Limitations in Early Video Game Music and Their Aesthetic Impact

View the audio examples given throughout this paper in this accompanying Youtube Playlist:


  • Cole John DiNome Student


Think back to the first time you picked up a video game controller. You may remember the graphics or art style of that game, a favorite character, or that one level that you were stuck on for hours on end. Along with these memories, it’s quite likely that you thought of the infectious melodies that accompanied your virtual adventures. Undoubtedly, video game music is one of the most memorable and essential parts of this medium that we hold so dear. It is important to note, however, that many of these soundtracks which we recall so fondly were made in the presence of technological challenges. The composers of video game music for the home consoles of the late 1980s and 90s overcame the limitations of these early systems by viewing what on the surface appeared to be constraints as challenges that would guide and enhance their creativity rather than control and restrict it. The choices made to combat or circumvent these technological limitations took place primarily in the areas of organization and timbre. It is in these areas that the limitations faced by early video game music composers have had a lasting influence on the aesthetic choices of contemporary video game composers, and as a result — the modern landscape of video game music.