Playlist: Games As A Gateway

If you’ve spent any amount of time online the past couple weeks, you are no doubt aware that the final four episodes of Stranger Things’ fourth season were released only two weeks ago. The show has been Netflix’s biggest property for a few years now, so it’s not surprising to hear about the massive viewer numbers while scrolling social media. Among all the Stranger Things conversation was the use of the Metallica song “Master of Puppets” during the final episodes, which has led to a resurgence of popularity for the band’s thrash metal epic from 1986. In the earlier episodes of season 4, the Kate Bush song “Running Up That Hill” was used in a few different key moments, which also resulted in a massive popularity surge for the song, it even found its way back on the Billboard Top 100 charts.

The inspiration for today’s post comes from the fact I’ve noticed a bit of gatekeeping on social media in regards to the popularity of songs released well over 30 years ago. I find it utterly fucking stupid to think that someone can never be considered a “true” fan of an artist/band if their first exposure came from something within the cultural zeitgeist, like a Netflix series. Let’s not pretend there isn’t an entire generation of Queen fans whose first time hearing “Bohemian Rhapsody” wasn’t while watching Wayne’s World in the early 90’s. Another recent example would be those discovering Nirvana after seeing The Batman, which uses “Something In The Way” several times throughout the movie. There’s absolutely nothing new about a movie or tv show (re)popularizing an already decades-old song. In the very same way, there’s no shortage of games that have introduced many people to countless bands and artists. I can immediately think of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games serving as musical gateways, but also series’ like Grand Theft Auto or Fallout that feature a soundtracks of licensed music.

For today’s post, I’ve come up with a short list of bands I love(a few of which I’ve even seen live), whose music I was first introduced to by having one of their songs used in a video game. Not surprisingly, the game I’m obligated to begin with is…

Primus – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

Before South Park and Robot Chicken, I knew Primus from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, a series responsible for introducing millions of gamers to a range of different bands. “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver” may be the most memorable song from the original game for me, alongside “Superman” and “Police Truck”, and was my gateway to becoming a Primus fan. One of the most memorable concerts I’ve been to…

Favorite tracks: “Jerry was a Race Car Driver”, “Tommy the Cat”, “Southbound Pachyderm”

Deftones – True Crime: Streets of LA

During the onslaught of open-world games released after the success of Grand Theft Auto III, I remember True Crime: Streets of LA and the hours spent playing it on our PS2. Very much like GTA, the game had a soundtrack of licensed music, ranging primarily between west coast hip hop and hard rock/metal. The game itself was pretty cool, though understandably never reaching the same status as open-world games like GTA: Vice City or San Andreas. I do remember diving through warehouses Max Payne-style with Megadeth playing as well as driving the…streets of LA with a few old Parliament songs playing on the in-game radio. One of my favorite songs from the game was the Deftones song “Minerva”. I only had a vague knowledge of the band at that time, despite seeing an MTV2 promo for the premier of the video a couple months before True Crime: Streets of LA was released. They’ve since become one of my favorite bands to emerge from the late 90’s/early 2000’s nu-metal era and have only gotten better over time.

Favorite tracks: “My Own Summer(Shove It)”, “Cherry Waves”, “Minerva”

Motörhead – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3

Returning to another Tony Hawk game, this time it’s Pro Skater 3. THPS3 is still my favorite of the series and was one of the first two GameCube games I got for Christmas back in 2001. The Motörhead song “Ace of Spades” is used during the game intro and was my introduction to the band’s classic lineup of Lemmy, “Fast” Eddie Clarke and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor. Motörhead was always a band that both punks and metalheads could agree on, so it makes sense that it found its way on a THPS game…little other introduction is needed for the band or the song. I’m fortunate enough to say I saw Motörhead in concert years ago and it’s still one of the loudest things I’ve ever heard…

Favorite tracks: “Overkill”, “Ace of Spades”, “Dead Men Tell No Tales”

Wolf Alice – MLB: The Show 16

I was introduced to Wolf Alice’s music by my wife as well as hearing the song “Moaning Lisa Smile” as a track featured in MLB: The Show 16, which I had been obsessively playing around the same time. It pretty quickly became my favorite song used in the game, which is pretty impressive considering other songs that often begin to irritate me having heard them dozens and dozens of times while playing. The song title being a reference to the episode “Moaning Lisa” from season 2 of the Simpsons makes it even more awesome! The song “Smile” from the band’s most recent album can also be heard in Forza Horizon 5.

Favorite tracks: “Bros”, “Lipstick on the Glass”, “How Can I Make It Ok?”

Low Roar – Death Stranding

Yes, I’m once again talking about Death Stranding. As I’ve mentioned (several times)before, it’s one of my favorite games of the past few years and I loved the way it used music, original score as well as licensed tracks, to convey the range of emotions – isolation, loneliness, love and hope, conveyed throughout the game. There’s 22 licensed tracks used in the game and another dozen or so that can be played in safe rooms across Hideo Kojima’s apocalyptic America. I love them all, but everything begins(quite literally) with Icelandic indie band Low Roar; there’s roughly two albums worth of the band’s music used in the game. The songs have such a melancholic, almost haunting presence to them that I can’t really imagine the game being the same without it.

Favorite tracks: “Give Up”, “Bones”, “Don’t Be So Serious”

There’s assuredly more games out there that served as a gateway to different bands, but these were just some of my favorites. What are some songs/bands that you were introduced to from a game?

Thanks for reading!

