, SNES, PlayStation PSP, Sega Saturn, Game Boy Advance, and many more.
Some of the most popular games on the site are Assassin's Creed, Sonic, Wipeout, Zelda, Need for Speed, Half-Life, Gran Turismo, and Call of Duty.
For most titles, you can choose to download the music on a track-by-track basis or in bulk.
5. Zophar's Music Domain
Zophar's Music Domain is the perfect video game soundtrack repo for any retro gaming systems. The most recent console on the list is the Xbox 360, but the site really excels with platforms such as the NES, SNES, Nintendo 3DS, Sega Dreamcast, and other consoles from around that era.
The site also has one of the most impressive collections of game music from old computers such as the Amiga, Atari ST, MS-DOS, Sharp X1, ZX Spectrum, and other early front-runners.
What is great about Zophar's Music Domain is the choice of audio format . You can either download video game music in MP3 format or can download it in its original format. If you opt for the original format, you will either need to use an emulator or a plugin. Plugins for more obscure older systems might not be easy to come by.
As the name suggests, SNESmusic only offers music from the iconic Super Nintendo Entertainment System, released way back in 1990.
And while the narrow focus won't suit people who are looking for diversity, it does mean that SNESmusic has been able to build up one of the most complete libraries of SNES soundtracks anywhere on the web.
At the time of writing, there are more than 2630 games covered. Considering the SNES system only has 3127 known games ever released, and many of those were obscure titles with very few sales, the number is mightily impressive.
To play the music from SNESmusic, you need to download an SPC player and/or plugin. The most popular is SNESAmp, which is a plugin for Winamp. It plays SPC, ZST, and RSN files, works with 8-, 16-, 24-, and 32-bit samples, and has an 8-192kHz sampling rate.
The final place to download video game music on our list is Project2612. It lets you download music for iconic titles such as Street Fighter, Populous, Joe Montana II, and Sonic.
Sadly, the selection of games isn't quite as extensive as some of the other sites that we have covered, with 705 titles available. However, Project2612 does have quite a few less-known titles that you might struggle to find elsewhere (Bible Adventures, anyone?!), and as such, it is worth being aware of.
Download the Music, But Don't Sell It
Downloading this music for personal use is mostly fine, and it can be great to reminisce. But don't sell it or use it in a commercial setting. Doing so could land you in hot water.
10 Video Game Soundtracks To Study To
Certain video game soundtracks can be soothing. These OSTs are perfect when looking to get some studying done.
Between homework, studying, and class, it can be hard to find time to play video games. But many games have great soundtracks perfect for putting in the background during studying or to get people through tough homework. Whether the songs are relaxing or help people get pumped up, music is something many people turn to when doing work.
RELATED: Awesome Soundtracks That Do Not Fit Their Games
Soundtracks need to not be distracting during schoolwork or other tasks. That's why many people listen to piano covers of their favorite songs while doing things like writing essays. But some scores are better than others when it comes to playing the entire OST.
Gris is a relaxing platform game where a girl named Gris travels through levels that symbolize the stages of grief. The music reflects this, moving from sad songs to more passionate ones. Along with powers associated with her dress, later in the game she finds her voice and can use it in the environment.
The songs from this game don't need piano covers to be relaxing as the majority of the songs are entirely instrumental. Only a few songs have voices and even those have no lyrics to them. Gris is subtle when put in the background of tasks.
Example songs from Gris : "Mae" & "Meridian" & "Descent"
9 The Legend Of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda franchise spans many games . The plot generally follows the commoner, Link, as he tries to save Princess Zelda from some form of evil. Throughout the games, there are options for more upbeat music during travel or combat as well as relaxing melodies triggered by Link's musical instrument, the ocarina. Legend of Zelda is perfect for people that want a variety of song styles.
RELATED: The Legend Of Zelda: The Best Songs In The Series, Ranked
Example songs from The Wind Waker : "Grandma" & "Aryll's Theme"
Example songs from Breath of the Wild : "Korok Forest (Night)" & "Temple of Time"
Example songs from Ocarina of Time : "Great Fairy Fountain" & "Zelda's Lullaby"
The Unravel games are puzzle platformers where characters made of thread must use their one strand to traverse the world around them. The main character, Yarny, represents the ties that hold loved ones together , and that is represented not only through the visuals of them unraveling, but through the soundtracks as well. As Yarny soars through the trees, so does the music of Unravel .
Example songs from Unravel : "Rusted Apart" & "The Red Thread"
Example songs from Unravel Two : "Hiding from Monsters" & "Grind Down"
Minecraft is a sandbox game where players can mine, craft, build, battle, and explore. Different songs accompany the many biomes in the game. In addition, some discs can be found around the world and played using a jukebox.
