“Embarrassment and Stigma – Listening to Video Game Music in Public”


FF3-NES-Geomancer “The following is a contributor post by the Optimistically Sentimental Alabaster Mage.”

I’ve just put on The Banner Saga soundtrack from Austin Wintory, and my cat saunters up to the side of my desk chair, a pitiful “mweoRW” comes belting out of her. She wants attention of some kind, but I can’t decide if it’s simply because she wants me to pet her, if I’m blocking her entrance to the cubby underneath my desk—knowing that I would probably end up ruffling her fur with my toes if she snuck by—or if it’s the lutes and primal drums that she’s so emphatic about.

On my way home from work even, I put on the London Symphony Orchestra performing Nobuo Uematsu’s songs from the various Final Fantasies. I had my windows down, the volume was loud. I could feel the eyes of the other people stuck in traffic with me… Subconsciously I formed imaginary thought bubbles from their scowls;

..o00(What is he listening to?)

..o00(What IS that music? Is that classical??)

When I was in elementary school I had a friend who used to hook up his tape recorder to the TV, and he would spend time at night recording the music from Super Metroid, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, and Robotrek. When we rode the bus to school in the morning, he’d find an inside seat next to a window and zone out during our hour-long ride. As much as I loved video games back then, even I thought it was a little weird, but only because I was pressured by some of the other kids in school, conditioned to think that it wasn’t normal for someone to enjoy video games to quite that extent. Yet, even today, over twenty years later, when I put on a soundtrack from any of the Final Fantasies of the SNES era through til the end of the PSX; I’m transported back to my childhood. It’s like the feeling you get when you take a bite into your mother’s cooking after a long time away from home. Or, the feeling you get if you pass an older person in the street, and their perfume or cologne hits the wind at just the right angle to catch your nose and remind you of a relative you haven’t seen in ages.


Stigmas are real, and more people probably won’t understand. But, I’m here to let you know that it’s okay to be weird and nerdy.

My wife was one of those drama nerds… I never got into myself, but she loves Broadway songs, and she feels the same way about me as I do with her when I sit down and listen to “Blue Fields” from Final Fantasy VIII on piano;

“The music from those games is so ridiculous!” She exclaims.

I know, “And so is ‘Take Me Or Leave Me’ from RENT!” I retort.

This week’s post is going to be a bit shorter than the previous contributions. I just felt like sharing some honest reflection. I am still working on my Linux Gaming Diary series, and I plan on talking about the realities versus the expectations. Honestly, though, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with the new Steam Play feature. It’s definitely still in beta, and can be a bit disappointing as a turn-key feature at this point. Because of the disappointments, I’ve crawled back to the comforting nuanced nostalgia of Octopath Traveler, and I’ve mainly been playing that game solely for pleasure, to escape the realities of my nine-to-five and relax a bit after a hectic week at work… Not to mention we, here in the states and our neighbors up north, just celebrated Labor Day. My wife had to work and I didn’t have much to do, so I was actually able to just chill out on the couch all day and really dig into Octopath. It’s been a long time since I was able to sit down and devote HOURS to a JRPG, so I took advantage of the comfort food for my soul, and in a lot of respects, the time I spent was also good for my sanity.  The game has reminded me a lot of what I’ve been missing from games in the past two console generations. But, that’s a rant for another time.

I’m looking forward to seeing the comments and reading about your favorite video game soundtracks. There’s something to be said for the professionalism of composers like Uematsu and Wintory. Even though their work is tied to commercial products that serve a different purpose than simply music for music’s sake, I don’t feel that their emotional expressions are any less muted in the notes they’ve written and put to the staves that have influenced our lives.


The Optimistically Sentimental Alabaster Mage is also known as Berkough, you can find his other musings about video games on the blog section of his user profile at SIFTD.net (http://siftd.net/#!/profile/berkough), or by following him on Twitter @berkough.


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Categories: Opinion

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13 replies »

  1. Omg do I understand this. I try to rationalize it by thinking, “Anyone who doesn’t know what it is will just think it’s classical, but anyone who DOES know what it is will be so pumped someone else is listening to it!” This doesn’t stop me from keeping my windows up and music down if I’m stopped close to other cars. I’ve always loved video game music even back in the Coleco/Atari days and was overjoyed when you could finally own it on CD or later download it. Most of the music I listen to while editing consists of it because it’s usually wordless and less distracting. Also, I believe I read somewhere that it’s designed to help you concentrate, but I don’t recall the source of that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love listening to Nobuo Uematsu in the car! My son responds quite well to classical music so I often play Distant Worlds 🙂 I also love pretty much anything composed by Masayoshi Soken of FFXIV fame 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. When I was in school, I wasn’t big on technology, so any music that I listened to was transferred into my phone on a micro SD card. I liked listening to it walking home, but because I was outside, I was concerned/paranoid about not being able to hear approaching cars or crazy people, so I wouldn’t wear headphones. Which meant that I’d be walking home with my phone in my pocket, playing classical music. Nobody ever seemed to mind, probably because it was difficult to have a problem with any “kids today” playing classical music. And if any students found it strange, they didn’t say it to my face. Mostly because they rarely said anything to my face. I suppose that’s why I didn’t care; I’d learnt to survive on my own, so what other people thought didn’t phase me. I don’t know if that tells you anything.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I learned a long time ago to completely ignore the looks I get from people when I pull up to a stop light, windows down, Dancing Mad going full blast from the stereo. Have you listened to the lyrics of other songs? Do people realize how dumb most lyrics, particularly modern lyrics, sound? To me most gaming music is not much different than classical music, though I admit I do bring the volume down a few notches when Chocobo’s theme comes up, but more because the chirping at high volumes grates on the ears quickly. The majority of the time, however, the windows are up, seeing as how its hot in the summer and cold in the winter, so some type of climate control is going on. Where I really let it fly, however, is in the garage, while working on weapon builds. As long as the volume doesn’t bother the neighbors I dont care about the content when it comes to game/anime music. Live and let live, says I!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dancing Mad was definitely one of the songs that I had playing on my drive home from work yesterday as I was thinking about what I was going to write when I got home.

