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Journal Issue 2, June 2014

Issue 2, June 2014
Introduction: Sound.Music.Image
A direct link to the past: nostalgia and semiotics in video game music by JULIO DESCRIVN

SARAH POZDERAC-CHENEVEY Sound and image relations: a

history of convergence and
DOI: 10.5920/divp.2014.24
The multimedia nature of video games and the interactivity of the medium create new possibilities
Electroacoustic Movies: A visual
and purposes for nostalgia, asBastion(2011),Fallout 3(2008), and The Legend of Zelda series (1987
music practice and its contexts
to present) illustrate. In Bastion, composer Darren Korb uses iconic signifiers of nostalgia to create
an empathetic response within the player to the in-game characters longing for a lost world and
A direct link to the past: nostalgia
time. Fallout 3, in contrast, uses the players own familiarity with the popular music of the 1930s
and semiotics in video game
and 40s to heighten the destruction of the world after an in-game nuclear war. Finally, The Legend
of Zelda series, which made music a major part of its gameplay in Ocarina of Time, uses music
indexically and symbolically in Twilight Princess to prompt a nostalgic response within the player
Jerry Goldsmith and the
that mirrors the response apparently felt by the main character in the game, Link.
Sonification of the Monstrous-
Feminine in his Science Fiction
Keywords: Gaming, Ludomusicology, Media, Peirce
The use of specific semiotic tools to effect a longing for a past time and place has been used by many
artists in order to create an emotional response in the perceiver of the work. Multimedia formats, which
give the creator greater control over the semiotic associations formed by a work, have the ability to
manipulate nostalgia with even greater precision. The medium of video games, which generally
incorporates narration, sound, visuals, and interactive gameplay, provides a rich opportunity for
exploring the nature of nostalgia and the ways music can be used to create it. Bastion, Fallout 3, and the
Legend of Zelda are three very different games that use music to evoke nostalgia both inside and outside
the gaming universe. Bastion (2011), an indie game for PC, Xbox 360, and iOS, manipulates the player
into feeling a nostalgia for a lost in-game world. Fallout 3 (2008), a role-playing game developed and
published by Bethesda for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360, uses the players existing understanding of music to
effect a nostalgia for the past in the real world which the character has never known. The Legend of
Zelda, a series of action-adventure games developed and published by Nintendo, uses music to
manipulate the players own nostalgia for the games to mirror that felt by the protagonist. Thus these
three games function as examples of possible nostalgias: the characters nostalgia, the players nostalgia,
or a nostalgia shared by both.

Nostalgia and semiotics

Nostalgia is a slippery word to define: the Oxford English Dictionarydefines it as a sentimental longing
or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations, simply
describing a feeling.1 If one searches Oxford Music Online for the term nostalgia, 345 results appear:
193 of them are subject entries, ranging from Turandot to Accordion, from Philosophy of Music, 2:
Historical Survey, Antiquity1750 to Rap.2 Even though the concept of nostalgia appears in such
widely disparate musical settings, to say nothing of the composer biographies in which it is included, it
does not have a subject heading of its own. While there has been some conceptual disentangling of the
elements of nostalgia, much of it has appeared in other disciplines: for instance, Kimberly K. Smith
(2000) considered the origins of the term and the history of the concept from a political point of view,
while Svetlana Boym, a Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature, has published several books on
the topic.3 The result is a wide body of literature that uses both very nuanced definitions of nostalgia as
a socio-political trend beginning in the nineteenth century, as Leon Botstein (2000) does, as well as a lay
sense, as in a sense of homesickness. This terminological ambiguity, combined with the lack of an easy
and accessible musical definition, can make nostalgia a difficult topic to discuss with clarity and detail.
Ryan R. Kangas (2011) attempts specifically to delineate nostalgia in respect to music in an article about
about Gustav Mahlers Symphony no. 4. He begins his argument with the simple observation that music
has the power to bring to mind places and emotions. He cites Jean-Jacques Rousseaus Dictionary of
Music as an early example that describes nostalgic music as not powerful in itself or even as music per
se, but in its ability to conjure mental sounds and images (cited in Kangas, 2011, p.222). Rousseau
himself recognised that the intense homesickness Swiss soldiers experienced upon hearing a Ranz des
Vaches was not inherent in the music: We shall seek in vain to find in this air any energic accents
capable of producing such astonishing effects. The music does not in this case act precisely as music,
but as a memorative sign (cited in Kangas, 2011, p.222). Kangas then incorporates Boyms concept of
nostalgia, which recognises its temporal properties in addition to its spatial elements:

At first glance, nostalgia is a longing for a place, but actually it is a yearning for a different
time The nostalgic desires to revisit time like space, refusing to surrender to the
irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition (Boym, quoted in Kangas, 2011, p.222).