The music in Minecraft has no lyrics, making it ideal for people that can't read or write with words playing in the background. Some are even nice to fall asleep to depending on the song picked since not all the tracks are mellow.
Example songs from Minecraft : "Wet Hands" & "Sweden" & "Cat"
6 Final Fantasy
With everything from calm instrumentals to beautiful lyrical songs and upbeat battle music, the Final Fantasy games give people a variety of music to fit their mood. The plots vary between games, but the majority are story-based, include cinematic cutscenes, and have turn-based combat.
RELATED: Polarizing Games With Undeniably Incredible Music
There are many Final Fantasy games, which means tons of options for characters and music. This is a soundtrack that does have songs with lyrics and several energetic songs but mixes those throughout with slower and gentler ones.
Example songs from Final Fantasy 9 : "You Are Not Alone" & "Loss of Me"
Example songs from Final Fantasy 10 : "To Zanarkand" & "Via Purifico"
Journey is an indie adventure game where the character walks and glides through the desert. The story is told through the environment, giving players a very immersive and atmospheric experience. The character sweeps across the landscape and the music swells in time. The Journey soundtrack only has one song with words, and it is the last track on the album.
Example songs from Journey : "Second Confluence" & "Temptations"
4 Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight is a 2D adventure platformer. Players go through a ruined kingdom of insects, battling foes and befriending bugs. The music of Hollow Knight lends itself well to the unique art style. The strings in the orchestra make the game that much more enjoyable.
Some songs fit battles and others fit sections of platforming, but all of them would be an excellent choice while doing homework because of their instrumental nature.
Example songs from Hollow Knight : "Hornet" & "Greenpath"
3 Animal Crossing
The Animal Crossing games simulate village life and focus on socializing, exploring, collecting items, and decorating. The majority of the game music comes from a character within Animal Crossing , a dog named K.K. Slider . These songs play within villagers' houses and can also be bought by players to have in their own homes.
RELATED: Animal Crossing: New Horizons - All New K.K. Slider Songs
The songs vary widely and cover many genres of music . The songs with words are sung in the jumbled indistinguishable language of the villagers, which allows people to not worry about trying to understand the lyrics.
Example songs from Animal Crossing: New Horizons : "K.K. Chorale" & "Soulful K.K."
The Ori games are platform adventure games based around a small white spirit named Ori. Players must traverse platforms and solve puzzles. It consists of a fully orchestrated score that ebbs and flows with the emotional tale unfolding through the gameplay. Flowing music brings to mind the exotic and colorful landscape even without the visuals, a calming thought if someone may be reviewing for exams.
Example songs from Ori and the Will of the Wisps : "Resolution in Paradise" & "Separated by the Storm"
Example songs from Ori and the Blind Forest : "First Steps Into Sunken Glades" & "Riding the Wind (feat. Rachel Mellis)"
Abzû is an indie game about a diver going on a beautiful underwater adventure . The music is as vibrant as the colorful levels. As players dive deeper into the ocean, the songs gain depth too. Very few of the tracks have voices or lyrics, making the OST very atmospheric. The soundtrack is ideal for people who want something relaxing to listen to.
Example songs from Abzû : "Elasmosaurus Platyurus" & "Balaenoptera Musculus"
MORE: Naruto: Best Opening Songs From The Anime
The best games to play while doing homework
Idle games, clickers, and management games all make for perfect study buddies.
You say you're just going to take a break from the school or work day to play "just one level" or "just one hour" of a favorite game. But before you know it, you've lost way more than just an hour.
Fortunately, not every game is designed to grab and hold your attention. These games won't keep you away from your homework—at least, not for long. These idle and management games are perfect to leave running in the background while you write a report or have up on your monitor while you hit the books. Even more handy, several of them are free!
Free | Management | Steam (opens in new tab) , Bethesda Launcher (opens in new tab)
Fallout Shelter puts you in the Overseer's chair to construct a vault room by room, organize expeditions into the Wasteland, and oversee the growth of your population. Vault dwellers have all the standard Fallout S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats, some of which make them better at producing resources like food and water and others that help them defend against rad roach and raider attacks.
Fallout Shelter is great for playing on the side while you work because it only requires a bit of attention every few minutes. In the early stages, you'll need to manually click on rooms that have finished producing food, water, and power to collect them. After completing a few achievements, you'll likely be able to earn a Mr. Handy unit, which will collect those resources automatically. Vaults do occasionally face emergencies like fires and deathclaw attacks, but the sirens are hard to ignore. If you've got your sound on or headphones in, you'll know when to look up and help your dwellers defend themselves.
