Be it background scores or special effects (read Roblox’s iconic ‘oof’), video games have evolved into an integral part of media music and internet culture over the past two decades. Despite being eligible for music’s highest honour since 1999 in its film and TV music category, only one game has garnered a Grammy nomination in the past—namely Austin Wintory’s Journey soundtrack in 2012.
While ‘Baba Yetu’, the theme song for the 2005 game Civilization IV, won the Grammy for ‘Best Instrumental Arrangement’ in 2011, a whopping 11 years passed before Kirby Superstar took home the award for ‘Best Arrangement, Instrumental, or A Cappella’.
Now, February 2023 is set to be the first time a composer will officially walk away with a Grammy for scoring a video game. Many believe it’s been a long time coming.
As tongue-twisting as the award title sounds, in June 2022, the Recording Academy announced a new category to acknowledge video game tracks—following years of lobbying by game executives and composers alike.
Dubbed ‘Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media’, the award seeks to “recognise excellence in score soundtrack albums comprised predominantly of original scores and created specifically for, or as a companion to, a current video game or other interactive media.”
“Overlooked and underappreciated,” explained Electronic Arts’ president of music Steve Schnur in an interview with Variety, when asked about the contribution of gaming tracks to modern culture. “Not just for the level of quality, but also the magnitude of success, how relevant it is to the next generation of music lovers. We needed to convince the powers-that-be that this music stands on its own and deserves to be judged against each other.”
Gordy Haab, an artist renowned for his contributions to several Star Wars games, also welcomed the new category and pointed out that composing for games “carries its own set of unique creative requirements.”
“The most obvious challenge is interactivity: music that can adapt and change in real time based on the consumer’s input, while continually maintaining musicality and interest,” he told Variety. “There’s really no other form of music-making quite like it.”
Meanwhile, Journey’s Wintory agreed that “game scoring is not just about writing music for games, it’s about writing music that the player is going to dance with in real time. That’s an art, one entirely unique to games.” Before the introduction of a separate category, Wintory had spent years trying to persuade his colleagues to join the Academy and enter their work for consideration.
Set to air on Sunday 5 February 2023, the Grammys recently revealed its complete list of nominations for the ‘Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media’. Now, it should be noted that many of these titles were released in 2021. This is because the Grammy Awards only considers original sound tracks (OSTs) dropped between 1 October 2021 and 30 September 2022—unlike Game Awards, which has an eligibility cut-off in November 2022.
On these terms, Game Rant also mentioned that the music heard in-game and the OST are two separate entities, typically requiring individual contracts—“meaning that although titles may have been released earlier, their final soundtracks were not finished until after release.”
With this in mind, here are the contenders for the first-ever Grammy in the video game music industry. Which one of these do you think will head home with the historic award?
Marking Wintory’s second Grammy nomination, in Aliens: Fireteam Elite, the artist experimented with the traditional instruments and motifs present throughout the classic horror franchise.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn Of Ragnarok earned a Grammy nod for composer Stephanie Economou.
Although God of War Ragnarok was released too late into 2022 to be considered for the award, composer Bear McCreary still picked up a nomination for Call of Duty: Vanguard. As noted by Game Rant, the video game was “an entry to the first-person franchise which failed to garner the adoration of fans but continued an impressive legacy of OSTs.”
Sporting a narrative that won a Game of the Year award, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy’s thrilling OST by Richard Jacques has also been nominated for the Grammys.
Old World is a historical turn-based 4X strategy game that boasts a beautiful soundtrack, composed by Christopher Tin and inspired by cultures worldwide.