Nostalgia, then, is comprised of both place and time.

The relationship Rousseau described can be categorised as an indexical or symbolic sign as understood
in Peircian semiotics, which Thomas Turino related to music in his 2008 work, Music as Social Life: The
Politics of Participation. There are three major types of signs: icon, index, and symbol. Iconic signs
function through their resemblance to the thing signified; for instance, caricatures are iconically linked
to their subject on the basis of a perceived resemblance. Indexicalsigns are those created by cooccuring
events (Turino, 2008, p.8). Symbols are signs whose objects have been agreed upon through the use of
language (p.10).

Signs are both powerful and dangerous in art. While indices can be particularly vivid for the observer or
listener, creating a deep connection between the sign and its object, the artist runs the risk of the
observer/listener having a different understanding of the sign. As Turino (2008) observes, the perceiver
may not interpret the sign in the way the composer or artist intended, thus frustrating communication
(p.7). Philip Tagg, in his work Musics Meanings (2013), identifies two major reasons why a creators
intended message may be misunderstood: codal incompetence and codal interference (pp.175185). In
the former, the breakdown in communication occurs when the creator and receiver of the sign dont
share a common store of signs (p.179) and results in inadequate response in terms of the musics
original . . . intentions (p. 179, emphasis in original). The latter occurs when creator and receiver share
the same body of signs but differ in the values they attach to the signs object (p.192), resulting in
adequate response[being] obstructed byfactors relating tothe receiversworld view, setof social or
moral values, socialisation strategies, etc. (p.182).

Multimedia formats provide greater control over the creation and use of signs, and particularly indices:
sign and object can be repeatedly juxtaposed, as happens when music is consistently used to accompany
a specific character or place. The use of music to create nostalgia on television is one such example, as
discussed by Faye Woods (2008) and Dan Sharpe (2012), for instance. The medium of video games
provides particularly striking examples of the use of musical indices to effect nostalgia, coaxing the
player into a strong emotional attachment to the game world and the characters who inhabit it.

The inherent interactivity of the medium necessitates some additional terminology to clarify the
distinction between elements of gameplay and aspects pertaining to the story. The term ludo refers to
elements of gameplay: rules, mechanics, and the like; these are the elements that determine how the
player can interact with the game world. Narrative, in contrast, refers to story elements. Most games
have elements of both; William Gibbons, in his paper Framing Devices for Gaming Devices (2012), used
a spectrum to illustrate gradations in the balance between the two; a modified version can be seen in the
following example.

Figure 1
The popular iOS game Angry Birds is a clear example of a game whose appeal is based primarily on its
ludo; what narrative there is (evil pigs stole your eggs!) serves as the briefest excuse for the fowl-
flinging action. On the other side of the spectrum, the Uncharted series is known for its emphasis on
narrative drive. Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception (pictured in Figure 1) was criticised by gamers and
reviewers for just how much the cinematic elements of the story were emphasised over the integrity of
the ludo:

Uncharted 3 is the most exciting game in the world, but only until you deviate from the script.
Even in this case the conflict between the developers theatrical choreography and player-
controlled interactions is clear. In order to ensure each set-piece is set off correctly, the game
commits the cardinal sin of insinuating you have full control of your character, but in fact
tugging you towards trigger points making sure youre in the right spot to tumble over the
bonnet of that braking car, for example.

Likewise, mistimed leaps are given a gentle physics-defying boost to reduce the staccato rhythm
of having to restart a section. Its entirely understandable given what the developer is
attempting to achieve an unbroken flow of action that leads to climax but, at the same time,
beneath the spectacle theres a nagging feeling that your presence in the scene is an irritation
rather than a preference.

Your freedom of choice risks ruining the shot. (Parkin, 2011)

While the gameplay was in some ways diminished, the narrative draw pulled gamers in.

In the middle of the spectrum, then, are games that contain balanced amounts of both sides. Both
Gibbons and I place the Legend of Zelda series in this position, as the game integrates ludo (exploring,
puzzle solving, and combat) into its narrative structure.


