Music, video games, and the Music Diary Project


For the most part, lugging around my brother’s old Playstation and its various games is little more than clutter in my apartment. But every now and then, I get a hankering for some classic JRPGs or the occasional Jet Moto race. When that happens, having the outdated system is a godsend. And it just so happens that over the weekend, I decided that it was time to dust off Final Fantasy VIII and explore a game that I remember basically nothing about (and still have never completed).

Yesterday, my girlfriend cooked me dinner, in part because she likes me, but more importantly, she had a new recipe she wanted to try out. Because she restricts me from entering the kitchen while she’s cooking, I fired up my Playstation and started grinding my way through Final Fantasy VIII‘s third hour. At one point during a story-heavy segment, she looked up from slicing the green apples that would be added to the plate’s orzo and said, “This is the worst video game music I’ve ever heard.” I could understand her annoyance. The Final Fantasy series is replete with extended sequences of ethereal, tinny tinkering as the game tries to convey some heavy-handed storyline.

Discussing the Music Diary Project with friends today, I said, “I almost never put music on at home, but my recent rediscovery of FFVIII and my general distaste for that series’ music might make me throw records on while I’m playing.” Such have been my listening habits for the greater part of five or six years now: if I’m not listening to music in my car or at work, generally the only time I have any music playing is if I’ve grown tired of the chintzy sound effects game designers have created.

I can remember the first time I listened to music during gaming. In high school, I played Counter-Strike competitively online. During one practice session with friends, I decided to put on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint. I don’t know what motivated me to do this. It may have been my recent discovery of hip hop or maybe I just wanted to have a good story to tell people, but it seemed like everything I did in the virtual battlefield was flawless. Without the ability to overthink my attack (listening to opponents footsteps, for example), I plowed through nearly everyone playing and turned in one of my best performances to date.

There’s no doubt, then, that my Music Diary Project will be largely colored by not only how many games I play this week, but also which games I play. Because selecting music for games is not unlike selecting music for a cross country drive or house party. If I’m driving through Nebraska, chances are that I’ll be listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Chronicles Vol. 1 (the best greatest hits compilation of all time). But if I’m playing Final Fantasy VIII, it’s unlikely that Rittz or Jay-Z will be blasting through my speakers.

What I’ve come to realize about my own music listening habits, even before I really undertake the Music Diary Project, is that the music I listen to is almost wholly dependent on what I’m doing. No longer do I listen to music because I want to listen to music (though I may do this when a new album leaks that I’ve wanted to hear). But I can’t remember the last time I put a record on with the express purpose of actually listening to it.

This isn’t a judgment, really. I have no qualms about my listening habits and wouldn’t admonish someone for doing similarly. But it’s interesting to see just how music colors my daily life. More observations to come as I gradually complete the Music Diary Project.

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