Ode to Joystick: Video Game Music Earns Points with Orchestras, Composers

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For the first time a soundtrack for a video game has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the category usually reserved for movie scores. The composer Austin Wintory's score for the wildly popular PlayStation 3 game "Journey" has been given a nod for "Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media," pitting him against film-score giants like Ludovic Bource, Howard Shore, John Williams and Hans Zimmer.

The awards take place this Sunday in Los Angeles.

The nomination comes as video game scores play increasingly well with symphony orchestras. Concerts of music from "Final Fantasy," "Halo" and "Zelda" are staples of pops concert programming. In the past year, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Montreal chamber group La Pieta have released albums of game music, the former of which debuted at No. 23 on the Billboard 200 chart. One of the most popular violinists on YouTube is Lindsey Stirling, whose interpretations of video game scores have received hundreds of millions of views.

All of this is possible because video games often feature full-length orchestral scores. Composers who once specialized in film music, including Danny Elfman and Howard Shore, are also applying their talents to the game medium. There are many potential benefits, said writer Dan Visconti. "One of the ways that orchestras can stay relevant," he said, "is engaging the same level of sensory stimulation that a lot of video game players are accustomed to already."

The game scores also raise questions about the medium's artistic merits and its potential to build new audiences for classical music.

In this podcast, host Naomi Lewin puts these questions to three guests:

  • Austin Wintory, composer of the Grammy-nominated score to the game "Journey"
  • Tanner Smith, a program director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which will be presenting a concert of music from the game “Final Fantasy" for the second time in June.
  • Dan Visconti, a composer and writer who has covered the game music phenomenon for Symphony magazine

Weigh in: Do you listen to video game scores? Do you find them as valid as traditional concert music? Leave your thoughts below.