Games I Associate With Music

This past Friday, I listened to an episode of IGN’s Game Scoop and a question was posed about music and games: Were there any songs that immediately make you think about a game or a gaming related moment in your life? Specifically, I loved the fact that this question was asked and answered from the angle of what songs or albums remind you of games that you were playing at that time, as opposed to addressing specific songs from specific game soundtracks. As someone who almost exclusively played sports games growing up, listening to songs on soundtracks was a huge element of that growing up. And as I was walking the dog and listening to the podcaster’s answers, I started really letting my mind run away and came up with ten specific records that I associate with games and the moments surrounding them.

Pearl Jam’s Ten: NHLPA Hockey (SNES)

To be honest, Pearl Jam’s Ten might be the first full-length record that I even KNEW about. This was the year that I started seriously hanging out with a specific group of friends (it was honestly called The Friday Club) and we would head down to our elementary school park and play a sport out at the soccer field behind the school beside the playground. We were in 5th grade and in my town there were two middle schools that branched off. One of my best friends was going to be heading over to a different middle school than I was going to and I remember really making the most of that summer to spend a ton of time with him. I remember him breaking out the cassette of this album and we would listen to Side A over and over and over. We would play those first six songs forever. I never knew what the song after Jeremy sounded like until way after we stopped actually hanging out. This was a summer that I finally was allowed to bring the Super Nintendo into my room because I’d gotten a small TV for Christmas that year. We used to play Super Mario Kart a lot but the one that I remember getting really hooked on was NHLPA Hockey. I was obsessed, even then, with keeping notebooks that I would love to write deeply into. I had one dedicated to stats that I would tally up with my teams while making the run to the Stanley Cup Championship. I remember using the Chicago Blackhawks a LOT and while Roenick was unstoppable, Steve Larmer always had a huge amount of goals. That wraparound was total garbage, but it got the job done in a pinch. I remember listening to that tape and trying to understand the words that Eddie Vedder was saying. I wrote phonetic lyrics in the back of that same NHL notebook, trying to use that to help me be able to sing along with those songs.
Favorite Song At the Time: Why Go

Deftones’ Adrenaline: Super Bomberman (SNES)

In ninth grade, Saturdays used to be when my friends would come over and we would do all-nighters playing Werewolf: the Apocalypse tabletop RPG into Sunday morning. Most kids would get dropped off between 11am and 1pm and we would wait for my older cousin who would be the storyteller (DM). So we would play Super Bomberman on my SNES with the multitap. A lot of times, this would go on for HOURS. Around that time, Korn’s second album Life Is Peachy was big for us and I really liked the song Wicked. We went into the liner notes and saw that a guy named Chino Moreno had done the guest vocals. I had NEVER done anything like this before and I wanted to get more of that music. So I ordered Adrenaline, Deftones’ first album, from Columbia House. When it arrived on that Saturday and we saw the cover, it was DEFINITELY not the edge that we 9th and 10th graders had been prepared for. But once we put it on, it became the only record we listened to while playing it. I can still remember thinking there was something cool about how it was kind of produced a little bit more raw than the other stuff that I was listening to at the time and how it felt like this was an “underground” band. Of course, I didn’t have those terms in my lexicon, just feelings. I remember wanting to recreate the same sense of finding new bands, but had no idea how to really do it at such a young age either. And HARDLY an internet to speak of. So I remember going to Coconuts in a local shopping center and asking one of the guys working there for some really good hard, heavy music. He asked, “do you mean, like, heavy metal?” I had no idea what that even meant, so I said yeah. He ended up recommending a record to me from Testament called The Ritual. It definitely was not the direction I wanted to head.
Favorite Song At the Time: Engine №9

Sebadoh’s Harmacy: Virtua Fighter (Sega Saturn)

When Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation were having their little head to head moment, I kind of wasn’t into video games, but had friends who were. I absolutely LOVED my SNES and the RPGs on there, but when it was time to jump to the next consoles, I wasn’t ready to do so. I got sucked up in the hype that was created by friends and somehow was sold on getting a Saturn. I think the marketing got me. I also have a feeling that since one kid wanted to get a Playstation, but didn’t want to spend the money on a Saturn, he coerced me into getting it so he would also be able to play it. I don’t really know the full story behind it, but the Saturn offered a CD sampler of songs called That Virtua Feeling. One song I ended up falling in love with on there was Sebadoh’s “Rebound”. I would listen to that song on repeat a LOT. That year, I asked for a Sebadoh record for Christmas, but again, had no idea what the structure of “new releases” was like at the time. I ended up getting Harmacy, and it was really something special. It was a new sound that I wasn’t really primed for yet. It was far more complex and emotional than the stuff I had been into prior. It had a lot of that unpolished production, a lot of that crusty sounding snare. I would play those songs while playing some of my favorite Saturn games, Virtua Fighter being a major one, but also Daytona USA, NHL All-Star Hockey and probably an all time favorite that I will likely never get a chance to play again, Dragon Force. I never quite properly got into “punk”, but this had that same kind of ‘no rules’ feeling for me, something where it felt like these were just guys making music for themselves and a few friends as opposed to bands like Pearl Jam and Korn and The Offspring who sounded so much more polished.
Favorite Song At the Time: I Smell a Rat

Tool’s Aenima: Twisted Metal 2 (PS1)

I remember playing the first Twisted Metal a great deal. I don’t remember the transition from the first one to the second one, but I know that the jump was remarkable. Learning the new cars and new maps was incredible. I found a new favorite (Axel). This game, for me, was the height of multiplayer gaming. My friend and I could play the exact same game at the exact same time in our own separate mind bubble and it would not only alter our progress together, but would also sometimes let us tag team against an opponent. Our experiences were simultaneously singular and tied together without forcing us to stay within the same screen or locale. I particularly ‘blame’ (and thank) this game for making me fall in love with objective-based cooperative games and to heavily dislike split-screen games where we have to compete against each other. Around this time as well, the same friend who had the PS1 whose house I would go to to play Twisted Metal 2 (and the first TM, along with Destruction Derby 1 and 2, more of our favorites) introduced me to a new band which would ultimately open up a whole new way to think about music and bands (and the lore around them). This is also the same friend who introduced me to Pearl Jam several years earlier. From the opening notes of that record, the strange, bell shaped, almost underwater sound, all the way through the Bill Hicks spoken word parts, the intermission, the gigantically long songs, there was something new for me to take in. There was an anger there that I didn’t perceive as anger, but instead as a sense of a political gospel. At an early high school age, this felt correct. It wasn’t some reactionary fuming man trying to lash out at his mental captors (LOL), instead it was someone calmly and intensely demonstrating how wrong and false the “real world” was. How California and all of its yuppies, all of its celebrities were about to fall into the ocean when the grand earthquake finally came and their zombified minds, all too obsessed with pop culture and false happiness would be too captivated with themselves to ‘learn to swim’. For someone with no sense of the real world and the naivety of someone “pushed to the edge of society”, this was unreal. We listened to that album a lot. This was one of the first records that he “bootlegged” for me, taping the CD onto a cassette. This was before the age of letting someone send an mp3 over, before it was accessible to truly burn a CD for him to pass to me. This period of time is one of the last times that I was sort of “not into music” but knew what bands I liked and what I wanted to listen to. I had several that I liked, and I played them to death. A couple of years later, I started to hang out with a local band and learned the avenues of how to find new music, how to follow record labels, how to follow when one guy would leave a band and to check out his new one. So this record has a special place to me, one of the final records of the era where things felt like the OLD WWF to me, when bands’ personalities felt like they were larger than life and they were from Parts Unknown. The last of that era officially was Slipknot. Just when they were breaking out, when that Numbers record released, and they were in masks and they had insane live shows, when the copy of my album of theirs STILL had that track that allegedly was that of a little girl trapped in a well. That was the last frontier of “these guys are not what they seem.” Tool’s Aenima started that for me. And sitting in my friend’s bedroom for many many all-nighters, for all of the time we walked home from school talking about how we had discovered parts of the record we hadn’t heard before, and for all of the times we combined forces and took out Dark Tooth, these memories are forever gilded in my mind.
Favorite Song At the Time: Forty Six & 2

Fenix TX’s Self Titled: Gran Turismo 2 (PS1)

At this phase of my gaming life, I don’t think I even owned a console. If I did it was wrapped up and tucked away somewhere. My sister had an N64 and I had tried Madden on that console and it was a nightmare. The fondest memories I have of that game was spending a good amount of time on a huge fantasy draft and instantly getting torn apart once I took my team to the field. Gran Turismo 2 is a game that a couple of friends would play. I found a little pocket neighborhood directly across the street from my house and made fast friends with all of the people that would hang out over there. Most of them were into the import car scene and therefore were obsessed with Gran Turismo and its sequel. Watching them play races and earn driver’s licenses and unlock new cars was completely lost on me. But I do remember sitting in that house on that leather couch and watching them play that game for HOURS. During this time they talked about a ton of shit I knew nothing about, like Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Dragonball Z. And anime. At this point in my life, I wasn’t exposed to any of this, so all were alien concepts to me. The same can be said for Blink-182 and The Suicide Machines. But at that time, we were coming into an age where some of us could drive. And one of the girls who was the first to start picking us up and driving us around town aimlessly (in true adolescent tradition) was crushing heavily on a guy who was really into Ten Foot Pole. He had told her that during the Blink-182 show that was coming to the amphitheater was great news and all, but the real draw was going to be the opener Fenix Tx. So this ended up stemming the focus into that band, and into that record. This was a time where trying to morph yourself into the version of yourself that you thought the person you [faux-]loved was of paramount importance. So while some of the crew stayed home and Gran Turismo’d, others would jump in the Volvo and go get a Wendy’s frosty or Taco Bell’s cheapest menu item and we’d play this record on repeat on and on and on. I’ll always remember the times spent at that house with those kids, even though I believe all of them have since moved on to other phases of their lives. There was a special unity that rose between all of us during those last few years of high school, and it ended up being even more important for me, although I don’t believe I told them, because they gave me an outlet away from a group of friends that had either grown tired of me or one that I had pushed to the limit of my utility. Either way. The Gran Turismo Kids and Fenix Tx was a pathway to bigger things.
Favorite Song At the Time: Minimum Wage

Daler Mehndi’s Ek Dana: NCAA Football 2004 (Gamecube)