Bastion (Supergiant Games, 2011a), an indie game whose genre is difficult to pinpoint, has an unusually
cohesive sound, as virtually its entire soundscape was performed by its composer, Darren Korb (2012).
Korb recorded all the instruments and performed the vocals for Zulf. Most of the pieces in the
soundtrack function as non-diegetic music, instrumental pieces that occur underneath Ruckss narration,
which continues throughout the game. Two songs, later contrapuntally combined into one, are named as
belonging to characters and are presumably meta-diegetic: Build that Wall (Zias Theme) and Mother,
Im Here (Zulfs Theme). The emotional power of Korbs music and its effect on the player have been
recognised by the gaming community, and the game has received many awards specifically for its score,
including Best Original Score and Best Song (Spike VGAs); Best Original Score (Inside Gaming Awards);
Best Music (Giant Bomb); Best Soundtrack and Rookie of the Year, (Game Audio Network Guild; this was
Korbs first experience scoring video games); Best Music (New York Videogame Critics Circle); Eargasm
and Stylish Aesthetics awards (/v/GA Vidya Gaem Awards); and Best Musical Score and Best Story (The
Game Effect), in addition to a number of more general awards (Supergiant Games, 2011b).

Bastion leans towards the narrative end of Gibbons spectrum, as the continual presence of a literal
narrative voice might suggest.4 The players immutable character, known only as the Kid, awakens
after a cataclysmic event known as the Calamity. He travels the now-fragmented world, searching for
the items needed to rebuild a safe area: the titular Bastion, to which he brings the handful of survivors
of Caelondia that he finds (see Figure 2). The game thus begins right after the destruction of the world as
the characters know it, and characters referencea time and place lost forever which the player has never
actually known. The nostalgia, then, belongs to the characters, not the player.
Figure 2

Some moments specifically attempt to highlight the nostalgia immanent in the world. The scene depicted
in Video example 1 in which the Kid rescues Zulf, who has betrayed him for reasons neither the Kid
nor the player yet understands is highlighted as one of these by its accompanying music, Mother, Im
Here. This text invokes multiple nostalgic tropes: the singer (Zulf, voiced and accompanied on guitar by
Korb) calls for his mother in the refrain, and in the final line of each stanza uses the phrase home sweet
home, a home that the player understands to be lost forever. The text of the song is as follows:


I set my sail
Fly, the wind it will take me
Back to my home sweet home

Lie on my back
Clouds are making way for me
Im coming home sweet home

I see your star

You left it burning for me
Mother, Im here

Eyes open wide

Feel your heart and its glowing
Im welcome home sweet home

I take your hand

Now youll never be lonely
Not when Im home sweet home

I see your star

You left it burning for me
Mother, Im here

The music encourages this nostalgic interpretation. In contrast to the dense texture and varied timbre
that characterise most of the soundtrack, a sound that Korb called acoustic frontier trip-hop, Zulfs
theme is heard above a sparse, chordal guitar accompaniment. The slow tempo, minor mode, and
limited vocal range of the piece seem intended to be iconic signifiers of nostalgia, while the vocal line
abounds in paralinguistic anaphones.5 The singer, acting as Zulfs voice, adopts an intimate, plaintive
sound, which combines with the repeated descending semitone and tone gestures (as at the word
Mother in the last line of the refrain) creates an anaphonic representation of crying or sighing and the
emotions of grief and, perhaps, despair. These musical gestures reinforce the message of the text and
deepen the players emotional connection to the characters, and, ultimately, to the game. However,
because the music is newly composed and the player does not yet know Zulfs story, the risk of codal
incompetence is fairly high: perhaps the player has never heard songs such as Momma Look Sharp
from 1776, in which an unrefined male voice sings a simple tune above a sparse accompaniment calling
out for his mother in grief, and instead associates the intimate and direct sound with singer-

Zulfs connection with nostalgia is strengthened as the game progresses. The player finds out that hehad
proposed the evening before the Calamity, celebrating all night only to wake up in the morning to find
that his fiance and everyone else he knew and loved was dead, either vaporised or turned to ash. At the
end of the game, the player must decide whether to use the Bastions power to revert the world to its pre-
Calamity state or move the survivors to a new location to begin a new life; while Zia urges the Kid to
move on, Zulf would rather act on his nostalgia and return to his lost time, home, and love. Regardless of
the players choice, the last music the player hears is Setting Sail, Coming Home, which layers Zulfs
and Zias themes into one song. Here, the reappearance of Zulfs music becomes an anaphone of the
sensation of isolation: though the two songs are combined, they do not interact in a substantial fashion.
Instead, we hear the competing interests of Zulf and Zia as simultaneous but irreconcilable the player
must choose between the two mutually exclusive options of going forwards or backwards. Thus, the
music of Bastion supports the narrative linking Zulf to the concept of nostalgia and creates an
empathetic feeling of nostalgia in the player on behalf of Zulf, who wishes to return to a time and world
the player has never seen.

