According to the BBC, “UK sales of games will outstrip music and video for the first time in 2008”. At least, that’s the headline; as pointed out in the article, the main survey being referenced includes games hardware, but the Entertainment Retailers Association have some Quite Interesting statistics that show games overtaking music in sales in 2007 (but lagging behind video). I still pick up the odd album here and there, but after voracious acquisition in my teens and ever-expanding CD racks, I’ve been spending more on games than music for a while, mostly, I think, because aside from a few embarrassing oddities I can still quite happily listen to any of my music collection, whereas I seldom go back to older games apart from the occasional classic. Anyway, it’s soon approaching the point where I have to grumble about all newly released music, it’s just crashing and banging, you can’t hear what they’re singing about, whatever happened to that nice Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson?
It got me thinking about music in games, though. Not so much specifically written soundtracks that only really exist within the game (with the odd exception, I see the Mass Effect soundtrack is due for release towards the end of the month), but more mainstream music. One of the first instances in my collection is Ed Hunter, a combined Iron Maiden compilation and game. Not a particularly great game either, an Operation Wolf-style shooter that would’ve been amazing ten years previously, but didn’t hold up so well compared to System Shock 2 released around the same time. Not a bad “best of” compilation, though, and at least the game is better than the Aerosmith effort Revolution X. Better than crowbarring bands into unrelated game styles is the Guitar Hero/Rock Band series, obviously; sometimes on forums I’ve seen people dismissing one of the games, posting “I hardly know any of the songs on the list”, but that’s half the fun for me. I can’t think of one song in the series that I’ve hated violently enough not to want to play it a few times, and it’s introduced me to quite a few bands. Not just *extends forefinger and little finger* METAL! either, Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives are really rather catchy.
One of the slightly stranger shifts is with radio; between connecting up MP3 players in the car, the BBC’s “Listen Again” service and an ever-expanding subscription list of podcasts, I hardly listen to live radio any more. In games, though, Grand Theft Auto III was a revelation, with its in-game radio stations. Even though, in the PC version, you could play your own MP3s while driving, it was far more fun to flip around the radio stations while cruising Liberty City, mostly because of K-Jah; I’d never heard dub before, and the spooky, subterranean vibes of Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires were a great accompaniment to late-night driving (though the drum and bass of MSX FM was better to get the adrenaline pumping for races), so I picked up the proper album and a bunch of other dub CDs. Vice City is often regarded as the high point of the GTAIII games, but it’s not really my favourite, and I wonder how much of that has to do with the 80s soundtrack, which I didn’t like nearly as much. San Andreas had a better selection, and a quick glance at the GTAIV soundtrack looks most promising, I think I’m going to enjoy flipping through the stations there.