Patrick Dell spent his summer playing video games and analyzing their soundtracks.
With a $3,000 grant from MU, Dell dove into the video game world and explored the wide variety of musical genres the games have to offer.
“I got paid to play ‘The Legend of Zelda,’” Dell said. “You can’t beat that.”
From “Super Mario Brothers” to “Katamari Damacy,” Dell observed how the video game soundtracks have evolved over time from “little beeps” — which was the most sophisticated music technology allowed originally — to complex scores in all genres.
Although little research has been done on video game music, the effects it has on the audience are immense. Dell said that on collegehumor.com, a Web site featuring humorous pictures and videos, he found that the theme from “Super Mario Brothers” was especially popular. He found the song performed in several versions: on a guitar, a piano and even by hand on a bare stomach.
“For some reason, it speaks to this generation,” Dell said.
Nick Lambeth, a well-practiced video gamer and MU student, said it is easy for players to hear a song and remember which game and even which part of the game it goes with.
“For people who have always been playing too many video games, like myself, the memory of a certain game can be strongly tied with the part of your life when you played it, so the songs can also take your mind right to a certain time of your life,” Lambeth said.
Dell says he sees his research as beneficial to his major in music education. He teaches piano lessons and said that when talking with one of his young, male students, “Final Fantasy” video games came up. Using some of his research project materials, Dell gave the student the score from the game to work on. Despite its difficulty for the new student’s skill level, he was excited to play something he recognized and learned the piece quickly.
“It blows my mind that he could play it in the first place,” Dell said.
Dell said he thinks that using video game music is a good way to connect with kids.
“It kind of gives you a pathway into their brains, as well,” he said.
It’s clear that Dell’s love for the research stems from his passion for music. His eyes brightened when he talked about how the video game music industry has evolved and carved a home in the larger market.
“There are orchestras that are dedicated to video game music,” he said. “That is their sole purpose.”
Dell said the game industry seems like it’s trying to reach out to a larger audience through music. In the United States, the music industry is jumping on the video game bandwagon, releasing albums and hosting concerts of video game music. The trend is fairly new in the United States but has been vital for years in Japan and other countries. The “Final Fantasy” series releases albums with music ranging from opera to heavy metal.
Dell’s project will soon broaden its audience. He will host a performance March 10 in the MU Fine Arts Building. Musicians will perform music from video games, and he will discuss each piece between performances. Leo Saguiguit, MU’s saxophone professor, will perform music from “Super Mario Brothers,” and Add 9, MU’s men’s a cappella group, will perform the “Halo” theme.
Dell has found that researching video game music is a natural extension of his music-centered life.
“It’s pretty cool in a nerdy sort of way,” he said, “which is why it’s perfect for me.”