When you really need a break, treat yourself to one of Fallout Shelter's quests, which are more hands-on than managing the vault. Most quests take a few hours for your dwellers to arrive at, but if you send them off early in the day, you'll be able to start one when you're ready and take a few minutes to guide them through several floors of enemies and loot.
Free | Clicker | Steam (opens in new tab) , Browser (opens in new tab)
Realm Grinder has as much theorycrafting as some MMOs I've played. If you want to get into that side of it, check out our Realm Grinder guide (opens in new tab) to get started and learn the lingo. There's plenty of number crunching if you want it, but don't let it scare you off. Like any clicker game, it's easy to get started. In Realm Grinder you start as the ruler in one of six factions each aligned with good or evil. The evil factions (goblins, demons, and undead) are most oriented towards an idle play style where you earn coins based on upgrades that you've bought instead of increasing the coins you earn per click.
Realm Grinder is a great studying game. Not only does it flex your arithmetic skills in calculating upgrades (if you want to get that deep) but it really doesn't require too much of your attention. The endgame for Realm Grinder can get pretty complex if you allow it, but if you just want to mess about and earn a few trophies, you don't need to read up on all the meta strats. The only danger is if you get too into it, you may end up doing speed runs instead of studying.
$2.99 USD | Clicker | Steam (opens in new tab)
Spaceplan has what few other clicker games do: an ending. A great ending, even. You're lost in space on a potato-powered ship and the only way to find your way back to Earth is to make lots and lots of potatoes. With the help of your onboard AI, a GladOS and HAL 9000 lovechild called the Word Outputter, you'll make starchy creations to power your potato ship as you hop planets and universes on your way back home.
Like most clicker games, you'll spend a bit of time getting set up but Spaceplan quickly becomes a self-propelled machine that generates joules of potato power. Oh, and make sure to turn on the "scientifically accurate mode" which displays your power in joules instead of watts. You were paying attention in physics, right?
Have your sound on while playing Spaceplan because the low-key space soundtrack by Logan Gabriel is absolutely stellar. It's still my go-to concentration music even years later. It will probably take you about a week of casual check-ins to complete and if you enjoy the soundtrack along the way you'll likely love the groovy, cinematic ending.
A Dark Room
Free | Management | Browser (opens in new tab)
A Dark Room almost defies explanation and demands to be played firsthand. You start off by a dwindling fire and your only option is to stoke it so you won't freeze to death. Before long you run out of wood and need to gather more. Next you wind up building a hut, and then another, attracting more wanderers to your small, budding village. You don't know why you're tending this fire in what seems to be the apocalypse, but you keep taking care of your people, assigning them jobs, and building the village's resources. The story is sparse and vague, but I've been playing for weeks just to see what new vagabonds I can attract and technologies I can find.
Eventually, A Dark Room opens up after you obtain a compass and can leave the small village you've constructed. Like Fallout Shelter, you can go on expeditions in a Dwarf Fortress-like ascii art environment. Venturing further from the village, killing monsters, and finding new resources like iron mines and abandoned suburbs leads to further progress. After finding the right spread of villagers per job to stabilize the resources of wood, meat, and other necessities, it's easy to leave A Dark Room running for hours and come back later to investigate what new mysteries await.
Free | Clicker | Browser (opens in new tab)
Cookie Clicker is THE classic clicker game. It's still a browser game to this day even though it has developed a lot of pizzazz since 2013. There are animations and screen effects and lots of display options. At its heart though, Cookie Clicker is just about making cookies with milk. You recruit sweet grandmas, build cookie farms, cookie mines, and temples of cookie production.
The first upgrade you can spend cookies on is an automated clicker that does the cookie clicking for you, meaning you can go hands-off very quickly. Although Cookie Clicker has some of the same deep strategy elements as Realm Grinder by storing progress across multiple runs, it isn't nearly as intense. You can pull up Cookie Clicker in a browser while you write a paper and check in on it whenever you remember.
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Lauren started writing for PC Gamer as a freelancer in 2017 while chasing the Dark Souls fashion police and accepted her role as Associate Editor and Chief Minecraft Liker in 2021. She originally started her career in game development and is still fascinated by how games tick in the modding and speedrunning scenes. She likes long books, longer RPGs, multiplayer cryptids, and can't stop playing co-op crafting games.
Best video game music for studying
Keep writing, keep your head in the game.