Fallout 3

Fallout 3 takes a completely opposite approach, relying on the players semiotic associations with the
preexisting music that makes up the most recognisable portion of its score. As in Bastion, the player is
immediately thrust into an already-destroyed world: Washington, DC, decimated by a nuclear attack and
now called Capital Wasteland. While the game is ostensibly set a few hundred years in the future, the
music and aesthetic choices of the game evoke a world in which the Cold War heated up and mutual
destruction did occur, a world in which the US was mangled by Chinese nuclear weapons. The players
character is a Vault Dweller, a person lucky enough to have been protected from the radiation by an
underground shelter. He or she is forced to leave the safety of the vault after his or her father goes
missing, entering a world warped both by the initial destructive power of the bombs and the radiation
they unleashed. The player encounters both mutated humans and animals, and radiation even becomes
an element of ludo, as the player must control their own radiation poisoning through the use of items
like Rad-X and Rad-Away.

Unlike Bastions unchangeable protagonist, the player-controlled Vault Dweller is highly customisable.
After the first few minutes of the game, in which the player first views the destroyed remains of
Washington, DC, to the strains of the Ink Spots singing I Dont Want to Set the World On Fire (Video
example 2), the player is present at the birth of his or her character, selecting a gender and deciding on
physical appearance. The player has the option to make a character that resembles him- or herself or
that has nothing in common with him or her physically. Either way, the act of creating an avatar helps
the player connect with their character and the game itself.

The most memorable portions of Fallout 3s musical world consist of pre-existing popular songs from the
1930s to 50s. They are figured as diegetic through the use of the Pip-Boy, an in-game tool used to link
many of the necessary ludic elements (player health, inventory, etc.) to the narrative (see Figure 3). The
Pip-Boy also includes a radio, which can tune in to a variety of stations in the wasteland. While there are
a number of smaller stations, two major stations (Galaxy News Radio and Enclave Radio) are narratively
important, supporting opposing factions. Both play similar music, drawing from a genre that reinforces
the feeling that this is a world that has lost the Cold War.

Figure 3
It should be noted, however, that while these songs form the most recognisable portion of Fallout 3s
soundscape, there is a substantial amount of newly-composed non-diegetic music by composer Inon Zur.
Given Zurs symphonic background music for the game, the popular music functions as a genre
synecdoche, [connoting] paramusical semantic fields another place, another time in history not by
synaesthetic or structural homology, but by the intermediary of another (foreign) musical style (Tagg,
2013, p.525). The songs warm sound and imperfect fidelity, a result of the techniques and materials used
to record them, as well as their orchestration and vocal style, mark them as remnants of an earlier,
foreign time. This music summons the time and place of its creation: America in the inter-war and
post-war era, a time far removed from the games present. This music thus ensures that earlier, pre-
apocalyptic world is constantly present in the players mind at some level.

However, the significant time that separates the creation of the music from its use as a sign in this game
leaves the door open to both codal incompetence and interference. While the musics overall sound is
instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with the repertoire from which the soundtrack is drawn, that
familiarity cannot be assumed to be shared by the entire audience: anyone who was a teenager when
the music was originally released would be at least 70 years old today,7 hardly the target audience of the
first-person-shooter genre.8 Beyond the incompetence that could result from a teenager today having no
prior knowledge of music popular six decades prior, the distance also provides opportunities for codal
interference. Rather than convey images of white picket fences and domestic felicity, the racist imagery
of some of the songs (e.g., Civilization sung by Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters) and the strict
gender roles portrayed by others either through text (as in South Pacifics (Im in Love with) A
Wonderful Guy) or through vocal roles might arouse disgust for that time and world by anyone for
whom recognition of that time brings to mind the power imbalances of the era.