This is a weird one, because neither myself nor my friend can remember which iteration of NCAA Football it was, but we’re both fairly certain it was 2004. And also, it isn’t particularly this album, but this one DID in fact have a ton of the hits that we had been playing over and over (and over and over). Being a sports gamer was a big part of my life up until I started working with friends who were regularly keeping up with games, going to Gamestop to preorder games, and who read Game Informer, EGM and the like all the time. They knew stuff I did not. But prior to this, I loved having a gaming console so that I could play a franchise with a team and keep up with all of the stats and especially with NCAA Football, the graduates and the freshman coming in. Yet again, this was a game that my friend and I (Pearl Jam and Tool friend) kept notebooks with. Wrote down names we had used, people who had graduated, award winners, school records, etc. And since they gave us the option, we went all the way in, creating our own school and constantly creating new student athletes to come in and play for us. Whatever the max number of seasons in this game was, we did them all. Played every game, switching half to half. Played the playoffs. Won national championships. Won the Heisman several times. We would be up incredibly late playing this one. There was a later phase as well that saw us playing NHL games deep into the night, until 2 or 3am when he would have to go home. I would have to get up merely hours later to head into class and showed up late more than a half dozen times. Throughout these long seasons fraught with injury, victory and drama, we would listen to every song that we could feasibly download off of Audiogalaxy by Daler Mehndi. Bhangra hit us hard. In true Innocent, Young, White Ignorance, we would make up lyrics that sounded like what Daler was saying. I don’t remember if it was the height of it, or if it was just starting to bubble up, but I remember this all stemmed from the Tunak Tunak Tun video that was blazing wild tracks through the internet. While that may have been what sparked the keg, we quickly got over the “funny internet video” aspect and went to digging up all the tracks that were out there to offer. There was a different enjoyment here. This didn’t simply feel like epic tracks that showed up in many of the other music from Hindi films that we had also downloaded. Daler’s stuff had a bit more of an edge to it. It was more danceable in ways, more of a pop-infused, pop-influenced artist. If there were dudes moshing in their rooms to Hatebreed and Shai Hulud and The Hope Conspiracy, I bet they had nothing on the level of sheer hype we had when a song like Medly or Tu Kudi Punjabi would come on. We had dozens of music video treatments written up. We had scripted elements of every track. There are parts that we still quote, songs we’ll still send to each other to reference small, obscure sounds within the background. We would be playing any one of any number of pivotal, season changing plays and have to pause the game because one of the songs would come on and set us into an inane frenzy. I kid you not: office chairs were thrown down sets of stairs. PCP and flakka had nothing to do with any of it; it was only Daler Mehndi.
Favorite Song At the Time: Medly

Fieldy’s Dreams’ Rock N Roll Gangster: Mario Party 4

Whenever anyone else came to hang, we would play deep and heavy matches of Mario Party 3 and 4 on the N64, once again keeping notebooks and even a [long since taken down] website with stats and favorite games and quotes and moments. I always selected Luigi, a relic of a life with a younger sister who would fight with me for Front Seat Supremacy when taking drives with our mom. I ended up taking the back seat more often than not, relegating myself to 2P forever, with the green hat. We had deep-seated rivalries with Wario who we would lambast with endless jabs at his weight and snidely mustache. My friend specifically despised Yoshi for his maneuvers with items which would send his blood boiling. But the record that I always think of during this time period is Fieldy’s Dreams Rock N Roll Gangster. If you’ve never given this record a try, you had better buckle up. This is a hip-hop record with Fieldy, the bassist from Korn, at the helm. This record is remarkable in all of the wrong ways. I can’t believe this came out on a major record label (Epic). Listening to everything on this record from the spoken dialog, his bars and the beats each is its own level of trying to watch a terrible horror movie. There’s a song where he apparently is singing in a back-and-forth conversation with MARIJUANA ITSELF. There is a moment late in the record in which he pens an anthem which is meant to be the entrance theme and general soundtrack for the life of Tito Ortiz, MMA fighter. To say that I can recite this entire record from front to back is both a point of bottomed-out shame and overwhelming joy. This record follows a lot of the tropes that Eminem established in his first couple of records with his “rhymes” being the main focus, but lots of little foley elements and background talking. There are so many little details on this record that are simply embarrassing. But in that sense, it was something that we continued to come back to, to study and to comb over like the CIA analyzing russian tapes. The beginning of Child Vigilante (a song about the pranks he pulls on his neighbors? I guess?) sounds like we’re entering a haunted mansion in a well-lit and extremely friendly suburban neighborhood. Listening to this record to prep for this blurb, I simply wanted to put all of the lyrics out there with A Beautiful Mind level over-analyzation of how exactly we discussed each and every nook and cranny on this record. We could do a 12 week, one hour long each podcast series based SOLELY on this record. Believe that these songs also had treatments for music videos, front to back.
“Favorite” Song At the Time: Sugar-Coated

Crystal Castles’ Self Titled: Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)

These two came from a weird time in my life. I had just gotten out of a pretty lengthy relationship, and went to my first festival (!!!) and moved out to a new place with a friend I hadn’t really spent time with in a long time and a bunch of new and young friends, all of whom worked in a restaurant. Nights were late and frantic. I had a wild amount of freedom and a new sense of joie de vivre that I hadn’t had in my years prior. I was sorting through a distant and lost interaction with a girl all the way across the country. This record really sums up the entry to this phase of my life. It was digitally broken into a million pixels and scattered through the o-zone, reconstructed in red-lining production styles. Voluntary static phased through every eyelid. There were beautiful arrangements and sensations found between the tangled cables and foul inputs. I remember late (very late) nights of leaving YouTube videos of flashing lights and fractals on in my room, this album blasting whether in headphones or from my laptop. There was a sense of freedom then. And Arkham Asylum came out at a very distinct time in this cycle. I remember coming home from the midnight launch of this record and sitting with my back against my bed and deciding that I wanted to start this game. It was a distinct jump or don’t jump moment. If I didn’t play it at that moment, it probably would sit around for months or years. If you notice, there aren’t many games between this one and that one. I played few and far between (aside from Rock Band and Army of Two with some friends. Golden memories but these felt distinctly different than playing through them on my own) and this game was genuinely what shaped my interest in sandbox games. The brawling style was something that can only be heralded by this: so many of your favorite games have straight up stolen what Arkham Asylum invented as its fighting style. That, in and of itself, was addicting. The challenge mode was a frenzy of pummeling foes, using gear, quick-reflexing over the top of hoodlums and landing that slow motion finishing blow. That whole element of the game felt like twitch and rhythm based mini-games to me. I had never cared about the caped crusader before. I had never gotten too deeply into the “lore” of what Batman was about. Even the Nolan movies were “cool” but never invested me in the HERO himself. I wanted to take down bad guys in this game. I wanted Joker to be stopped. But most importantly, I wanted to explore Arkham Asylum without any sense of purpose. Going down corridors I’d been down a hundred times without the promise of climax at the end of it. I wanted to walk and crawl and hide in this building’s shadows. While having this record on prior meant a lot more of a wild series of rapids to heave my senses into, it instead became a background hologram to center my ears within while handing out an ass kicking to hoodlums. This style of experimental and frenzied music became a major influence on my taste, even to this day, as did the gameplay style of these Batman: Arkham games, the first two of which are definitely in the top ten of my favorite games of that console generation.
Favorite Song At the Time: Courtship Dating

Madvillain’s Madvillainy: Rocket League (Xbox One)

I got Rocket League for free on a recommendation from a coworker. He continued to remind me to not miss the free playstation plus download that month (July 2015?) and I started playing it a bit. I liked it. I wasn’t too excited about playing a game online against other players (my worst nightmare when it comes to games), but I did play a bunch of games against varying difficulties of AI. And I sort of let it fall away after that. A year or two down the line, I started jumping into online parties with some friends back in New York and they were playing Halo 5 (more on that in the next paragraph). I found no joy in the electronica/house soundtrack that the game had plugged into it already and also found the empty arena sounds interesting, but somewhat phoned in and canned. So one night I ended up throwing my Spotify on shuffle and the first track that came on was a song from MF Doom that I had saved in my past. I liked the vibe that it added to the game so much that I ended up putting on the radio associated with the track, and finally a song from this record came on and I instantly put on the full album. This was it. Rocket League’s play is so fast and chaotic that I find myself playing catch-up 80% of the time. I love the game, but my skills are puerile trash. Watching some of the things that players can perform in this game are absolutely stunning. As I watch someone shift from defense to offense, jetting into the air and changing direction three or four times, rolling forward and shelving a goal into the top right corner, I’m curious if I’m even playing the same game as some of these guys. But while Madlib and MF Doom lay beats and flow across this record, all of that stress and feeling of incongruence sits in the back of my mind. This game becomes a cool playing field to witness. The rhymes are casual and conversational yet masterful, like sitting on a crusty couch next to a hardened and awakened spiritual sensei. While engaging in this highly competitive and compact game, my joints remain loose my mind remains at play.
Favorite Song At the Time: Curls

