Video Game Music

La Japonie facile, via Flickr

Do you have a favorite piece of video game music? Are there games you recognize just by their music? Today's Spotlight is on the history of music in electronic video games.

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Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Robin Basselin.

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And I’m Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Have you ever been on a bus or in a store and heard this music?

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Did you immediately recognize it? Did you think about Mario - a little Italian man with a red hat, a red shirt, and blue trousers? Did you remember trying to avoid little brown walking mushrooms with eyes? Or did you remember competing against a friend to collect the most coins? These are all elements of the video game Super Mario Brothers!

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People all around the world play electronic video games. And often, they can recognize a video game just by its music. Today’s Spotlight is about the history and development of video game music.

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The earliest video games did not have music. In the 1970s, Pong was a popular video game. A person would play Pong by watching moving images on a large screen - like a television. Players could move the images using a device called a joystick. Players would move the joystick with their hands.

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Pong was basically an electronic form of the sport table tennis. In this game there is a ball. The ball moves across the screen - from one side to the other. The players control another shape on the screen. It is a stick-shaped object called a paddle. Players move the paddles to hit the ball. They try to keep the ball from hitting the sides of the screen. As the ball hits the paddle it makes this sound.

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Space Invaders was another popular video game from the 1970s. Like Pong, the sounds in Space Invaders were simple and created by computers. And only one or two sounds played at a time. But Space Invaders did something different. In this game, players shoot little white space creatures at the top of the screen. The creatures move down the screen. And they make a particular sound. As they move closer to the bottom of the screen, the sounds get faster. This noise copies the sound of a fast, beating heart - like the sound your heart makes when you are frightened. The sound helps create a sense of excitement and importance. As a result, it influences the player’s experience. It makes the game feel more real.

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As technology improved, so did the sounds video games used. By the 1980’s, video games began using basic music. Experts used computer sounds to design the music.

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In 1984, Koji Kondo worked for the company Nintendo, in Japan. Nintendo develops video games. And Kondo created music for Nintendo video games. Nintendo asked Kondo to write the music for a new game. The game was Super Mario Brothers. Kondo told Wired magazine,

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"I wanted to create something that had never been heard before. I wanted to create something that was not like game music at all."

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New technology let Kondo create basic background music. This music could play through the whole game. Kondo used the music to help create the atmosphere for the game. He wrote six different pieces of music for the game.

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When the video game character, Mario, is outside under the blue sky and clouds - the music is happy. But when Mario goes under the ground the music changes. The music sounds darker and a little frightening. When Mario is in the enemy’s territory, the music sounds even more threatening and evil.

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Game designers also added sound effects to Kondo’s music. Every time the player makes Mario jump, the game makes this sound. And every time Mario collects a coin, the game makes this sound.

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Together, the sound effects and background music create an experience. This experience uses several senses. The game players use their hands to create the action. They see the action on the screen with their eyes. And they hear the actions and environment with their ears. By involving several senses, the game experience becomes more like real life.

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Kondo wrote the music for another famous game called The Legend of Zelda. Nintendo released this game in 1986. This video game is often recognized for its music. In the game, the player must find and rescue Princess Zelda. And the music is part of the player’s exciting travels. To win some of the game’s tests, the player must use musical instruments. Sometimes the musical instruments even start new events in the game.

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Kondo made a major influence on video game music. His work changed video game music forever. But the development of video game music did not end with Kondo.

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During the 1990’s and early 2000’s technology continued to improve. Music designers began to create very complex pieces of music for video games. The designers were no longer limited by basic computer noises. New technology let designers record and use the sound of real musical instruments. Today, many video games sound like live music performances!

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The video game Halo is a good example of this. Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori created the music for this game. For Halo’s main music piece, they recorded people singing. The performers sang long sad sounds in low voices. They also recorded string musical instruments like violins. Erik Kain believes that Halo’s music aids the playing experience. He wrote in Forbes Magazine,

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“Halo’s singing voices are combined with very different rock-opera-style string instruments.  This helps pull you in to the exciting space-age travels.”

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Many pieces of video game music have become iconic. They are easy to remember. They are easy to recognize. And people clearly identify them with their video game.

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Charles Martinet is the voice of Mario - from the newer versions of the Super Mario games. He clearly remembers his first experience with Super Mario Brothers.  He told Wired Magazine,

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"The first time I ever played a Mario video game, I started at about 4 at night. I played until the sun came up the next day. I laid down on the bed. I closed my eyes. And I could hear that music!”

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Do you have a favorite piece of video game music? Are there games you recognize just by their music? How does music affect your video game playing? You can leave your comments on the script page of this program at Or you can email us at

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The writer of this program was Courtney Schutt. The producer was Mark Drenth. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again and read it on the Internet at This program is called, “Video Game Music.”

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We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Do you play video games? What is your favorite video game music?


Avatar Spotlight
said on March 20, 2013

Mario games is one of my favorite game.When I read progarm’s story I can imagine I am playing that game,it’s really interesting and attractive…It make me remember my childhood when I am children.Thanks!

Avatar Spotlight
Ange! Beats!
said on May 16, 2014

Minecraft’s music is also freat.

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on August 24, 2016

Yes. When I was child I went to playstishen shops most days and my favorite was Cars racing.
At 2010 I bought a playstishen device for my brother’s children and I was watched and heard and remember and enjoy LOL
God bless you

Avatar Spotlight
Lucas samp
said on September 10, 2016

Thanks for it!

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on September 16, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: to answer to the question above
Date: Friday 16, September 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Robin Basselin, Courtney Schutt, Mark Drenth, and Ryan Geertsma:

At first, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article. Thanks!

No, I do not. I do not play video games because I do not have time to play them but I like them.

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on December 10, 2019

I don’t play video games. Some of them are interesting, but I never was attracted to play them.
Thank you so much for this program.