The games people playlist

Dan Golding, the composer behind the adaptations of Debussy’s preludes in Untitled Goose Game. Photo Tori Goldsbrough.
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Changes in access to music are influencing our preferences, writes Tori Goldsbrough

The internet, video games and online streaming services are changing the way we readily access music and discover potential artists, inviting listeners to a wider range of choice. Streaming services may also have the potential to shape our musical preferences, says Melbourne University researcher Amanda Krause.

“With streaming we have access to so much, and it’s not really just driven by the top 10 played on the radio anymore. Generally, now, within minutes you can hear that song, you don’t have to save up your pennies to buy an album,” says Dr Krause. According to Spotify’s 2019 reports, there are over a 118 million paying subscribers using the application to stream music, increasing by 31 per cent since 2018.

Music in video games and film are also offering younger consumers a unique chance to share their musical preferences and experience classical music, says Dr Krause. “When orchestra’s do a Harry Potter or Final Fantasy concerts, or music from video games, [they’re attracting] a huge younger and engaged audience.” Dance and music games like Dance Dance Revolution, are also allowing players to “share [their] preferences and part of their identity,” she says. “There’s also a big culture in inputting your own music and sharing that around the community.”

In late 2019, Australian game developer studio House House released Untitled Goose Game, attracting attention from celebrities including Chrissy Teigen, John Legend and Mark Hoppus of Blink 182. It too is encouraging a younger demographic of consumers to experience a game with atypical classical music. Playing as a goose, the ultimate goal of the game is to complete tasks and explore as Debussy’s preludes play with every waddle and movement.

“We wanted the music to have a full range of feelings and work comfortably with the quietest creeping and suspenseful moments – that’s why piano is the perfect instrument for it,” says Untitled Goose Game’s composer, radio host, writer and Swinburne lecturer Dr Dan Golding.

When initially creating music for Untitled Goose Game, the music was “very much intended to feel like silent movies, like you had a pianist in the corner watching you play the game and commenting on it,” says Golding. Similarly, when creating music for House House’s previous game, Push Me Pull You, Golding intended on creating music that was not familiar or standard as “the game was so not that, at all”.

“What I went for was a feeling of a kid with crayons colouring in but missing all the edges and lines. The music for that game is intentionally super messy, there are all wrong notes throughout. I had to really resist the urge to clean it all up and make it to the professional standard that I usually would, because I knew that it would embody the game so much better if it felt rough or if the musicians didn’t quite know what they were doing,” says Golding.

The variety of Nintendo’s music, including that of Legend of Zelda, Smash Brothers and Mario Kart, has been one of the biggest game influences on Golding’s music production, he says. “I think today a lot of game composers make music that sounds like a certain kind of Hollywood movie – lots of synths, noble brass melodies, whereas the music I make is not like that at all.

 “Games take a lot of influence from cinema. It’s not just about setting the tone, but about telling a story, emotionally and in terms of narrative. What’s different is that music [in games] is related to what you are doing in the game and speaks to the player in an active way that film music doesn’t,” says Golding.

Nostalgia is also an important part in listening to and experiencing music, says Golding “The kind of emotions you’re already feeling while listening to music can be multiplied when you already have a memory associated to that piece of music,” which Golding refers to as a reminiscence bump. It is suggested that movie trailers also use music to “cue up a sense of nostalgia for, who you were, when you saw that movie for the first time as kid, where you were, or what the world was like – I think that music is often more powerful than visuals at conjuring that up,” says Golding.

Music Psychology researcher Amanda Krause aims to understand the effect of music in everyday life. Photo Tori Goldsbrough.

The associations and memories we make from music, known as extramusical features, not only have an influence on our musical preferences but can be used to help older adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, says Krause. “We can use music, especially songs that have associations, to clue them back in and get them back to themselves,” she says. “Music can be used in a therapeutic way, without it necessarily being prescribed as music therapy. We’ve got good knowledge in some areas about the therapeutic context of music, but not in everything. I think there is real value to doctors working with therapists, who are working with educators, and looking at that holistically.”

However, with the rise of music streaming services and access of largely diverse music genres through the internet and games, the treatment of dementia patients in the future may need to be altered according to patients’ musical preferences, says music therapist, composer and owner of Strongerwater Studios Peri Strongwater. “When I work with the elderly, they all listen to the same three radio stations, they all know the same music because it was on TV and on the radio and that was it. Now, music taste and identity is so individualised – I am slightly concerned about what is going to look like for community building in the future,” she says.

Increasingly, streaming services including Spotify are creating playlists tailored towards users’ preferences and are allowing users to listen to music both from movies and games – something not previously or commonly done through commercial radio. “I am curious about the impact it is going to have when we don’t have a single song that defines a generation or year. When the Beatles were huge, everyone knew the top five billboard songs, and I don’t think that’s happening anymore. If you have a non-verbal patient its going to be much more difficult to find a song that triggers their memory.

“I think people are more comfortable with music and identify more strongly with music. Creating art is intimidating, but people like to sing and listen to music,” says Strongwater. “Many people experience hearing a song from your childhood in your adolescence – like your wedding song. Instantly you’re transported back to the feeling you had while you were dancing at your wedding. Now, I can go into [a geriatric unit] with a list of the top ten songs of the 1940s and chances are they’re going to have some memory attached to one of those songs, so [music streaming] is definitely going to change things.”