Game & Whiskey Pairings

As the ‘Omnivore’ in the name should suggest, I tend to have pretty varied interests. Of course, video games are the primary subject of this blog, I do occasionally talk about things like music, movies or coffee as well. Today, I’m trying something a little different…

In the last 5-7 years, I’ve gotten into different kinds of whiskies – scotch, bourbon, ryes, Irish whiskey, single malt, mixed, etc. There’s an incredible range when it comes to tasting notes, aging/distillation process, country of origin, and of course…price. One of my favorite ways to unwind after work or on the weekends is to pour up a glass of whiskey and then, kick back and savor while playing some games. You’ve probably come across different articles that recommend a specific wine to go along with a particular meal? Well, some time ago, for whatever reason, I started to match up specific games to a particular whiskey. I’ve selected five of my favorite games of the past few years and five of my favorite whiskies that I like to have in my regular rotation, to go with it.

…and with that, here’s the first batch of game & whiskey pairings that have been aged to imperfection in my drafts folder.

Red Dead Redemption 2/George Dickel No. 8

Genre: Open-world/sandbox, adventure

Tasting notes: “A mellow, approachable Tennessee whisky, selected for it’s smooth-sipping character. A balanced whisky with aromas of light caramel and wood. A warm vanilla finish with hints of maple and buttered corn.”

Let’s start with Red Dead Redemption 2. A rugged, Old West game like this lends itself to being matched up with a good whiskey and is the easiest to start with. George Dickel No. 8 felt like a natural pairing with RDR2 – a Tennessee whiskey that’s maybe a little rougher around the edges than some other straight bourbons, but it possesses plenty of character. The charcoal-filtering process(what defines a Tennessee whiskey) gives it an ever-so-slight “campfire” taste that, when combined with the buttery notes from the corn used in making bourbon, gives the taste of grilled corn on the cob. A nice whiskey to have next to you at the campfire or the saloon table.


God of War/Buffalo Trace

Genre: Third-person action-adventure, Hack ‘n slash

Tasting notes: “This deep amber whiskey has a complex aroma of vanilla, mint and molasses. Pleasantly sweet to the taste with notes of brown sugar and spice that give way to oak, toffee, dark fruit and anise. This whiskey finishes long and smooth with serious depth.”

God of War has been one of my favorite game series’ going all the way back to 2005. Any hesitation I had about the 2018 sequel/soft-reboot quickly subsided once I finally played the game. The story and worlds are larger-than-life,yet, nuanced with characteristically silky-smooth gameplay. Buffalo Trace straight bourbon is my pick for God of War – it’s buttery sweetness is the foundation to the subtle layers of oak and spice underneath. It’s my favorite all-around bourbon to accompany my pick for best all-around game of 2018.

Super Mario Odyssey/Jameson

Genre: Adventure/platformer , Golf, Kart Racing, RPG, Tennis, Puzzle, Fighting, Baseball, Party/mini-game(s)…

Tasting notes: “The perfect balance of spicy, nutty and vanilla notes with hints of sweet sherry and exceptional smoothness.”

Mario is as iconic of a video game character as you’ll find, so it made sense(to me, at least) that I’d pair it with a whiskey like Jameson. Over the years, we’ve seen Mario cross over into a variety of different genres – sports, kart racing, fighting, all while retaining the essence of what made Mario games so universally enjoyable . Similarly, Jameson has a level of versatility as it can be served neat, on the rocks, or in a number of cocktails(Irish Mules being a personal favorite). A classic for a classic.

Elden Ring/Ardbeg 10

Genre: Open-world RPG, Souls-like

Tasting notes:An explosion of crackling peat sets off millions of flavour explosions: peat effervesces with tangy lemon and lime juice, black pepper pops with sizzling cinnamon-spiced toffee. Then comes a wave of brine infused with smooth buttermilk, ripe bananas and currants. Smoke gradually wells up on the palate bringing a mouthful of warm creamy cappuccino and toasted marshmallows. As the taste lengthens and deepens, dry espresso, liquorice root and tarry smoke develop coating the palate with chewy peat oils.”

Elden Ring, or really any From Software game is not for everyone. Some may be put off by the punishing gameplay, the cryptic obscurity in which the worlds and story unfold, or the developer’s, uh…passionate fanbase. In a similar vein, Ardbeg 10 likely isn’t to everyone’s taste, but those that can get past it’s seemingly impenetrable wall(mist veil?) of smoke are treated to a satisfyingly complex array of tastes and aromas that linger with you afterwards. It’s about the only substance on Earth I know of that can use “tarry rope” as a positive description…and I love it.

Death Stranding/Laphroaig 10

Genre: Action-adventure, Open-world, Stranding

Tasting notes: “Huge smoke, seaweedy, ‘medicinal’. Surprising sweetness with hints of salt and layers of peatiness.”

Death Stranding is a polarizing game. It can be an emotional masterpiece to one person, but a boring, pretentious AAA title to another. While I completely understand where those in the latter category are coming from, I absolutely loved Death Stranding and Hideo Kojima’s idiosyncratic blend of over-the-top cinematic style AND utter weirdness. Enter Laphroaig, another Islay scotch that is famous(infamous?) for it’s distinctive taste and aroma. As with Death Stranding, I understand why it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but personally love the way all the different notes and flavors are intertwined, making something so almost-indescribably weird. “Like drinking a glass of sea water while next to a campfire on the beach” may be my favorite description of my favorite whisk(e)y…weirdly enough. Both Laphroaig and Death Stranding are a perfect pairing…as well as prime examples of taste being completely subjective.

If you enjoyed this, I also recommend checking out McKenna Talks About Games’ series of blog posts pairing a different wine with each Zelda game. Do you have any particular beverages, distilled or not, that you like to have on hand while gaming? Cheers! and thanks for reading!