Some of the music works at a surface level, with no more than what is actually contained within the
song. For instance, in some cases, the text of a song is ironic, given the devastation that surrounds the
player. I Dont Want to Set the World On Fire is the foremost example, emphasised by its prominent
place in the games opening. Similarly, Lets Go Sunning, which encourages the listener to go outside to
enjoy the sunshine beneath the sky of blue is blackly humorous given the sickly green and brown hue
of the devastated environment. Other songs, like Bob Crosbys Way Back Home, are inherently
nostalgic; consider one verse of lyrics:

Dont know why I left the homestead

I really must confess
Im a weary exile
Singing my song of loneliness

The food is the spreadiest, the wine is the headiest

The pals are the readiest, the gals are the steadiest
The love the liveliest, the life the loveliest
Way back, way back, way back, home
(No place like home)
Sweet home

The strongest nostalgic impact of this music, though, is predicted on the players semiotic relationship to
Fallout 3expects a nostalgia for a time in the real world, a time the player knows about and can imagine.
ItTitle Console
relies on destroying a place known to the player; Release
as can be seen in Video date 2 and Figure 4, the
developers chose some of the most iconic landmarks in the United States for destruction. As the player
progresses through the game, the music and visuals combine constantly to evoke a time and place that
are gone forever, a time lost to the past in the real world and a place destroyed in the game, a place the
character has never seen intact.

Figure 4

The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda is a series of first-person action-adventure games developed and published by
Nintendo. The games that comprise the series have appeared on virtually every console in the
companys history (see Table 1 for a listing of all major games in the series, along with the console on
which they appeared and the year they were released in America).9 The usual narrative structure
involves Link, a silent hero typically dressed in green, rescuing the eponymous Zelda, who has been
captured by the evil Ganon. Along the way, he must explore a variety of areas, acquire useful tools,
defeat bosses, and eventually acquire the Triforce, a sacred relic. While this is the standard formula,
established in its first iteration, Nintendo has not been afraid to experiment with the games.

Table 1

Title Console Release date

The Legend of Zelda NES 1987

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link NES 1988

A Link to the Past Super NES 1992

Links Awakening Game Boy 1993

Ocarina of Time Nintendo 64 1998

Majoras Mask Nintendo 64 2000

Oracle of Ages Game Boy 2001

Oracle of Seasons Game Boy 2001

Title Console Release date

A Link to the Past/Four Swords Game Boy Advance 2002

The Wind Waker GameCube 2003

Four Swords Adventure GameCube 2004

The Minish Cap Game Boy Advance 2005

Twilight Princess GameCube and Wii 2006

Phantom Hourglass DS 2007

Spirit Tracks DS 2009

Skyward Sword Wii 2011

The series is quite popular, and several of its games have received major critical acclaim, chief among
them the 1998 release, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo of America, 1998a). Widely
hailed as one of the greatest games of all time, it was a landmark achievement, as Link stepped into a 3D
world for the first time. In addition to being the first 3D Zelda game, Ocarina of Time also introduced a
major ludic element: music. Link is given an ocarina early in the game by a friend, and learning and
playing songs on it and on the Ocarina of Time, which Zelda later gives him, become important to the
game, participating in both ludo and narrative aspects. The instrument has five pitches, each assigned to
a button (see Figure 5),10 with which the player can play composed songs or improvise.11 As the 12
official ocarina tunes in the game are learned from specific characters after the completion of specific
events, they are saved in a menu screen, able to be referenced whenever the button sequence is
forgotten. The series music composer, Koji Kondo, describes the challenge of composing memorable
works with such limited resources:

I had to create all of those memorable tunes with only five tones of the classic do-re-mi scale.
Specifically: re, fa, la, and ti (and the higher-scale re). Since each of those songs, like Zeldas
Lullaby or Eponas Song, had a particular theme, it was quite challenging, but I think it all felt
really natural in the end. Then as soon as I was finished with those Ocarina songs, I had to
create even more forMajoras MaskI got a lot of mileage out of just five tones! . . . I think Im
most inspired to create when I am creating under limitationswhether its by system or by
musical theme (Kondo, 2005).

The pieces that Kondo created out of these limited materials are brief but instantly recognisable, distinct
and evocative of their associations.

Figure 5
As shown in Figure 6, which depicts the inventory screen, the tunes are grouped into two types: the
multicoloured ones on the bottom row are warp tunes, used to transport Link to specific locations; the
white ones on the upper row have more general purposes. For instance, Eponas Song allows the
player to acquire and summon a horse, making in-game travel faster. Suns Song can both change the
time of day and freeze zombie-like creatures called Redeads. These two pieces are quite useful,
demonstrating some of the possibilities for music to interact with ludo. The other four songs (Zeldas
Lullaby, Sarias Song, Song of Storms, and Song of Time) all have important narrative functions in
addition to their uses in game play: the player must play the correct song in the correct place to progress
within the story at certain points. Zeldas Lullaby, a piece that is both indexically and symbolically
linked to Princess Zelda and, by extension, the Royal Family of Hyrule,12 has lofty narrative uses, though
its effects on the game play world are a bit more prosaic (the player can use it to repair broken signs).
One piece in particular, though, is virtually equally important for its ludic and narrative functions: Song
of Time (Figure 7). Playing Song of Time at the appropriate time and place (Video example 3) triggers
one of the most dramatic narrative events in the entire game, opening the door to the Sacred Realm and
the Master Sword; this act has unintended consequences, as Link is too young for his destiny and so is
sealed in the Sacred Realm for seven years while Ganondorf wreaks devastation on Hyrule. The song is
also significant from a ludic perspective, as it can summon or dispel a certain kind of block; its ability to
do so is necessary to solve several puzzles within the game. In addition, the Song of Time acts as the
ambient music for the Temple of Time, a major location within the game to which the player must
return whenever he or she wishes to go backwards or forwards in time.

