Home Music Music Lists

The 19 Biggest Music Milestones in Video Games

The songs, collaborations, and fully playable characters that cemented the marriage between music and gaming

Video games


THE ERA OF modern gaming began over 50 years ago — and in the time since Pong(1972), video games have gone from minimalistic engineering oddities to multi-billion dollar franchises that make Hollywood blockbusters seem humble in comparison. An essential part of that evolutionary leap has been audio and its design.

For video games, virtual worlds needed to be built pixel by pixel, and in the early days, with limited audio technology. By nature, designers were creating the very tools needed to imagine new worlds, both visually and sonically, at the same time. Mainstream musicians caught on quickly too, as artists saw new ways to express themselves in a burgeoning soundscape. Artists from Journey to Kylie Minogue to Lil Nas X have seen themselves in a game — and others, from Michael Jackson to Paul McCarney have contributed music for one.

The symbiotic relationship between music and gaming runs deep. Here, 50 years of music’s gaming milestones.

From Rolling Stone US

Mortal Kombat Teams Up With the Immortals

Accompanying the release of home versions of Mortal Kombat, techno band The Immortals (Maurice “Praga Khan” Engelsen and Olivier Adams) release a full soundtrack, built from the ground up around the franchise’s characters, tone, and SFX. Its track “Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)” becomes intrinsically linked to the franchise for years to come.

Street Fighter: The Movie (The Game) Lets You Play an Ass-Kicking Pop Star

In 1994, Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue brought her star power to the technically abysmal (but enjoyably cheesy) Street Fighter feature film in the role of Cammy. The following year, she reprises the part as a playable character via digitized motion capture in the aptly titled Street Fighter: The Movie (the game).

Dance Dance Revolution Brings Moves to the Arcade

In 1998, Konami introduces Dance Dance Revolution in Japan, turning arcades into social, sweaty affairs. A massively popular rhythm game series, the cabinets housed directional footpads that players would use to match on-screen prompts while dancing to golden oldies like “That’s The Way (I Like It).”

The Soundtrack to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Turns a New Generation on to Punk

Released on Sony’s PlayStation in 1999, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater introduces not just highly addictive trick-driven gameplay, but takes full advantage of the console’s high quality CD audio to introduce a new generation to punk with a soundtrack featuring everyone from the Dead Kennedys to Suicidal Tendencies.

Grand Theft Auto III Distracts With Radio Stations

Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto III introduces an open-world sandbox of crime, but its most pleasurable vice ends up being listening to the radio. Every car players can boost in Liberty City has a fully functional, multi-station radio to distract drivers with licensed music and outrageously acted FM chatter.

In Def Jam Vendetta, Hip-Hop and Pro-Wrestling Collide

The worlds of hip-hop and pro-wrestling collide with EA’s Def Jam Vendetta. Featuring the music and likeness of real world rappers like Redman, DMX, Funkmaster Flex, and more, Vendetta dreams of a world where Ghostface Killah can suplex Ludacris in an underground squared circle.

Guitar Hero Gets Technical

Launching on the PlayStation 2 with a uniquely constructed and intuitive guitar-shaped controller, Harmonix’s Guitar Hero brings Stevie Ray Vaughn into dorm rooms everywhere and validates the persistence of a generation of air guitarists. With its easy-to-learn but difficult-to-master gameplay, the series spawns a billion dollar franchise.

Just DanceShows What Wii Can Do

Eschewing its origins as a simple minigame prototype, Just Dance utilizes the massive ubiquity of the Nintendo Wii to strip people of all ages of their inhibitions. By turning Cyndi Lauper, Blondie, and Deee-Lite into Wii-mote waggling choreography routines, the game’s accessibility belies its hilarious fun factor.

Imagine Dragons Plays the League of Legends World Championship

Imagine Dragons kick off what will become a yearslong collaboration with League of Legends with the year’s anthem “Warriors.” The first ever official theme song for the series, it’s an instant hit with fans after a massive live performance at the 2014 World Championship grand finals in South Korea.

Paul McCartney Scores a Track for Destiny

After dabbling with games through Rock Band Beatles Edition, Sir Paul McCartney dives headfirst into the industry in collaboration with beloved developers Bungie on the score for their highly anticipated game Destiny. The track, “Hope for the Future,” launches alongside the first game but goes on to become canonical in-game lore with the second.

Fortnite Introduces Virtual Performances

Superstar rapper Travis Scott delivers the first major virtual performance in an ongoing game world with his 10-minute set in Fortnite­. The performance sees Scott deliver a melody of tracks and going full Sicko Mode as his avatar shapeshifts between cyborgs and spaceman. 12 million people tune in for an event that would kick off a trend.

Lil Nas X Co-Designs a Character for League of Legends

Once again making music history in gaming, a matured League of Legends names Lil Nas X as its president. During his six-week tenure, he releases the year’s anthem, “Star Walkin’,” as well as a playable in-game character dubbed K’Stane, which he co-designs with Riot Games.

The Recording Academy Recognizes Gaming

For the first time in its history, the Recording Academy announces a Grammys Award category for Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games. The introduction of the category is one of the first mainstream awards ceremonies to open its doors to gaming, alongside the BAFTAs. Hopefully, many more are soon to follow.