YSU hosts North American Conference on Video Game Music

On Jan. 18 and 19 in the McDonough Museum of Art, Youngstown State University hosted the North American Conference on Video Game Music.

While many gaming conferences have occurred throughout North America, none had approached the subject of video game music from an academic standpoint — making YSU’s scholarly conference the first of its kind.

Steven Reale, assistant professor in the Dana School of Music, served as the lead organizer for the event.

“This conference really has an opportunity to bring YSU national recognition. YSU gets to host the first academic conference of this kind and gets to be a leader and an innovator,” Reale said.

Bryan DePoy, the dean of the College of Creative Arts and Communication, also helped organize the conference. Like Reale, DePoy said the conference garnered positive attention for the university.

“Given the fact that it is the first academic conference of its type in the country speaks to the innovation that’s taking place within the college and our faculty,” DePoy said.

In total, 18 scholars presented their work at the conference. Their presentations covered the music and sound effects of numerous popular video games including League of Legends, Portal, The Legend of Zelda series and The Super Mario Brothers series.

The conference also included a presentation on the relationship between video game music and academia.

William Gibbons, conference organizer and assistant professor of musicology at Texas Christian University, commented on the event’s timing, indicating that academic interest in the topic of video game music has increased in recent years.

“I think it’s an extremely important event that’s happening at a great time for game studies. Video games as an academic pursuit have been increasingly popular and increasingly relevant to scholars, and game music studies are starting to catch up to that. I think it has the potential to be a really important event for the field,” Gibbons said.

The success of YSU’s event also speaks to just how iconic certain video game music has become in our culture. Reale cited the Super Mario Brothers theme song as an example.

“I think there are very few people who are under 40 who couldn’t sing the Super Mario Brothers theme song, and that’s a very complicated tune that’s rhythmically weird, that has all kinds of leaps in it, and yet I think that pretty much anybody under the age of 40 could sing that tune,” Reale said.

The event elicited a lot of excitement from the scholars involved, in the days leading up to the conference.

“We’re all thrilled to be at Youngstown. We’re really grateful to the university for giving us this space to have this important meeting, and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to provide something great to the university while we’re there,” Gibbons said.