Music in video games: From Tony Hawk to Grand Theft Auto


I would never say I have an eclectic taste in music. I am basically one of those people that get mainstream music shoved down their throat while listening to the radio, oblivious to all the great music out there to be heard. Luckily for me, the radio is not my only source of audio input.

Throughout my gaming life, I have been lucky enough to come across some great music while playing, and I’ve been introduced to some artists I likely would never have given the time of day to had they not been the background sound to my video game adventures.

Some of the songs I encountered had been hits before my time, such as the song “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” by Cutting Crew, which is featured in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Others were just on the brink of making it big, as the Black Keys were when I heard the track “Tighten Up” in FIFA 11. Some other songs never achieved great fame, but are still very pleasant musically and exposure to them can only broaden tastes as a listener; it is through gaming that I have encountered them.

Whether it’s cruising around in Grand Theft Auto listening to the in-game radio, or jamming out with your friends on Rock Band or Guitar Hero, there are numerous sources through which you can encounter new sounds.

I developed a liking for ska music through Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (the first one). In the opening tutorial level, the song ”Superman” by Goldfinger greeted my ears. Goldfinger was also featured in Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec with “99 Red Balloons,” as well as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 with “Spokesman.”

Similarly, Tony Hawk also opened me up to Celtic music, as Flogging Molly and the song “Drunken Lullabies” may not have made me want to don a kilt, but sure did make me want to jig, which is remarkably hard to do on a skateboard…
The remade song “Mad World” by Gary Jules achieved newfound fame thanks to its inclusion in the commercial for the game Gears of War. It is not in the game itself, but since the commercial has well over 10 million YouTube views, one must assume that many associate the two together.

Yes, while most of these songs are on the borderline of being mainstream, their popularity and exposure is in part due to their being featured in video games. Games such as Vice City, set in 1986, are capable of providing resurgences for songs that might otherwise have gone forgotten or unappreciated by other generations, so it’s nice that there is this other medium through which our ears can be opened.

Here’s a playlist of some of my favourite songs from video games: