Studies on game music are still relatively scarce, whether being viewed from either game or music research disciplines. The currently emerging game music research mostly considers game music’s functions and meanings with respect to the narrative and interactional mechanics within a game (see e.g., Kamp, Summers & Sweeney, 2016; Collins, 2013). With an aim of extending the focus of research into people’s everyday relationship with game music, the GAMEM project studies personal attachment to game music, fondly reminisced memories of game music being at the very core of our project’s focus.
So far, we have collected two datasets with respect to Finnish game music memories. Firstly, game music stories are a collection of 183 spontaneous personal narratives of people’s fond game music memories, gathered through a public call. The second dataset, game music survey, was collected through a quantitative survey in order to get a larger and a more focused sample on game music preferences. It contains responses from 785 participants about their favourite game music, the related gameplay situations and experiences, as well as ways of engaging with the music outside the game. Together, these datasets provide an interesting opportunity to observe what kind of games and gaming devices are brought up from the viewpoint of fond game music. Detailed analyses are a subject of future publications, but in this essay, we take a sneak peek of what the data has to say about Finnish game music preferences.
Game music stories (N=183, mean age=35 years) had a relatively strong bias to memories written by male participants (78%) who typically described themselves as active gamers. The smaller portion of female respondents does not represent the Finnish population of game players (see Kinnunen, Taskinen & Mäyrä, 2020) and it is likely that this study either reached the male segment better or somehow appealed to them more strongly. On the other hand, the game music survey (N=785, mean age=31 years) yielded a much more balanced gender distribution, with 40% of female and 53% of male respondents.
But what were then the games that appeared in the responses? Across the personal stories, 322 different games or game series were mentioned. In the stories, broad references to a game series were common. In the survey responses, the mentioned games were more specific, consisting of 739 different titles. TOP-10 of the most mentioned titles in both of the datasets are shown in Table 1. These most favoured games gained approximately 1/5 of all the mentions within their respective dataset. It is also important to note that within both datasets as much as about 2/3 of the game titles were only mentioned once. Apart from the relatively thin layer of more common favourites, the respondents’ individual preference to game music seems to be widely scattered across different games from different time periods. It is also interesting how the favourites of both datasets differ from each other. Notably, game music stories seem to include much older game titles.
Figures 1 and 2 show the mentioned game frequencies organised by the year of publication for each title (or the most prominent title of a game series). From these figures, it is apparent that game music stories are indeed more oriented towards the games of the 1980s and 1990s, whereas the preferred game music of the survey respondents mostly pointed towards the more modern game titles of the 21th century. The highest peak in game music stories is placed around the years 1985-1987. There is an accompanying pattern observable if we take a look at the gaming devices that were disclosed in stories and survey responses. Figure 3 presents a comparison of the datasets. The stories of fond game music memories include a lot of mentions of 8-bit and 16-bit devices, such as Commodore 64, Amiga and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), that were only marginally visible in the survey results.
We can consider a number of ways of explaining the above-mentioned differences in the two sets of results. For example, one could argue that the bias towards the music of older games would simply be because respondents were older. But age doesn’t seem to play a crucial factor here, since there is not too drastic difference between the mean ages of the two samples. Then, what could be the reason for getting two such different looks at the Finnish “taste” of game music? A likely cause is that the different methods of data collection induced different orientations and modes of (nostalgic) recollecting game music experiences in the respondents, possibly also affecting the biographical profile of samples through attractivity of the study.
It seems that the story collection method that emphasize personal fondness of music memory amplified a certain nostalgic mode of recollecting autobiographically and socially valued experiences (i.e., why this music is a fond memory) over the modes of aesthetic evaluation (i.e., why I like this music). In particular, our story data highlights experiences relating to, e.g., vivid childhood memories and/or self-remembrances of personal growth and social bonding. Arguably, such strong memories extend further back in one’s personal past, sometimes to the very first experiences with game music.
In conclusion, we can assume that there is this strong nostalgic dimension of the game music preferences we researchers need to account for. But nostalgia is not a one-dimensional affair. We have here highlighted the nostalgic remembrance based on how games and their music(s) entangle in people’s personal lives. In addition to such a psychological depiction (cf., Barrett et al., 2010), it would also make sense to consider the involvement of cultural nostalgia discourses and even national historical narratives (Suominen, 2020), in which C64 of course is not just another computer, but “tasavallan tietokone” (the republic’s computer).
Kamp, M., Summers, T., Sweeney, M. (2016). Ludomusicology: Approaches to Video Game Music. Equinox Publishing, Sheffield.
Collins, K. (2013). Playing with sound: a theory of interacting with sound and music in video games. MIT press.
Kinnunen, J., Taskinen, K. & Mäyrä, F. (2020). Pelaajabarometri 2020: Pelaamista koronan aikaan, TRIM Research Reports 29, Tampere University Press.
Barrett, F. S., Grimm, K. J., Robins, R. W., Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., & Janata, P. (2010). Music-evoked nostalgia: affect, memory, and personality. Emotion, 10(3), 390–403.
Suominen, J. (2020). Popular history: historical awareness of digital gaming in Finland from the 1980s to the 2010s. In DiGRA’20–Proceedings of the 2020 DiGRA International Conference: Play Everywhere. Tampere: DiGRA.
 Game Music Everyday Memories, funded by Kone Foundation (grant number 201908388).