      I sort of addressed this with WellRedMage’s comment:

      It’s good that we can shed and deflect the judgement from others these days, but there’s something precious about knowing that at one time you could be ostracized for being such a nerd. It’s important to remember that we’ve all worked hard at making sure this type of thing has become more mainstream and acceptable. All of us who were in chess club, reading our Dragonlance novels, all grew up to get jobs working in finance or other related boring jobs, and we have the disposable income to perpetuate this type of culture. We still have to contend with mumble rappers and the Kardashians; as their minions sip the swill of Starbucks skinny-fat sugar-dosed lattes.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Hey thanks for writing this up! I’ll note here that this is the first time that you and I at least partially disagree, and I think that’s great. Disagreement makes for excellent conversation and I’m always trying to get better at friendly discussion and debate. I’m sure this isn’t really a point to debate, anyhow, though.

    Anyway, I’m not really convinced that this stigma still exists outside of the minds of those who have conditioned themselves to believe it does. One maxim I live by is “people are too self-centered to care about you”. Beyond the annoyance of volume potentially being too loud, I think there’s enough diversity in most widely listened to music that nobody would bat an eye about someone listening to video game music in public, especially where it can, as you pointed out, be confused for classical. If so, why not just think of it as classical/instrumental? In other words, how would they know it’s from a video game? Unless they were all as intelligent and attentive as your wife regarding music, which I think you may be loath to suggest.

    I’ve experienced stigmas myself but I think that this would carry more impact maybe 10 or 20 years ago when nerd culture wasn’t as mainstream as it is today. Looking at the history of it, it’s down a complete 180. It used to be frowned upon to be nerdy. These days, everyone loves Star Wars, Dr Who, video games, or superheroes. Commercialism has successfully made these and more national pastimes.

    I think people our age (late 20s through early 40s) who grew up when nerds were the school outcasts and not very cool are conditioned to think of ourselves as ostracized because of the way things were, but I think that’s changed on a dramatic scale and the next generation beneath us won’t even think about it. What about the older generation? Well, again, how would they be able to tell Uematsu from Wintory from Chopin from Strauss, considering again that most don’t even listen to classical anyway?

    I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts in response! Maybe we could have a back and forth. Is this anecdotal in incident or is it still a widespread issue? It’s not really something I think about anymore and I listen to video game music in public all the time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I suppose I’ll concede that it is more or less just a stigma that lives in my mind, because I was conditioned at a young age by my peers at that time. But I will disagree that people are too self-centered to care. Because the most toxic and hostile people are often dissatisfied with themselves enough to project whatever inadequacies they have onto other people, and demonize the simple joys in life that others enjoy–such as taking pleasure in listening to a piano arrangement of One-Winged Angel–it’s partly because people are so self-centered that kind of thing happens. If you’re miserable, you want others to be miserable as well. Maybe they don’t really care, but by projecting their own hidden inadequacies or frail self-esteem onto other people, the person who is on the receiving end experiences it as a personal offense. Rather than being able to rationalize it, in the moment, as a projection of the other person’s discontent.

      Most people probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference from Uematsu or Wintory to Chopin… I happen to really like Haydn and Handel myself, but even that is super nerdy, and it’s not the same brand of nerdy as what has gone mainstream.

      In a way, I’m glad that I can have comics pinned up in my cubicle at work, and have plastic Star Trek ship models on top of my workstation, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures by my keyboard, and I have coworkers that think it’s cool. By the same token, because Disney has come in and swooped up Marvel and Lucas, it cheapens the passion to a certain extent. I don’t want to go so far as to say it’s like a nerd competition, but there are definitely those people who are into those things now, only because they’re mainstream, and not because it was something they had to hide and share in secret with their closest friends.

      Speaking of which, I’m definitely going to have to re-visit Xenogears and Brave Fencer Musashi in one of my articles, just haven’t found the narrative I want to frame them in yet… Those might even get wrapped up with Shining Force and Hero Quest. A Reflection on the Forgotten, why certain properties haven’t reached mainstream appeal, and what makes them important today for those that truly want to invest in the passion that has caused the most popular franchises and IPs to hit critical popular culture.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think that’s a good compromise! There’s no arguing that people are selfish enough to attack, judge, or tear down others around them. Heck, I wish I knew how to rationalize that as stemming from someone else’s selfishness, or that I could remember to let people enjoy things even when I don’t enjoy those same things myself. Maybe one of the most important lessons in life (and the most horrible to Self) is learning that everything doesn’t revolve around me.

        I freaking LOVE Brave Fencer Musashi!

        Liked by 1 person

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