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!

My Summertime Games

As this past week was the 4th of July, I thought it would be fun to write about the games that I associate with summertime. I have made a list of the games that always remind me of those childhood summer days where my brother and I would come back inside, typically from playing baseball in the yard, grab a couple sodas from the fridge and then proceed to play some games during the hottest hours of the afternoon. Beginning with….

All-Star Baseball – “America’s Pastime.” I’ve spent many hours on a variety of baseball games, starting with La Russa Baseball ‘95 on Sega Genesis as a kid and continuing all the way to present day MLB The Show games. It was difficult to name just one baseball game as my favorite, but my most vivid memories are playing the All-Star Baseball games during the summer/fall months on my N64. The games have improved by light years from the simple design of the 16-bit days, and the yearly offering of MLB The Show is still among the games I play most during the summer months. All that time spent playing baseball on N64(and backyard) is nearly inseparable from the idea of summertime.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater – Growing up in the 90’s and into the early 2000’s – before extreme sports games like skateboarding and snowboarding seemingly went extinct, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater helped bring extreme sports into popular culture. I first played THPS the summer of 2000 after a cousin brought a copy of the N64 version over and we spent the day playing. I remember begging persuading my mom to buy my brother and I a copy of the game which spent the rest of the summer obsessively playing. I remember waking up in the morning and my first thought was to try and collect more tapes and unlock more levels. I still have the PS1 version of THPS 1 & 2 that I’ll pop in and play every now and then; the camera and controls by now definitely feel their age, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was a huge game for me during all those summers as a kid and I couldn’t possibly go without mentioning the legendary soundtrack and all of the licensed songs that were used for the games. I dare anyone to listen to ‘Superman’ by Goldfinger and NOT immediately think of THPS…

Mario Golf N64 – I dragged my trusty N64 into my living room a few weeks ago and Mario Golf was one of the first games that I popped in. I spent countless hours with my brother and our neighbor friend trying to unlock all the extra characters by besting them in an 18-hole Match Play, which proved far more challenging as anything else we were playing at the time. The three of us would take turns playing a hole trying to beat Metal Mario and…I don’t think we ever did? The music and sound effects from this game are still as charming as ever and evoke those nostalgic remembrances of summer afternoons(spent in front of the tv). While I’d probably consider the Game Boy Color version of Mario Golf to be the best one, the N64 version is my favorite.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – Man…I can’t even imagine the hours that were spent playing Vice City on Playstation 2. I had never played anything like it before. It was THE REASON my brother and I traded in several stacks of games and scraped all the money we had together so we could buy a PS2. Vice City took everything that made GTA III an instant classic and improved it. My friends and I used to take turns playing the game for hours on end, usually without even attempting to complete an actual story mission as we’d simply run around causing chaos in the tropical, neon landscape of 1980’s Vice City. The gameplay freedom, music, and chaos that Rockstar created in Vice City is still one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of video games in the summertime.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – See? I do actually have a game on this list released within the past decade. It’s been two years since I was able to get ahold of a Nintendo Switch and the easy choice of first game to go along with it was Breath of the Wild. I spent the rest of the summer completing shrines and gathering Korok seeds before squaring off against Calamity Gabon. I had been itching to play through the game all over again, so I started another playthrough over the weekend with the intention of completing every shrine and finding every Korok seed, along with finally completing the Master Sword Trial(possibly?). Breath of the Wild still stands as one of my favorite Switch games and a more recent game I associate with playing during the summertime.

Super Mario Sunshine – I’m unable to think of summertime video games without Super Mario Sunshine being one of the first games springing to mind. I fell in love with this game from the first time I played in on my GameCube in August 2002 and Mario’s vacation-gone-awry on Isle Delfino is still one of my personal favorites on the console. The exotic Isle Delfino is a dream summer destination(mostly?). The wonderful Koji Kondo soundtrack adds to the summertime mood as well. Despite the seemingly relaxed vibe of the game, it can be surprisingly difficult – some of the moving 3D puzzle-platforming stages found later in the game are notoriously challenging. While the camera is STILL one of the game’s biggest drawbacks, I still enjoy traversing Isle Delfino and consider it one of the defining experiences on the GameCube. Super Mario Sunshine remains one of my go-to summer games.

What are some of your favorite games to play over the summer? Or something you most closely associate with the season? Thanks for reading!