Gamers (Don't) Fear the Reaper: Musical Intertextuality and Interference in Video Games

Gamers (Don't) Fear the Reaper: Musical Intertextuality and Interference in Video Games

Andréane Morin-Simard (Université de Montréal, Canada)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0477-1.ch005
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Given the pervasiveness of popular music in the contemporary media landscape, it is not unusual to find the same song in multiple soundtracks. Based on theories of intertextuality and communication, this chapter seeks to define the relationship which develops between two or more narrative and/or interactive works that share the same song, and to understand the effects of such recontextualizations on the gamer's experience. The media trajectory of Blue Öyster Cult's “Don't Fear the Reaper” is mapped as a network to categorize the many complex intersections between video games, films and television series which feature the song. Three video games are analyzed to propose that the song's previous associations with other works may positively or negatively interfere with the music's narrative and ludic functions within the game.
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As licensed popular music soundtracks have become increasingly present in video games, films and television series, it is not uncommon to find the same song featured in multiple audiovisual works. Hits from the 1960s and 1970s like “Born to Be Wild” (Steppenwolf, 1968), “In-a-gadda-da-vida” (Iron Butterfly, 1968), “Sweet Home Alabama” (Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1974), and “One Way or Another” (Blondie, 1979), among many others, live on in popular culture thanks in part to their integration in a multitude of compiled scores over the past six decades. Yet, as cases such as these abound in the contemporary media landscape, very few scholars have manifested interest in the questions this phenomenon brings to light. Is there a link to be drawn between narrative and ludic works which feature the same song? If so, is it intentional on the part of the creative instances? How can the relationship between works which “borrow” a musical piece from the vast sea of popular music be defined? And, more importantly, how can the recognition of a song in a game and the recall of its previous appearances impact the gamer’s experience?

This chapter will propose an answer to these questions through a case study of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” (1976). The original recording, as well as numerous covers of the song, have appeared in more than 40 audiovisual works since 1978, including five video games. Besides the obvious music games (Rock Band [Harmonix Music Systems /MTV Games/Electronic Arts, 2007] and SingStar Amped [SCEE Studio London/Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, 2007]), “Don’t Fear the Reaper” can be heard in an adventure game or “interactive movie” (Ripper [Take-Two Interactive Software/GameTek UK, 1996]), a driving game (Roadkill [Terminal Reality/Midway, 2003]), and a first-person shooter (Prey [Human Head Studios/2K Games, 2006]). The objective of the inquiry is twofold. First, since musical intertextuality has rarely been addressed in the context of video games, this chapter will need to adapt existing models of intertextuality in film and television and develop a theoretical framework which can account for multiple recontextualizations of popular songs in media. Second, the analysis will seek to uncover intersections between the different uses of the song and reflect on their consequences for the functioning of music in video games. Focusing mainly on the three games with a strong narrative component, this chapter will argue that the song’s association with previous works may interfere with its functions for gameplay, either by preventing its intended affective “message” from getting across, or by adding on to its intended effect on the player.

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