The three most important artistic elements of my life have been music, video games, and film in that order. They gave me places to go and things to do when I had nowhere worth going and nothing worth doing. They gave me friends when I was alone and joy when nothing else could. That is to say, these things were absolutely vital to me growing up. But very seldom have these three things I love come together equally to create something that satisfies me on all levels.
Enter the modern age. Anime is a thing you can now see without spending upwards of a hundred dollars on a boxed set, gaming is the single biggest entertainment medium, and to see a great music video you don’t have to rely on MTV to play it for you. Thanks, internet. Like in the Police song, the nerdy message in the bottle I sent so long ago has come back with millions of replies and all of my geek pastimes are everywhere now.
But still, it’s not often I come across something that works as a film, as a musical piece, and captures the essence of gaming at the same time. But in recent years, I’ve found some here and there and it’s my duty to share them with you. So clear a little time (who are we kidding, you’re browsing the internet.You have the time) and let’s take an audio-visual journey into the worlds of gaming through five music videos.
Me and You
“Are you ready?
Do you know?
I feel it too.”
Nero’s inaugural 2010 album, Welcome Reality, helped change the way I look at electronic music. Yeah, I was kind of one of those “real music means real instruments” guys. And for the most part, I still am, but hearing music like this makes me realize it’s not the instruments that matter, it’s the artists, and a well programmed dance song can be just as artistic and brilliant as an epic rock tune.
The video opens in that most classic of video game locations, the arcade. A magical place from many of our youths filled with light guns and steering wheels. Our protagonist leaves the crowd and wanders the abandoned halls to find that fabled gaming cabinet that was a standard of ‘80s cinema and urban legends.The game is a combination of classic beat ‘em up and racing and the protagonist SUCKS at both. The music has a great epic feel that seems to perfectly sum up the excitement of firing up a new game for the first time and the video is pure nostalgia fuel that does a solid job of capturing the arcade experience.
Speed of Light
“Let’s shoot the moon you and me
I’m not particular you’ll see
Just a lonesome galaxy”
Ah, the mighty Iron Maiden. Secretly one of the biggest bands in the world for three decades running and still perhaps the best live act you can see on a stage. Also: total bunch of geeks. Aside from routinely writing songs about science fiction novels and horror films, they also released a best of set in 1999, Ed Hunter, that included a PC game based on the fan-voted songs on the album. The game was an awful rail shooter, but still. How many bands create video games for their CDs?
2015’s Book of Souls proved that not only does the band still have it musically, but they are willing to push the nerd envelope even further with the video for the lead single, “Speed of Light” taking us on a tour of gaming history with the band’s demonic mascot, Eddie. It begins with a Maidenized Donkey Kong, cruises to a Contra-esque 2D shooter, through the fighting game era (Satan totally does a spinning piledriver, but Eddie’s critical art and fatality game can’t be fucked with), and into Elder Scrolls/FPS territory, ending up back in the place that every gamer who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s left their hearts: the arcade.
“Video games, I got many to play
Before my life expires, fulfill my desires”
Del the Funky Homosapien had his brush with fame guesting on the Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood” in 2001 to drop two of the best rap verses ever heard on popular radio, but he has always been an underground MC at heart, and a true geek. If he’s not finding ways to slip terms like “combo-spamming” into his rhymes, he’s probably referencing Marvel Comics or crafting another amazing cyberpunk hip-hop concept album with his supergroup, Deltron. Dude is legit.
This is the one video on the list that isn’t an official release, but as fan-made vids go, this is an hard project to screw up since the lyrics do most of the heavy lifting. Del and guest Khaos Unique probably set the world record for most gaming references compressed into four minutes, rhyming over a Darkstalkers sample. Nostalgia for ColecoVision and obscure references to games like Nightmare Creatures is the kind of cred you can’t really fake; these badass rappers are nerdier than you are. I questioned Del’s claim that he beat Legend of Zelda in an hour using the map in the inaugural issue of Nintendo Power, but apparently it can be done in half that time, so Del: 1, Nick: 0. And there’s a Master Chief moonwalk in the video. Gotta love that.
“I won’t be paralyzed
Don’t you know my aim is true
When you’re in my sights”
This one’s more style than substance and the song isn’t really my cup of tea, but you’ve got to love that video. It really makes me wish I had a daughter. Grades is a British DJ who’s gotten around in the three years since his debut, collaborating with K-pop artists and remixing classic R&B, but if the only thing he ever did was this video, his career would’ve been worthwhile.
In this charming combination of live action and animation, a little girl gains video game superpowers and dances her way to awesomeness. What this video reminds me of is classic platformers and beat ‘em ups where you played them so much that you had every level memorized and the early game became less about survival and more about stylishly performing for any spectators that were on hand. In modern days, I guess I’d compare it to Dark Souls where you become so familiar with the enemies because you’ve fought them so many times that you have the movements down pat and it’s all just effortless. That megablaster is OP, though.
“And it’s a long way forward, so trust in me
I’ll give them shelter, like you’ve done for me”
“Shelter” transcends the music video format to become a masterpiece of short form filmmaking that just happens to be built around a great song. If you only watch one of these videos, this is the one to see. The song is an international collaboration from producers Peter Robinson and Madeon and was released last year in partnership with Crunchyroll. The video was created by A-1 Pictures, an anime studio known for shows like Sword Art Online and the Persona 4 and Valkyria Chronicles animated series’, so they are no strangers to gaming culture.
The narrative is a bittersweet science fiction story of loneliness and escapism told from the perspective of a young woman whose only companions are virtual reality and her own happy childhood memories. She creates massive, endless, amazing worlds with her mind but her tablet still reads no messages. Isolation and escapism can be a big part of a gamer’s life experiences and that feeling of being completely alone in the world and only being powerful and meaningful when exploring fantasies in game form is a very real thing, which is a big part of the passion that drives gamers to defend the medium as fervently as they do. “Shelter” captures both that amazing imaginative experience of completely immersing yourself in a virtual world and the hopeless melancholy that can lead us to seek shelter from harsh reality there. It’s easily one of the best music videos of all time.