Figure 6

Figure 7
Ocarinas direct successor, Majoras Mask (Nintendo of America, 2000), continued the use of music as a
gameplay element. Link leaves the land of Hyrule and finds himself in an alternate universe, where he
must save the world in three days. He takes his ocarina with him, learning some new songs (as
mentioned in the quotation from Kondo above), and remembering some from Ocarina. Eponas Song
and Song of Storms both return, and the Song of Time is even more important, as with it the player
can reverse, slow, or speed the passage of time. The Song of Time and the ocarina are thus even more
completely integrated into the game.

Nearly ten years after Ocarinas release, Nintendo created what IGN called its true spiritual sequel
(Casamassina, 2006) in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Nintendo of America, 2006). Links
comparatively realistic look returns, the player finds him- or herself back in a more familiar Hyrule,
and, while the player is not given an ocarina, musical choices within the game evoke a nostalgic
response from the player. These feelings heighten the players emotional connection with the world and
with Link. At this point, this paper must by necessity become more personal, as I will use my own
experience to illustrate the semiotic implications of these games.

Twilight Princess is set approximately one hundred years after the events in Ocarina of Time, and there
are many links between the two that make sense from an in-game perspective. Link, who gains the
ability to transform between human and wolf forms, meets the spirit of one of his predecessors, who
teaches him specific abilities. In order to encounter the former hero, Wolf Link must find specific stones
around the game world and howl the music inscribed upon them. The player can control the pitch to a
limited degree with the analogue stick, matching the high, medium, and low notation on the stone.
While this notation is nowhere near as precise or familiar to a musician as the ocarina notation pictured
in Figure 5, it still gives music making an element of ludo in the game. The songs howled on the stones
are drawn from multiple entries in the series, and Ocarina of Time, unsurprisingly, is well represented.
Were the musical references in Twilight Princess limited to the Howling Stones, the level of integration
could be considered simply an inside joke. However, the musical connections run deeply.

Twilight Princess abounds with musical references to other games in the series, some limited in scope,
some elaborated, and some so similar that they are jarring. Since music has played such an important
role in the series and the connections are so frequent and direct, these links to past games are more than
just Easter eggs. While the game functions perfectly well for players with no previous experience with
the series, the richness of the world and the emotional importance of specific places and events are
heightened through these allusions to other entries in the series. Here, the seriesvaluable level of
control over its internal associations becomes apparent: while the pieces are unique to the series, thus
minimising unintended interpretants and codal interference, the persistence of the musical materials
allow for strong connections to be made. The pieces are uniquely identified with the series, and each
new entry in the Zeldafranchise only strengthens the musics semiotic power.

Several places and species return from earlier games: the Zoras, an aquatic race, still reside in Zoras
Domain along the path of a river, and the Gorons, who eat rocks, still live on Death Mountain, an active
volcano. As the hardware has improved, the graphics and spatial elements have become more complex
and expansive. The game verbally tells the player that these are the same places and peoples of earlier
games, particularly Ocarina of Time, but what helps this impression really sink in is the music. Familiar
themes, indexically related to specific places through their looped performance as ambient music,
return in re-orchestrated and expanded forms, taking advantage of greater system capabilities. When
the player travels to Death Mountain, he or she immediately hears the same melodic and harmonic
material that played in Goron City in Ocarina of Time; this music, indexically related to the home of the
Gorons, conveys immediate information to the player and may invoke feelings of nostalgia, as the player
not only links the music to an in-game location but also to the time when he or she played Ocarina,
perhaps summoning memories of childhood, a time irretrievably past. Similarly, Kakariko Villages
musical theme returns, strengthening the connection between the games in the players mind and
summoning more indexical subjects. Musical markers like this clearly identify the game as one proud of
its musical heritage.

