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VGM Without the VG

Editorial Written by Tommy Ciulla

Each and every one of us is here for a reason. I'm not talking about the meaning of life, or fulfilling our destinies, or how we all should do our part and purchase at least one copy of whatever game it is that SUDA51 next attaches his name to. I'm referring to all of us being here together at SEMO. That reason and common bond that we all share is our passion for and our enjoyment of video game music. Let's face it: When it comes to sharing enthusiasm and discussion about game music, the only other people who really "get" what we're talking about are other fans of VGM.

Unfortunately, there's a negative stigma attached to video game music when it comes to people who equate playing video games to childish activities meant for lazy people to waste their lazy days with. For those that haven't dove head first into the ever-growing library of all things VGM and VGM-related, hearing that someone spends their time listening to game music instead of "normal music" can be a shock to their system. I am completely unashamed to tell people that I, a 26 year old dude with a full-time job and a steadily increasing 401k plan, listen to video game music almost exclusively. The reactions I get range from laughter to confusion to a feeling of division in the conversation... and often back to more laughter. Frankly, it doesn't bother me in the least, as I'm sure that it wouldn't bother you, because the genuine interest and passion that I have for game music is here, within me — and that's much more important to me than hiding my musical tastes just to avoid certain comments or conversations.

What's a real shame about this negative stigma is that most of the time when you mention the words "video" and "game" in front of the word "music" it's as if a little switch is flicked off in the person's head whom you are talking with, and from that point on it doesn't matter what you say — they're really not that interested because you're just talking about music from some video game. It's not "real" music from a "real" band that you can buy in a "real" store! It's just some Japanese dude with some sound production software banging out all types of beeps and static and other things that someone couldn't possibly want to listen to outside of a Nintendo Entertainment System. But that, my friends, is where I have proved people wrong on many occasions.

I can't tell you how many times I have been in a car with someone and have completely shocked them by telling them what music we were listening to at the time. From the fervent metalhead that was rockin' out to Guilty Gear XX #Reload Korean Version, to the long-time pianist and keyboardist that was visibly impressed with Masashi Hamauzu's work on the Final Fantasy X Piano Collections, to the guitarist that was enjoying Ronnie Montrose's smooth licks from the Mr. Bones soundtrack; almost everyone couldn't believe that this, this, is video game music! In a quiet moment of pride and with a self-righteous smirk I would share whatever information I had on the composer or album in question and we would continue to listen to the disc, both of us enjoying the music while I was secretly enjoying the fact that I had shattered someone's preconceptions of video game music.

I find myself faced with instances like this every once in a while, and I try to challenge people's notions with interesting samples of what I have lying on my CD shelves. I have some pretty wide tastes, so my collection runs the gamut from A to Z with all different types of styles of music. From solo piano and chiptune, heavy metal and smooth jazz, techno and big band, there is something on my shelf for everyone to enjoy regardless of their personal tastes and preferences. But, as I type this out, I am forced to remind myself that while there is most definitely something there for everyone, there is everything there for me, and as a living, breathing fan of VGM, that's what really matters.

When people I am not too familiar with ask me that inevitable question about what type of music I like to listen to, I give an answer that's somewhere along these lines: "I listen to just about every genre, but most of the music I enjoy comes from video game soundtracks. I can't even tell you how much game music has opened my eyes to all different types of music." Every once in a while this will illicit a positive response from a curious conversationalist who is very interested in learning about what I have to say, but the rest of the time it won't. I may get the laughter or the smirk or that perplexed look from the other person, but that's perfectly fine with me. I'm not the one that's missing out on all of this great music.