Posted by: markfender | November 4, 2014

Music in Games

As previously mentioned, I’m running Changeling: the Lost with music informing each adventure. Because I’m arty like that.

gamemusicWhich gets into a whole thing – picking appropriate music for games. I’ve seen a lot of threads on roleplaying forums where people discuss this topic and I always find the choices really bizarre. Now, partially that’s musical taste and there’s really nothing to be done about that. But I see a lot of people post music that they think has appropriate lyrics, with no discussion of tone.

Call me weird, but I listen to music for the sound. Don’t get me wrong: I listen to the lyrics. And there are certainly songs that have been ruined by exceptionally dumb lyrics, as well as songs that I probably think are better than they actually are because the lyrics struck a particular chord with me. But sound has a big impact on the mood of a game. Yes, the lyrics for Katy Perry’s Fireworks totally match the outlook of one of your NPCs, but isn’t it going to sort of be distracting when Katy Perry starts singing? Is candy-coated pop really the tone your game is going for? And how is it going to work when it’s right next to Led Zeppelin? Why are lyrics always the first thing people go to when designing a soundtrack for a game?

White Wolf/Onyx Path, for instance, put up playlists for each of their games on Youtube. I clicked on the Vampire: the Masquerade one, fully expecting to have my eyes roll out of my head due to all the mid-90s goth music (you know, like they quoted in their books). But, it’s actually not that. It’s pretty much every song that even casually mentions vampires, regardless of tone. And so, these playlists completely fail for me. These aren’t playlists that I would actually listen to for inspiration. And really, I can do a word search on a lyric site to find all mentions of the word “vampire” myself, if that’s all that’s necessary to have a good Vampire playlist.

So, when picking music for this musically-based Changeling game, I’ve been trying to match lyrics as well as musical style. Which is harder than it sounds. Especially since I pigeonholed myself immediately by picking “Eyes on Fire” as the campaign song (But, since it was what originally gave me the idea, it sort of had to be used). That automatically means a large gamut of my iPod is out based solely on the sound. Sometimes it’s fairly easy. For instance, I pretty early on decided that Fever Ray had the right sound. But it was a lot trickier finding lyrics on one of her songs that suggested an adventure. Likewise, as much as I think there are appropriate Curve songs (for mood), the lyrics on those tracks inevitably disappoint me.

One odd consequence of trying to match these two things is that there are songs on my Changeling playlist that I don’t actually like. In fact, I’d say a good half of the songs I’ve picked so far aren’t even in my collection. Another interesting thing that’s happened is that the best laid plans don’t always work out. I mean, that’s pretty typical for gaming – something your PCs do inspires your next adventure. That’s cool, and even desired. But it presents an extra wrinkle when I now have to find a song that “speaks” to that new direction. I have a giant list of songs that felt pretty appropriate before I ever began running the game, so it’s usually a matter of finding something appropriate in there. But that doesn’t always work out.

Partially this is all due to me being more arty than is strictly necessary. Ideally, I’d like the playlist for the game to be an “artifact” of the game itself. We’ve all found old character sheets for characters we once played that inspire fond recollections of the campaign. I’d ultimately like the playlist to do that same thing. If I can link a song to a particular gaming moment, then I think I’ll have succeeded. But that won’t really be decided until a player or myself hear one of the songs a few years from now and connect it to that one campaign we played in.

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