My indexical relationship to many of these songs, firmly linked with in-game places and images of my
childhood, made my connection to the game much more immediate and vivid. Ocarina of Timewas one
of the first video games I played, and I spent hours finding every secret in its landscape. I was primed for
nostalgia, as even the act of playing a Zelda game brought with it childhood memories; each musical
reference and citation indexed the places, people, and experiences I had with Ocarina. When I entered
Kakariko Village and heard its familiar theme play, it only strengthened my emotional ties to the game
and, of course, my sense of nostalgia. Both Death Mountain and Kakariko Village differed enough in
space, appearance, and sound from their counterparts in Ocarinathat while they evoked those feelings,
they didnt feel like places I had visited before.

One area, though, was virtually an exact replica of a location in Ocarina: the Temple of Time. When Link
reaches the Sacred Grove in Twilight Princess (Video example 4), he finds a set of ruins, including a
destroyed staircase and a plinth that houses the Master Sword. When he climbs around to the top of the
stairs, he finds an intact door that opens into the past. As he passes through the doorway, he is
transported to a place that is no longer exists in his time and world, the same Temple of Time that the
player visited so frequently in Ocarina of Time. While it, like everything else in the game, is rendered at
a higher definition and on a larger scale than in Ocarina, the layout is virtually the same. Furthermore,
the player is also greeted by an almost identical version of the Song of Time as was used appeared as
ambient music in Ocarinas Temple.The version of the song appearing in both games Temples of Time
features wordless male (MIDI) voices singing in unison, a paralinguistic anaphone of the sound of chant,
and the reverberation in the track creates a spatial anaphone calling to mind a large, sonically live space
appropriate to the cathedralesque Temple, all appropriate and helpful connections (Tagg, 2013, pp.500
501). To a player who had experienced Ocarina of Time or Majoras Mask, however, there is a more
specific meaning attached to this music: the motivic content is instantly familiar, and the appearance of
a virtually indistinguishable recording inside a recreated Temple of Time is unmistakably a connection
to Ocarina of Time. To me, the jolt of recognition was almost shocking, as I found myself recreating my
past just as Link explored his worlds own on screen. This is perhaps the most literal example of
nostalgia in the game, as Link is transported to a time and place lost in his world, travelling through
doors to explore a ruins past, while the player is invited to experience a recreated version of his or her
own gaming memories.

The next console game in the series, Skyward Sword (Nintendo of America, 2011), was the Wiis
swansong. Just as Twilight Princess ushered in the Wii and concluded an external arc that began with
Ocarina of Time, Skyward Sword was one of last major games released for the Wii and it began a new
story arc:13 ultimately, the player learns that Skyward Sword begins the entire seriess story, as the
ending places the game as first in the worlds internal chronology. After Link defeats Demise, the final
boss, Demise pronounces a curse that he and Link will be locked together in unending battle, their
descendants destined to recreate the struggle eternally. The endless chain of nearly identical Links is
thus explained, with the player as another thread connecting them together.

As the earliest part of the adventure chronologically, in-game nostalgia would be narratively
inappropriate in Skyward Sword. Instead, Nintendo took the opportunity to explore new places and
ideas. Music is still an element of the game, though it is relegated to an almost exclusively narrative role:
Link is given a harp, which that the player strums by moving the Wii remote, that can be used to trigger
events necessary for progress. The player has limited control over the music the harp plays, simply
matching his or her Wii-remote waving to the time of a pulsing circle. For players who know where to
look, though, there are musical references, although these are much more subtle than those in Twilight
Princess. The most significant is that the Ballad of the Goddess, one of the most important musical
motives in the game, is a retrograde version of Zeldas Lullaby. This is a clue for the player that there is
a connection between the goddess Hylia and Zelda, which is confirmed by the game at the storys
conclusion. Nintendo did not neglect the opportunity to encourage player nostalgia, however. As 2012
marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the series, Skyward Sword included a compact disc of fully
orchestrated versions of some of the seriesmost recognisable melodies.


The creators of Bastion, Fallout 3, and The Legend of Zelda series have used semiotic associations to
invoke very different kinds of nostalgia for different purposes. In Bastion, the players empathetic
nostalgia for the destroyed Caelondia is created through narrative and musical choices that allow the
newly composed soundtrack to reference loss in a variety of fashions. In contrast, Bethesda used songs
from the real world in Fallout 3 to create a nostalgia for a past, albeit one that is perhaps idealised,
within players own world, destroyed in the game long before the character is born. Finally, the music of
The Legend of Zelda is so tightly woven into the fabric of the games and the players experiences with it
that it can be used to trigger indexical associations for the player that parallel the nostalgia the narrative
imposes on the players character.


