Tonight is the night. Music industry producers and composers will walk the red carpet with some of the greatest singers and instrumentalists of our generation. The world will be watching to see whether Frank Ocean will win Record of the Year, or be upset by the pop-country Grammy powerhouse known as Taylor Swift. The world will be watching to see whether Ed Sheeran’s heartbreakingly-beautiful hit “The A-Team” will win Song of the Year, or be overshadowed by Carly Rae Jepsen’s catchy pop tune “Call Me Maybe“. While the world is watching to see who wins tonight, a number of video game fans are toasting composer Austin Wintory, who is already a winner in his own right. Whether or not the composer takes home the award tonight, his work in the PS3 indie video game, Journey, has broken the barrier between the Grammy’s and the video game universe forever.
I have been a video game fan since the late 80’s. I have battled my way to save Princess Peach (numerous times), performed an exorbitant amount of fatalities in Mortal Kombat, and saved the Earth with Master Chief. Throughout all of my digital battles, music has been a welcomed consistency. Music can make a great video game moment epic, and a surprise twist even more devastating. In some cases, it can even add a silver lining to a horrible game (though nothing could salvage Superman 64). Since the Grammy’s celebrate the world’s best music, it is about time they acknowledge that, yes, video games do indeed have spectacular music.
So why is it that the Grammy’s have taken so long to recognize video game music? That is a question with a rather complicated answer. In 2011, three categories were reworded to include TV, movies, and video games as “visual media”. These categories are, “Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media”, “Best Score Sountrack for Visual Media” (what Wintory is up for), and “Best Song Written for Visual Media”. With this rewording, video game music is finally on the same platform as its more popular competitors, TV and movies.
I write, “finally on the same platform” because technically video game music has been eligible to receive an award since 2000. However, this is a little known fact because up until 2011 the categories that video game music was eligible for were titled “for Film/TV and other Visual Media”. The power of this word change is bigger than most think. In fact, Wintory himself stated for the LA Times, “I thought that 2011 was the first year games were eligible…I had my history wrong.”
Wintory’s composition for Journey is breathtaking. He takes a rather simplistic game and gives it a depth that only music can, turning it from just a video game into a full on media experience. Journey was released in early 2012 via the Playstation network. In Journey , you play a robed character traversing the desert toward a mountain range. You can discover other players on your journey and choose to play with or without them, though there is no communication or names, just companionship. The artistry behind Journey is both complex and simplistic at the same time, and Wintory’s composition is the final piece of the puzzle that pulls everything together.
I have my fingers crossed for Wintory tonight. While I know it is a long shot (Hans Zimmer for The Dark Knight Rises and John Williams for The Adventures of Tin Tin are favorites to win) it would be nice to see Wintory get acclaim for his incredible score, and in turn see video game music get some kudos. So many great video game soundtracks and songs in the past, such as any of the Halo soundtracks and “Zia’s Theme” from Bastion, could and should have been up for a Grammy.
Either way, I am excited to see how this new relationship between the Grammy’s and video games grows. Wintory has taken the first step, but the path definitely won’t stop here. Eventually, it would be great to see a category specifically for video game music, as there are so many great examples released every year. For now though, I tip my hat to Wintory and the creative team behind Journey for helping the video game universe grow yet again.