- August 4, 2021
- Celeste Guides Persona 5 Royal The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
Image via Atlus
Video game music helps transport you to a different world, and while there is death and destruction more often than not in the games themselves, there can be some melancholy, relaxing tracks to find in many classic titles. Like the classical works of Mozart and Chopin, video game composers ( and cover artists ) can also help you focus on your study sessions and put you at ease.
Related: The 10 best Mario Kart music tracks to study to
Celeste is one of the most touching indie games to ever be released, and Lena Raine’s soundtrack for the game matches the beautiful message Celeste is trying to give. “Resurrections” is a stunning piece that resembles the struggles the main character Madeline is going through as she climbs the mountain. In the same soundtrack, “First Steps” gives listeners a hopeful and positive vibe that many students would find solace in during a tough studying session. We chose to highlight DS Music’s wonderful rendition of “Resurrections,” as the piano performance struck an emotional chord and motivates us to keep reading, writing, and studying.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The adventurous world of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has some of the most serene and beautiful tracks in gaming. Ambient tracks like “Far Horizons” and “The Streets of Whiterun” give a warm embrace to the listener as they open up the Scandinavia-inspired world around you. Some stirring instrumentals like the violin and choir put you at peace as you study for an upcoming exam. We particularly like reading a book while these tracks are playing in our ears. Go on Spotify, YouTube, or other streaming services, and try to find a relaxing playlist to avoid the battle themes. Andy McKee covered one of the game’s tracks on a harpguitar. That’s right — a harpguitar. And it sounds great.
Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X is Nobuo Uematsu’s magnum opus with grand themes and battle tracks throughout. For our convenience though, Final Fantasy X has plenty of slow and soothing songs you can study with. Tunes like “To Zanarkand,” “Tidus’ Theme,” “Besaid,” “Calm Before The Storm,” and “Yuna’s Theme” just to give a few examples can put you in that zen state. Try to find a playlist of the relaxing music from the game, and you’ll be in bliss. We also recommend the Lo-fi remix by Rifti Beats; it has helped with many writing sessions in the past with its mellow hip hop take on the soundtrack.
The Persona series is known for its unconventional music by Shoji Meguro. Persona 5 is arguably the best out of the lot. It has a brilliant suite of jazzy tunes in a soundtrack that can both relax and excite you. There are too many to mention that would be perfect for your study session. Tunes like “Beneath The Mask,” “When My Mother Was There,” and “Layer Cake” will all help you focus on your studying session. We particularly like J-Music Ensemble’s version of “Butterfly Kiss,” a cover that stays true to the source material but adds some tasty solos along the way. There are plenty of covers on YouTube, and the original soundtrack from the Atlus Sound Team is on Spotify too .
Xenoblade Chronicles 1 & 2
Xenoblade Chronicles is home to many relaxing themes as the music from ACE is inspired by the enchanting worlds that Monolift Soft has created. The title theme of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 “Where We Used To Be” is played beautifully by insaneintherainmusic and puts you in an attuned state for reading or taking notes. If you want to feel more invested and get the blood pumping, the battle theme from the first Xenoblade Chronicles, “You Will Know Our Names” will give you a great pick-me-up.
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Listen to video game music when studying
I’m sure this is a very well-known tip, but I’ll share it anyway for those who didn’t think of doing it: if you’re anything like me and calm music that’s supposed to help you stay focused puts you to sleep or gives you a headache, you should try listening to video game music instead: it’s designed to not impair your focus without boring you.
Have a great day!
Edit : some people have pointed out that you shouldn’t play music that brings back gaming memories/makes you want to play. That of course should go without saying.
I agree. Some songs I recommend are
Kingdom Hearts - Dearly Beloved, Open Sanctuary, Simple and Clean
Sonic - Green Hill Zone, Sonic Heroes Intro(FIRE), City Escape
Under Night - Scraper Sky High, Night Walker, Rushing Heart, Unknown Actor
Edit: also various Persona music
The Witcher 3 Kaer Morhen is also a good choice
Omg yes the persona OST
Yo this man on some big brain shit
Assassins creed 2 soundtrack
Doom soundtrack for workouts
Ima blast the Doom soundtrack while studying 😎
I got through so many study sessions with the "12 Hours of Skyrim Atmospheres" video
My favourite Skyrim one is on YouTube and it’s hours of rainy nights music. So peaceful.
Despite it being deemed as cringey, the Undertake soundtrack is awesome to listen to while studying and working !
Dude I don't even care if it's cringy every single battle song from undertale was LIT I was meh on the game but the soundtrack was a banger
Batman trilogy music, inception soundtrack, battlefield game sound tracks, civ 5 music, lofi, ambient space music. Possibilities are endless.
Zelda is always great. Especially the potion shop music from Ocarina of Time.