Car Bomb’s Meta: Halo 5 (Xbox One)

At the same time, this group of friends was primarily playing Halo 5 on (at least) a weekly basis. While they invited me to get involved in their gameplay as a friendly gesture, it was clear that I could barely hold my own in any firefight. More often than not, I would play for a few rounds and have to bow out and start playing something else. I couldn’t remember what maps were shaped like, I couldn’t remember where items spawned, I couldn’t remember what different guns had different effects or rates of fire. There is one level that looks like a bright red dungeon in a castle with staircases along the outside and a big hammer as a special weapon that made me want to load my xbox into a medieval catapult and launch it into a canyon. To this day, I still don’t understand the appeal of competitive multiplayer gaming. I find that more often than not, I am unable to build the skills necessary to apply to my opponent. So much of the victory/defeat results feel based on “playing the meta” as opposed to steadying yourself in a gunfight. Maybe it’s just the games I’ve tried to play (Halo and COD). And while the same inadequacy laid itself over me like a leaden tarp as it did in Rocket League, this game had a bit more breathing room and despite laser bullets flying past my visor and the possibility of death waiting around every corner I sprinted around, this felt far less chaotic than League. I had discovered Car Bomb’s record while shopping downtown for birthday gifts. I was walking historic downtown with this mathy, devastatingly heavy record in my ears and my mind floated. Some of the heaviest breakdowns in this record are far and away the best I’ve heard within the genre. The transitions between parts happen so quickly, it’s hard to tell one song from the next. Anything can happen at any time. So for a game like this that had my adrenaline operating at such a high level, something like this to pump me up and also keep my brain operating at “NEVER GET COMFORTABLE” speed, this was the perfect arrangement of songs. While my entire fire team was carrying me through victories (and I was dragging my entire fire team through defeats), things remained clear to me. It was clear that I was trash at this game. But I still loved spending time with my friends online and as long as they’d have me and weren’t trying to make a competitive night of it, it was a blast to hang with the dudes I’d been around since my youth.
Favorite Song At the Time: Gratitude

Daughters’ You Won’t Get What You Want: Fallout 3 (Xbox 360)

More recently I was listening to a big playlist of a wrap up of 2018 while writing my Top 50 records of that year and wanted a game that I knew very well and that I could tool around in forever, so I chose Fallout 3. I’ve beaten that game a couple of times, so it was just hand exercise at that point, an eye escape while I wrote about and listened to music as the main focal point. Might have been the area I was in or just the stepped back mindset I had, but something about Daughters’ record from that year, You Won’t Get What You Want was a perfect parallel to it. I always have those two pieces of media braided together. The world of post-apocalyptic Washington DC is wide and sprawling and empty. The pockets of civilization you see are bountiful or terrifying or both. You live in a cyclic risk-return sundial, everything looping in survival triptychs with DISCOVER-SURVIVE-EXPLORE as the bases. And even when you find a pocket of survivors you get on with, even when you find oases of tolerable humanity, it’s all wired like a time bomb until some devastating catalyst will eat into the borders of what kept the locale pure and turn the once fertile and serene place into a flaming rat king. Daughters’ record has this same sense of being a teetering and flickering bridge of light across turgid darkness. The bottom of it will fall out, those captivated and unmarching will be swallowed. This is a record put out by a band, and in the time you’re listening to it, you will start to forget that you’re in the middle of an experience and you will start to hear songs and your defenses will lower. And then, just then, the clamps will grind ever tighter, and you will spiral outward and cower inward and you will become perforated and laid out in scattered panes. In both this game’s environment and this album’s landscape, you can never pull your senses away. Alertness, always. Don’t chase the light without first honoring what it's illuminating.
Favorite Song At the Time: Less Sex

I Consume.