An enthusiastic audience of gamers came to Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth on Nov. 2 to bond over their love of video games. Accompanied by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Video Games Live describes itself as, “…a rock concert mixed with the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra combined together by the technology, interactivity, stunning visuals, and fun that only video games can provide.” What they didn’t mention was the palpable community of passionate gaming aficionados thrilled to see and hear the sights and sounds that have moved them for decades.
Hosted by prolific video game composer and industry icon Tommy Tallarico, the performance was a roll out of all the major video games of the past 30 years. From Tetris to Final Fantasy, each title got a 10-minute montage of hundreds of 2-6 second clips of dramatic gameplay supported by an arrangement of that game’s soundtrack. The big names were there: Zelda, Pokemon, Halo, Super Mario, Skyrim, and World of Warcraft. But also, lesser known titles such as Metroid, Castlevania, Shadow of the Colossus, Overwatch, Undertale, and Okami. Though when introduced each were cheered with the same grateful acknowledgement of how much they meant to the crowd’s child/adulthood. The nerds finally felt seen.
The music is not that different to the soundtracks of your standard superhero movie. Timpani rolls leading to heroic trumpet statements launching soaring melodies undergirded by tutti triplets. Aptly, the orchestrations conducted by Emmanuel Fratianni were a mixture of romantic leitmotivs, modern minimal rhythms, and percussive punches. So too were the visuals a miasma of comic book drama, lasers, and dragon attacks. The fans in attendance, having ventured away from their console screens were of all ages, races, fashion styles and beard lengths. The experience itself was part immersive cinema, part classical music appreciation, and part comic con fanboy hootenanny.
Lacking from Video Games Live was something only video game music can do. The interactivity of many games determine what music is played in real time according to the state of game play. A character’s health might be failing and the background music will change along with it. What you’re hearing evolves with what you are playing. Sadly, not lacking were the masturbation jokes and female characters as sex objects.
Between segments Tallarico, showing off some impressive electric guitar chops, impressed upon everyone his mission to show the world how culturally and artistically significant the world of video games has become. A shun to those who would blame video games for violence, he explained what all there already knew. These games and their music have inspired billions of people all over the world to create costumes, make tribute art, remix and share the music among one another.
Brahms it ain’t, but what Video Games Live does have is passion for the music of living composers. When a filmed “hello” from famed Nintendo composer Koji Kondo was announced it was like name dropping an international rock star.
Orchestras across America have seen ticket sales dropping and many have also bemoaned the fragmenting of culture and loss of personal interaction due to technology. Maybe one answer to those voids has been hiding in their parent’s basement; a true community longing to share within an emerging artform.