Gerudo Valley. That is all
Bruh can't beat the catchy song of storms!!
Dude! Thank you! Gonna try this one during the upcoming semester.
Hollow Knight soundtrack
I listen to Animal Crossing and Super Mario Galaxy OSTs. It helps a lot!
I like listening to video game lofi, gives it enough of a twist that I don't get distracted by gaming memories while still getting the nostalgia and concentration. My favorite playlists on Spotify are Poké and Chill and Zelda and Chill!
Strong agree. Personally, I find themes from boss battles and/or themes from "logic games" to be perfect. They all really rev you up. My gotos are:
The Objection, Pursuit, Confess The Truth, and Cross-Examination themes from the Ace Attorney games.
Boss battle themes from the Mario RPGs (Paper Mario, Mario and Luigi).
Just about anything Tim Follin worked on.
My favorite - the themes to the escape rooms from Zero Escape.
I made a post containing playlists for each of the above. Automod ate it, unfortunately. I copy-pasted it to Pastebin - maybe someone will want it. Q7hVgUP4.
Don't forget the investigation theme in AA
Dkc2 soundtrack is absolute bliss
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The Gaming Gazette
A different approach to gaming, the impact of music in video games.
By rem5511 , September 24, 2015
I have a confession to make. I write every one of my passion blog entries while listening to the Sims 2 soundtrack . There’s just something about that odd, upbeat elevator music that manages to help me relax while keeping me focused on writing. Is this just one of my quirks? Or is there something about this particular soundtrack that naturally alters my attitude? Today, we’ll be investigating the various effects of video game music on attitude and the overall gaming experience.
Esta blishing Atmosphere
Playing through an intense first-person shooter might feel a bit odd with a playful 8-bit jingle in the background. And conversely, severe, action-oriented combat music does not lend well to 8-bit platformers. This is because, whether we notice it or not, music has a huge effect on the atmosphere in any game. To maintain the immersion that is so important in video games, the music must always match the setting and situation that the player is in.
In the real world, music is a reflection of culture. The same is true in video games. Video game music is often used to reveal truths about societies’ cultures in games. For example, in the Fallout series, the player is aware that the game takes place in the future, but there is an emphasis on 1950s American culture, as demonstrated by popular fashion, decor, and – you guessed it – music. Hearing classic American music juxtaposed against the post-apocalyptic Fallout wasteland goes a long way towards establishing the game’s unsettling atmosphere.
Punishment vs. Reward
Aside from setting the mood, music in video games can also function as a sort of secondary reward system, utilizing operant conditioning to influence the player’s behavior. When you die in a game, a disappointing game-over tune usually plays, while completing a level or objective is usually met with some sort of upbeat, rewarding jingle. Unconsciously, these aural cues reinforce our behavior and encourage us to play “well”.
Additionally, video game music makes gaming more rewarding by contributing to an elevated sense of importance and fulfillment. Take the game Skyrim , for example. Mashing buttons to defeat a frost troll may be absolutely meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but when that epic battle chant is playing, you feel like the fate of the universe rests in your hands.
Say what you will about video games, but gaming is no absent-minded task. Taking out a challenging boss takes focus and patience. Luckily video game music has one more purpose – to help keep the player concentrated on the task at hand. This is one function that heavily impacts the gaming experience but goes unnoticed by most gamers. When designing video game soundtracks, composers create and select songs that engage players. In this way, video game music is uniquely engineered to improve listeners’ focus.
Interestingly, this quality of video game music has allowed it to be used outside of gaming for some surprising practical applications. Although the concept is relatively new, many people believe that video game music can improve productivity, and it is becoming increasingly common for students to listen to game soundtracks while studying or doing homework. As I mentioned earlier, I wholeheartedly support this practice. (Update: I am now listening to the Catherine soundtrack .)
Conclusion – Video Game Music is Powerful
Unlike most songs, which can stand alone as aurally pleasing works of art, the songs used in video games must fulfill a variety of specific functions while still being satisfying to listen to. There is no question that the composition and arrangement video game soundtracks is a difficult task, but a good soundtrack and turn a great game into a masterpiece. With the ability to change the way gamers feel and behave, video game music is a powerful medium.
4 Responses to “The Impact of Music in Video Games”
Not that this is helpful feedback or anything, but I must confess that I wrote my blog while listening to the Team America World Police theme song on loop. Great job, though. Music definitely has a strong impact in games. My friends and I went on a senior road trip and we played Fallout and Skyrim music at certain parts to make it more epic. The soundtracks really define those games.
