What does videogame tracks and spiritual meditation music have in common? Both are designed to immerse while remaining unobtrusive. Videogame themes also tend to be cosmopolitan, taking elements from cultures all over the world. Likewise, the New-Age is very human-centric and movement borrows from a multitude of traditions.
With this in mind, I set out to put together a mixtape of videogame tracks that could be indistinguishable from a meditation album bought at a spiritual store. Here are 20 songs from many different genres in a handy Youtube playlist. Is the venture successful? Could you reach Nirvana to these tracks?
Departing from the intensity of the previous Far Cry soundtracks, Martinez injects a dose of refreshing elegance into the newest installment. Whereas the music in Far Cry 1-3 focus on rallying the player’s adrenaline, here it’s used for ambiance and characterization. Sabal’s Suite and Unfamiliar Paths are particularly sophisticated tracks that do a great job invoking the beauty of the Himalayas.
Rome: Total War’s Arabic Summer track is intriguingly reminiscent of Neo-Pagan songs, such as S.J. Tucker’s Firebird’s Child. While most of the game’s soundtrack is masculine and fierce, some of it shares the same energy and youthfulness of music made for the consumption of spiritual audiences.
Jade Empire’s extensive and vigorous soundtrack never lets up, but Way of the Open Palm is as dreamy as any meditation track. Jack Wall also composed music for Myst and Mass Effect.
The God of War series probably does not invoke thoughts of relaxation and peace in most people. The soundtracks to all the games are pretty intense, but Lure of a Goddess is a smoky and rich song that I would definitely dance barefoot to if I were a hippie.
Unlike the simpler soundtracks of older Tomb Raider games, the second-era’s tried to accomplish that big orchestral feel that was popular in the late 00s. This works better for an epic experience rather than immersion, but Coastal Thailand is a old-style Tomb Raider track that still managed to work itself back in there. It’s also one of the best in the whole series.
Chris Vrenna is a former Nine Inch Nails drummer, and sound engineer for absolutely everyone. It’s no surprise that the scores for the Alice games are so flawless. Despite Vrenna’s rock background, or perhaps because of it, the Shadow Scroll track is a hauntingly ethereal affair. It effortlessly invokes the Victorian wonder of Eastern cultures.
Stephen Rippy’s whimsical music is forever ingrained in the brains of many 20-somethings who played Age of Empires and Age of Wonders as kids. Regretably less popular than Tazer, Voodoodoodoo sounds exactly like something out of a 90s meditation CD. Also, if these track names seem weird to you, you’re not alone. He named the main theme for Age of Mythology as A Cat Called Mittens.
Tengami is not a long game, but it achieves a great deal of atmosphere in the short time it can be completed in. A lot of this is due to the wonderful soundtrack. The Awakening is a kind of auditory summary of what the game is about: The beauty, devotion and sentimentality of Japanese art.
When Okami was released in 2006, the concept of games as art was only beginning to be discussed. Capcom pushed the envelope with Okami, which places immersion and atmosphere on equal footing as gameplay. The soundtrack was definitely not neglected and it is every bit as beautiful as the game itself.
Nathan McCree played no small part in creating the atmosphere of the early Tomb Raider games. With many short melodies that blend with real-life nature sounds, the music really gets a bang for its buck. Fantastic Indian Jungle is perhaps the most memorable of first-era Tomb Raider tracks, and it does a great job at creating a sense of wonder.
Mini Ninjas seems to have been created with immersion in mind, with similar aesthetics to Tengami and Okami. While it fell short on achieving the same level of gameplay quality, the soundtrack is still just beautiful.
Onimusha predates Okami by nearly 3 years, and I remain convinced it served as a kind of blueprint for it. While the game is focused on combat, it does pay a great deal of attention to immersion and art. Like with Okami, music tracks bring characters and locations to life. The sober town themes are almost mystical in their mundanity.
Heavenly Sword‘s composer, Nitin Sawhney, is no music lightweight. Famous for acoustic Indian music, electronica, and R&B, he is a genius in creating auditory magic. Forest Ambush is a dreamy and natural-sounding track, and it really benefits from Sawhney’s talent.
Far Cry 2 is another game a gentle song hidden in a entire soundtrack of intense music. Sign of Relief makes wonderful use of vocals in ways reminiscent of Adiemus and Deep Forest, popular spiritual bands from previous decades.
Flight Through Jerusalem subtly reminds me of Enya, Gregorian, Enigma, and Vangelis, which were mainstream New-Age bands in the 90s. Perhaps it’s the gregorian chanting or the layered instruments. Either way, if you played this at a gathering of hippies, they’d be none the wiser that it is a videogame track.
Desert is another unusual find, as it comes from a game entirely about warfare and exaggerated cartoon violence. This may be due to how Lynne is primarily a New-Age music composer.
Another Stephen Rippy track, this time from Age of Mythology. Rippy has a knack for slipping techno beats into “ancient” music, and it still sounds legit and magical. Flavor Cats is just the kind of fusion that is common in hippie music.
Perhaps the part of MapleStory that most sticks with its players long after they stop playing is its score. Unfortunately, no composers are credited by Nexon for their involvement with the game. One hopes that these unnamed artists are aware of how beloved their work is. Nightmare is a track that is inaptly named, as its gentle wood pipes and slow drums are airy and light as anything you’d hear playing in a spiritual store.
The promising new art game Dream boasts a delightful soundtrack by composer Norman Legies. Heliopolis, like Maplestory’s Nightmare, makes use of the same discreetness and simplicity that is the signature of certain North-American cultures. If I had to pick a favorite track from this list, it would be this one.
Harking back to the soundtracks of Lawrence of Arabia, Stargate, and The Prince of Egypt, Edmonson does a wonderful job with atmosphere and immersion. Iram of the Pillars and Bazaar Brawl work particularly well at conveying a sense of wonder and magic.
Like Maplestory, Sakura Spirit‘s individual developers are not credited by name. Perhaps they are mentioned in the ending credits, but this is a game that caters to very, ahem, specific tastes so I never got round to finishing it. But for all of its tactfulness or lack of thereof, the soundtrack is surprisingly great. Embarrassingly, even. All of the songs have a lovely traditional Japanese flavour, and the title screen theme is perhaps the best one.
Although McConnell’s style is very cartoony, the Black Velvetopia level music are exactly what you’d expect to hear in a chic ethnic cafe or incense shop. Hmmm, the sweet sound of gentrification.
What do you think? Could you chill out to these tracks with some incense and crystals, or should videogame songs belong in videogames alone? Do you know any other songs that could fit this list? Let me know and I might make a Part 2.