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State of the Art

Failure to acknowledge talent is suffocating creativity.

Last Saturday, the VideoGamesLive tour - an event which brings orchestral performances of videogame music to cities around North America, and now around the world - played its first London date. Billed as the first ever public concert of videogame scores in the United Kingdom, the event went some way towards filling London's cavernous Hammersmith Apollo, and a predominantly youthful audience certainly seemed to enjoy the performance, welcoming favourites from popular games with cheers and rapturous applause.

Videogame music is an oft-neglected creative field; almost as neglected, in fact, as videogame art. Both are incredibly progressive and exciting creative endeavours which garner shockingly little respect not only from the mainstream music and art establishments, but even from people who are fans of games themselves - and, to an even more depressing extent, from companies involved in the game sector, who rarely see it as their duty to promote the cultural worth of videogames except where it is obviously politically or financially expedient for them to do so.

As such, it was fantastic to see such a performance, and even more thrilling that it was such an obvious success. Certain aspects of the event jarred terribly, though; while it's entirely understandable that the creators of the show wanted to make something to appeal to teenagers, the insistence on having videos to accompany every piece of music (which ultimately distracts and detracts from the musical performance itself) and the brash, self-conscious, American-style presentation of the whole affair left a distinct taste of a heavily commercialised product for the ADD-afflicted MTV generation, rather than a true celebration of decades of wonderful videogame music. Once you bought into this, however, the event was unquestionably enjoyable - and by the time YouTube celebrity Martin Leung, better known to millions as the blindfolded pianist whose renditions of themes from Mario were an internet video sensation, took the stage, a few beers and the cheers of the enthusiastic crowd were infectious.

The whole event, however, highlights to some extent the lack of regard which is paid to music and composers in our industry. Videogame music is arguably one of the most complex and interesting fields of sound design in the world today, with many games utilising not only creatively fascinating compositions, but also advanced technology such as dynamic soundtracks which adapt according to the player's actions. Videogame art is a similarly extraordinary field, with 3D models and blended animations which must work in any circumstance the player chooses being the order of the day.

Yet not only are concerts or exhibitions of the products of these fields rare - arguably a byproduct of the burgeoning cultural awareness of the videogames medium - but their creators are often not even namechecked in anything other than a massive spew of credits at the end of a game, or the back of a manual. This is, admittedly, unsurprising in a field where even the design director of a game can have trouble getting his name put on the final product in a prominent position - but while publishers increasingly pay lipservice to the idea of finding this medium's Spielbergs, it's worth paying attention to the need to find its John Williams' and Danny Elfmans, its Walt Disneys and Hayao Miyazakis.

The payoff - aside from the increased cultural recognition of the medium, and the vast benefits this will create in terms of mass-media coverage, government attitudes, and ultimately, sales - lies in the ability to generate new IP. Right now, the games industry is inundated with sequels and franchises not because the industry lacks creativity, but because it is, frankly, rubbish at generating new IP - and therefore that creativity must be shoehorned into existing franchises.

Meanwhile, the film industry - and the music and book industries, for that matter - thrive on the concept of the artist, because the artist becomes the IP. While sequels are also important in Hollywood, equally it's possible to launch any new movie franchise you like as long as you get some big stars on board, or a famous director - even a famous composer helps greatly. New book franchises from established authors are treated as a license to print money, and even new bands started by members of old successful groups are paid more than their fair share of attention.

Meanwhile, our most creative minds continue to labour under conditions of anonymity. The old argument is that publishers don't want to namecheck developers, since they own the IP but can never quite own a developer's name, and they may move house and take the value of the name with them at any point. However, every other creative industry copes with this - and meanwhile, games pay the price for this reticence in their inability to use big names to launch new IP. It's a barrier we're going to have to overcome - and if orchestral renditions to an excited and exuberant audience of young people can help that, then they're to be welcomed with open arms.

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Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.