Power Chords and Pixelated Nostalgia: The Resurgence of Dated Songs through Video Game Soundtracks

In the ever-evolving realm of music and entertainment, video games have become a uniquely powerful conduit for cultural cross-pollination. Developers carefully create soundscapes and curate musical selections that complement the on-screen action and more fully immerse players in their digital world. Games have become a medium equal to film in their ability to permeate the zeitgeist with a featured song. One notable consequence of this marriage between audio and gameplay has been the resurgence of dated hits featured in game soundtracks, catapulting them back into the limelight.

The synergy between music and video games has proven to be a potent force in reviving songs from the past. This was most recently evident when Tom Petty’s “Love Is A Long Road,” originally appearing on the 1989 album Full Moon Fever, was featured in the much-anticipated trailer for Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto VI. Almost immediately after the trailer’s release, the 34-year-old classic’s stream counts saw an 8,000% increase, and it’s now eying a return charts all these years later. Buoyed by a surge in ‘80s nostalgia throughout pop culture (see Netflix’s Stranger Things and any song featured therein, most notably Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”), “Love is a Long Road” is just the latest in a long line of classic songs given a new lease on life by hitching itself to a video game’s wagon.

Another recent example of this phenomenon comes from the 2021 action-adventure shooter Marvel’s: Guardians of the Galaxy, which showcased the power of a well-chosen soundtrack in the same vein as it’s cinematic counterparts. Yet again, ’80s hits were the order of the day, and the success of the game’s soundtrack led to a renewed interest in songs like Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart,” spiking stream counts and surging download numbers in the same manner that the Guardians film series accomplished for its nostalgic selection of tunes.

Hits of days gone by aren’t the only benefactors of video game’s grip on pop culture, of course. Take, for instance, Korean pop sensation BTS’ mobile game “BTS World.” The game’s success helped propel the song “Heartbeat” to international acclaim, introducing K-pop to new audiences and further blurring the lines between gaming and mainstream music. Similarly, The Sterns’ “Supreme Girl” saw a massive uptick in popularity following its appearance in Rock Band 2. That said, video games  are in a unique position to keep more dated selections relevant, garnering streaming counts for decades-old tracks comparable to those released yesterday.

The symbiotic relationship between video games and music continues to evolve, presenting exciting opportunities for both industries. As video game soundtracks become an integral part of the gaming experience, artists and musicians find themselves on an unexpected stage, where the pixelated landscapes and virtual narratives can transform their songs into timeless classics once again. In this digital era, the journey of a song from nostalgia to newfound fame is just the press of a controller bumper away.

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