This blog does a great job of analyzing the inner mechanics of video game design. Music definitely plays a huge role and like you said, gives more than just “aural cues”. It would be awesome to explore the specifics behind the music. Does the cultural significance of music contribute more to its effect or does the musical elements (major vs minor, tempo, etc.)? I can’t wait to see the new information on this blog!
I like the topic. It would be interesting to compare to movie soundtracks and other common forms of music in entertainment, since there are differences in the way it has to be written. I like the explanation of the music used as psychological cues as well as ambience. Perhaps you could talk about big names in videogame music like Martin O’Donnel and Michael Salavatori (Halo soundtracks) and how they go about writing music for a particular game, and what kind of respect they get from other music writers.
Like always, I really enjoyed the direction in which you took your topic! The focus on the psychological effects of video game music are very fascinating. By looking at music as a way of creating an environment and reward, punishing, and improving the player, you have gone deep into the importance of music. I also enjoyed how you expanded the analysis of music to look at the applications of the music outside of gaming (i.e. listening to music while studying or doing homework) and your own experience with these outside applications. It would be really interesting to see how music is similarly used in other pieces of work such as movies, commercials, and educational videos too. It would also be interesting to look into the studies that prove these ideas. How do people truly know that music is capable of engaging, improving, rewarding, and punishing? And what is it that makes us respond this way? You are definitely scratching the surface of some very amazing psychological concepts and using video games as a vehicle to understanding them!
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The Most Glorious Video Game Music to Level Up Your Workday
After 10 years working from home, I've noticed some strange correlations in my productivity. In particular, I am far more sluggish and unmotivated when I forget to put on some music (and when I forget to open my windows). It seems small, but some good background jams can really make a difference in the work you get done.
This isn't just anecdotal, either— plenty of research actually suggests music can help you get into that "flow state" required for more productive work, particularly fast-paced instrumental music that doesn't distract you with lyrics. It turns out, there's a genre of music that fits this bill perfectly: video game soundtracks. After all, they're designed to engage you with the task at hand without drawing too much attention to the actual tunes. And thanks to a viral TikTok , Mario Kart streams have gone through the roof with students racing to finish homework on deadline.
This "life pro tip" has been going around the internet for a while, but in my experience, not all video game soundtracks are well tuned to this purpose. I'm not sure I'd personally put on a 10-hour stream of Mario Kart 's superstar theme , but I do find upbeat is better than slow and ambient for getting me motivated. Here are some of the best soundtracks that fit the bill.
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Note that this isn't a list of the best game soundtracks of all time—instead, we're focusing on ones that fit that engaging tempo and tune that motivate you to plow through work. (So no Monument Valley here, as incredible as that game's sound design is.) Most games still have some quieter ambient tracks, but hey—you can always weed those out in your work playlist.
While NieR: Automata 's story and gameplay may not be for everyone, Keiichi Okabe's soundtrack is objectively fantastic. It somehow strikes this perfect balance between soothing and head-bopping, with that slight nudge to keep you pushing forward. A few songs have vocals, but they aren't in English, so you aren't likely to get distracted, making for a perfect soundtrack to your workday. And if you like this style, you'd probably like a lot of Nobuo Uematsu's Final Fantasy soundtracks as well.
There are dozens of games with epic fantasy-style soundtracks, but if we had to pick a go-to, it'd probably be The Witcher 3 . Not only does it have its own unique folksy flavor, but it has more upbeat battle tunes than many of its compatriots in the fantasy space, making it a good soundtrack for getting things done. If you're willing to do a bit more pruning, plenty of other games have similar styles, including Skyrim , Baldur's Gate 3 , and Halo 2 .
Okay, enough dancing around it: Mick Gordon's Doom soundtracks are easily some of the best fast-paced work music in existence (provided you enjoy heavy rock and metal). If these crunchy, heart-racing riffs don't drive you to get stuff done, I don't know what will. Of the two, I think Doom: Eternal has more up-tempo tracks, making it the better work soundtrack—though it isn't officially available to buy or stream except on YouTube . Thankfully, 2016's Doom is also a banger.
For a soundtrack with more modern, pop- and hip-hop-style groove, Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto games never disappoint. The GTA V score combines a few different styles into a surprisingly coherent set of tracks that are great for getting to work, albeit with a more mid-tempo speed.
It's hard to talk about Bastion 's soundtrack without gushing about the whole game. Every element of its design—graphics, gameplay, soundtrack—coalesce perfectly into a unique experience that few other games can replicate quite this well. The ambiance of this hack-and-slash game makes for an engaging soundtrack that rarely has a dull moment, even in the rare slower tracks.
