29th Jan, 2008
It’s strange how things turn out. For generations, games have strived to drop their blocky, bleepy image of artificiality in order to compete with the more established media. They’ve made the move into 3D. They’ve spent year after year tweaking their polygon counts and deepening their textures like a preening teenager on a Friday night. Cinematic cut scenes sometimes seem to take up as much disc space as the gameplay, and lush, movie-style soundtracks now take full advantage of DVD storage capabilities. Hell, even Mario, that eternal king of the merry little ditty, has gone orchestral these days. But while all of this has been happening, the very media that games have tried to ape have been going the opposite way.
Movies have been borrowing the videogame aesthetic for years (See The Matrix, Crank, and anything by nightmare purveyor of cinematic torment Paul WS Anderson. Actually, don’t in that latter case), animation is going almost exclusively CG, and music? Well that’s where it gets really cool. For now we have chiptunes, and the bleep is back in spectacular fashion.
The idea has been around for a while. Lo-fi musicians tired of the over-slick production values of soulless modern pop deliberately using less sophisticated technology to give their sounds a sharp kick up the arse. It’s an approach similar to the Impressionists’ reaction against naturalistic painting upon the invention of the camera. Why emulate flawless reality when flawless reality leaves no scope for the artist to add the personal touch? So musicians have started to eschew high-end tuneomatic software that does it all for you, instead embracing clunkier forms of tech which while less streamlined allow a much more genuine hands-on approach to writing and customising their music. And by taking his approach to its natural conclusion, they have created a vibrant, exciting and stimulating scene in which the NES and the Game Boy are very much the new rock and roll.