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at: <> [Accessed 13 December 2012].

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1 Nostalgia,Oxford Dictionaries,Oxford University Press, [accessed 19
December 2013].

2 Search conducted at on 19 December 2013.

3 Svetlana Boym, Faculty Directory Page, Harvards Department of Comparative Literature,
&[accessed 19
December 2013].

4 In addition to adding an immediately recognisable feature to the game, Rucks narration

creates a more cinematic experience; while there are options and gameplay choices the player
must make, the game is presented as a story being told, as though it had already happened and
was just being recounted in a fixed form. It feels fluid, cinematic, and responsive.

5 Tagg defines paralinguistic anaphones as the musical stylisation of non-verbal vocal

expression (Tagg, 2013, p.492).

6 Tagg includes this as a vocal costume that implies a certain level of authenticity, and Mother,
I'm Here does fit into each of the stylistic conditions he sets out: [1] the voice is no-one elses
and does not appearto conform to norms established through formal training or audio
technology; [2] the worlds are intelligent or enigmatic, thoughtful or provocative, poetic or
witty and usually audible: the artists voice is up front and centre stage; [3] the song, recorded
or performed live, should not bear obvious traces of intricate arrangement, orchestration or
audio signal processing even if it may well have been subjected to such types of treatment
(Tagg, 2013, pp.373374). While Korb did perform virtually the entire soundtrack of Bastion, his
voice only appears as that of Zulf; his voice is clearly foregrounded; and the arrangement is
simple, the orchestration is a single guitar presumably played by the singer, and there are no
obvious markers of processing.

7 Lets Go Sunning dates from 1954, making it one of the newest songs included on the
soundtrack. In order for our hypothetical original listener to have been a teenager (13) when
the song was released, he or she would have to have been born in 1941, making him or her 67
years old when Fallout 3 was released in 2008 and 72 in 2013. Way Back Home is one of the
older songs included, released in 1935, and by the same metric our hypothetical listener would
have been 85 when the game was released and 90 today.

8 Instead, it appears that interest has worked the other way. If one searches the iTunes store for
Bob Crosby and the Bobcats, the comments indicate that Fallout 3led them to seek out this
music (Bob Crosby and the Bobcats, 2006).

9 I have excluded re-releases, remasterings (i.e.,The Wind Waker HDon Wii U and Ocarina of
Time 3Don 3DS), and minor games (i.e., Links Crossbow Training, which was released on the
Wii to demonstrate the systems motion-control capabilities).

10 The four C buttons and A on the Nintendo 64 and L, Y, X, R, and A on the 3DS. In addition, the
player can raise and lower the pitch by using Z and R on the N64 controller and bend the pitch
with the analogue stick.

11 The official Nintendo guide for the game included what amounted to sheet music for the
Kakariko Village theme at the end of the book, with the idea that the player could perform it in-
game for his or her own enjoyment (Nintendo of America, 1998b).

12 See video example 5, for the symbolic linking of Princess Zelda and Zeldas Lullaby, as Zeldas
attendant, Impa, states the connection. The piece is also played when Zelda is present; see video
example 6, as an example of the musics performance indicating her presence to the player
before it has been verbally or visually confirmed.

13 The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Swordwas released in North American on November 20, 2011,
almost exactly a year before the release of the Wiis successor, the Wii U, on November 18,
2012. While Wiis are still available (a new model, the Wii mini, was released in the United
States in November 2013), there have been few exclusive games released since Skyward Sword,
and most of the games published for the Wii since the Wii Us release have been licensed
games, sequels, and other non-exclusive titles.

About the author:

Sarah Pozderac-Chenevey is a PhD student in musicology at the University of Cincinnati College-

Conservatory of Music, where she taught the course Music and Society this year. Her research
interests include diva studies, critical editing and historiography, the music of Reform Judaism, and, of
course, video game music. She served as the editor of Volume 27 of Music Research Forum, a peer-
reviewed journal published by the University of Cincinnati, and was a member of the executive board
for the conference "Music and Meaning," organized by the CCM Music Theory and Musicology Society in
For more information about her current research, please visit:

Versions of this paper were given in 2013 at the Music and the Moving Image VIII conference, NYU
Steinhardt, New York and at Music and Media V: Music on Small Screens, Carleton University, Ottowa.

Posted in: Issue 2, June 2014

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