If you're looking to get into the zone, what better soundtrack than a rhythm-based game? Crypt of the Necrodancer 's soundtrack , composed by Danny Baranowsky, is easily one of the best work-ready game albums out there, with its upbeat tempo and incredibly groovy instrumentation—from guitar-focused rock tracks to electronic dance bops. If this hits the spot for you, be sure to check out Baranowsky's other soundtracks, including Super Meat Boy and Crypt's Zelda -focused counterpart, Cadence of Hyrule .
Speaking of Zelda , I knew I couldn't get away with ignoring Link's adventures on this list. If I had to pick one Legend of Zelda game to back my workday, it'd probably be The Wind Waker ( available on CD but sadly not on Spotify). It may not be the most famous Zelda game, but the soundtrack has all the Zelda charm you know from more popular titles, with plenty of jaunty tunes to keep your motivation up.
Ask 10 Mario fans which soundtrack is the best and you could probably get 10 different answers. Heck, ask me on 10 different days and you'll get 10 different answers. But today, I'm going with Super Mario Galaxy : It has a ton of catchy, groovy melodies that keep your energy level high, and they're so peppy that you might even catch yourself enjoying your job. Unfortunately, it isn't on services like Spotify, and you'll have to track down the CD on eBay .
I could do a whole separate list of retro-style chiptune soundtracks, but in the interest of self-control, I'll have to pick a few of the best here. When it comes to upbeat jams, I'm always drawn to the soundtracks Konami put out in the NES era, with Castlevania III at the top of my list—though Contra and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project come awfully close, and the newer Shovel Knight soundtrack harkens back to those days beautifully as well.
I've never played Streets of Rage 2 , but any retro enthusiast will tell you this was one of the best soundtracks of the era. And, considering it's designed to guide you through the streets in a fit of rage, it's a perfect tempo and tune to keep you motivated at work. Just make sure you don't punch your computer monitor in the middle of that important project.
There's one retro game series that still has me hooked on its soundtrack years later: Sonic the Hedgehog . The tunes in the original Genesis games were so catchy, I still hum them as I do the dishes, and it drives my wife crazy. ( Sonic 3 is my personal favorite, and the Michael Jackson mystery surrounding its soundtrack only makes it more compelling.) Stream the original soundtracks or listen to the newer remixes from Sonic Generations , which are equally catchy with a more modern sound.
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Video Game Music: A Look into the Past and Present
The idea of composing video game music wasn’t always regarded with seriousness. Similar to film scoring in its early days, many looked upon video game scoring as a side hustle or passion project, but never as an actual career choice. Yet the cultural and economic growth of this medium has proven to be more than just a source of income but also a full-fledged career option .
What helped drive the demand for the video game music that exists today is the gaming community’s affinity for innovation, but also the nostalgia associated with the video games that these people played in their youth. This gave video game music another layer of meaning, as if those old melodies heard long before were now the catalyst that brought you back to a forgotten time.
Let’s take a closer look into video game music of the past, and how it has impacted the present. We’ll also discuss how listeners are enjoying video game music outside of the gaming context.
Video game music is an evolving artform, having long let go of its original chiptune sound and moved towards a more cinematic ambience. With that said, there are still games such as Shovel Knight that strive for the 8-bit look and sound of the past, in a sense legitimizing the aesthetic as a genre by itself. And the chiptune sound did not limit itself to video games: in the late 1970s the group Yellow Magic Orchestra were already making music with computers, and they would even sample sounds from famous video games of the time.
But this style of music ceased to serve as the soundtrack to many video games (and thus be of much interest as a musical genre) after the ’80s, and only began to reassert itself around the early 2000s with acts such as the Postal Service using chiptune sounds in many of their songs.
In the later part of the first decade of the 2000s, chiptune artist Sabrepulse introduced the world to a new genre of chip music known as chipbreak: a mixture of 8-bit music and breakcore. In the video below you can see him performing his music to an enthusiastic crowd, but what’s most intriguing about it all is his setup, which consists of a laptop connected to two Gameboy consoles.
Although video game music has departed from its origins, the medium continues to be tied into the music of the past as well as the future. The limitations held by the hardware is in a way what pushes the genre forward and makes it idiosyncratic. The constant technological “battle” one has to endure when composing a chiptune piece makes it feel more like you’re programming instead of composing, and that’s where a lot of chiptune artists find the charm. And if anyone is interested in composing their own chipmusic, it’s possible to do so with the free software LSDJ ! (If you don’t own a Gameboy, you can always use an emulator).
These hardware limitations are basically non-existent in the current age of video game music. That raises the question if video game music has lost its idiosyncratic flavor now that it’s open to all possibilities of sounds. In a way, yes. One of the reasons why many of the Nintendo games have melodies that stick with us to this day is that melodies were the easiest thing the composers could manipulate.
Video Game Music and Lo-Fi
Speaking of Nintendo, we are currently seeing an appreciation for video game music of the past in the genre of lo-fi hip-hop. It’s no surprise when videos like “ n i n t e n d o a n d l o f i ” get upwards of 6 million views, or that the “ Zelda and Chill ” hit the mark of 25 million (the “and chill” and the spaced-out-typing a e s t h e t i c are common attributes of the lo-fi genre). It’s noteworthy how something considerably niche and removed from its time is still able to resonate with millions.
Due to the hardware’s monophonic nature, early video game music was filled with arpeggios and a heavy reliance on its melodies and themes. But one thing that remains distinctive in the medium now is its interactivity. Unlike the audience of a movie or a song, the choices a player makes influence not only the game, but the music as well. There are plenty of different techniques that make use of this interactivity, which you can read about in Michael Sweet’s “ Top Techniques for Composing Music for Interactive Media ” article, also on Take Note .
So although the chiptune genre may not be as active as it once was, video game music still remains idiosyncratic in its ability to adapt to its audience’s commands. A video game composer’s task is to make music that’s suggestive and responsive to the player, in addition to being unique to the game’s environment in order to create the most immersive experience.
Video Game Music Technology
What’s most exciting about video game music now is that the technology keeps evolving, creating new possibilities for composers. Just like we can see in film scores, the approach in composing for video games is usually influenced by what’s already being done in the industry. In the early years of cinema, film scorers would never have dreamed of composing something like the ambient soundtrack that appears on The Social Network, but nowadays that type of minimalistic scoring is considered the norm.
Technology still remains an important part of musical innovation, and nowadays video game music composers find themselves with a lot of freedom to create their scores and don’t have to settle down due to technological impasses. And it shows!
Modern Video Game OSTs (Original Soundtracks)
The past decade has seen outstanding soundtracks like Fez with its impressionist synths, Celeste with the mesmerizing melodies you get to hear over and over when you inevitably die (over and over and over and over), but we also have soundtracks that push the boundaries of what this medium can do. Ape Out , which was released in 2019, has a procedural and reactive music system, meaning that the score is a direct reflection of the players’ actions and choices. It uses thousands of drum samples that go from smooth and chill to extremely intense, depending on the situation. The soundtrack basically assumes the role of a jazz drummer improvising, and the game does it magnificently.
Yet on the other end of the spectrum, we have C418’s soundtrack for Minecraft . Instead of constantly interacting with the player, the music takes a more relaxed role, meshing with the environment, with its iconic ambient tunes. Many times these creative decisions can be made by the game’s director, and a composer’s task would be to faithfully execute their vision, ultimately uniting the whole game to the unique mood or feeling it’s trying to express.
Video Game Concerts
We’ve also recently seen an entirely new experience taking place in the video game world: live concerts. In 2019, electronic musician Marshmello played his set to 10 million people in the multiplayer battle royale game Fortnite . In contrast to the niche live performances of video game music in the 1970s and ’80s, the crossover audience from gamers to music fans was exponentially higher. Afterwards we got to see Ariana Grande and Travis Scott also perform in Fortnite, Lil Nas X perform live in Roblox , 100 gecs doing a fundraiser show via Minecraft , and more. Even just this week, Soccer Mommy announced a listening party for her new Sometimes, Forever album on Roblox.
Video Game Music is Here to Stay
The popularity could be due to the fact that more people play video games than they did before. And more of these people listen to music than the earlier generation of gamers, which could all be attributed to the fact that technology has increased accessibility to both music and games, just as technology has expanded the limits of what is possible when composing for video games. It just goes to show that there is still so much to explore in the sonic world of gaming.
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There's no shortage of upbeat and energetic video game music. Take arcade classics like Outrun or home console favorites like Mario for example. Many people listen to fast-paced electronic music like house or drum and bass while exercising to maintain a rhythm, and upbeat video game music can help in this regard too.
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Try video game soundtracks. The music's designed to provide a stimulating background that doesn't mess with your concentration. I found a thread by /u/robertgfthomas suggesting the idea and I messaged him about it also giving him some suggestions, I was creating a list for myself anyway. he suggested I post it here.
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Video game music is an evolving artform, having long let go of its original chiptune sound and moved towards a more cinematic ambience. With that said, there are still games such as Shovel Knight that strive for the 8-bit look and sound of the past, in a sense legitimizing the aesthetic as a genre by itself.