Reno Video Game Orchestra
Fans of video games have a knack for taking elements of their favorite games and turning them into full fledged hobbies. Cosplay and live action role play (LARP)—where fans take on the persona of their favorite characters and stage scenarios based in fictional universes—have been a part of the gaming circuit for several decades. Many writers of fanfiction have written such thorough expansions of beloved stories that gamemakers sometimes accept the new storylines as canon. And for musicians, video games provide opportunities to experiment with familiar and often iconic tunes.
Video game orchestras are part of a larger subculture of music inspired by games, comic books or any piece of art that has gained a cult following. Nerdcore—originally dubbed Nintendocore—is any style of music in which the scores from games are covered by musicians, or the musicians create original music inspired by aspects of the game. Chiptune and bitpop refer to music actually made with old school gaming consoles. And there’s the off-shoot subgenres, such as wrock (short for wizard rock, based off Harry Potter) or slackercore (which, true to its name, is hard to define, but is seeped in hacker culture).
Even so, the music of video games is often overlooked, especially in a gaming era in where stunning graphics and unique stories take the stage. But a good score can make or break a game, according to the Reno Video Game Orchestra cofounder Kevin Fredericks, alum of the University of Nevada, Reno.
“We love playing music,” he says. “Playing music from the games we love made sense. The scores are so interesting.”
The group is eclectic and comprises of 15 members, although it originally began as a three person band of Kevin Fredericks, Bob Schuler and Elizabeth White, who have played a few times around town, including at the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim back in November. The orchestra now features musicians ranging from middle schoolers to college graduates, all of whom are united by a love for music and a love for video games. The orchestra’s set list features songs from older cult games, including Mega Man, Final Fantasy and Super Mario Bros. The songs are selected based on what the musicians are realistically able to play, and also which songs they like.
“We are in many ways an educational ensemble, a curious mixture of youth orchestra structuring and professional performance aesthetics,” Fredericks says.
Coming together as an ensemble is still a work in progress since several of the members are new. At a recent rehearsal, the group practiced “Place I’ll Return to Someday” from Final Fantasy IX, music that many were sight reading for the first time. It was a little rough around the edges at first, but when it all came together, it was almost magical, theatrical and evocative of playing the game—soaring, fantastical, climactic, energetic.
Fredericks says the group would be interested in playing at video game conventions, or even writing soundtracks for independent games, but wants to focus on sparking discussion in the community about why video games are important to students.
“We are trying to partner with Nevada Humanities to bring the orchestra into elementary schools,” he says. “We are preparing to perform for grade school music classes to help transfer the empowerment of playing video game music to the kids, being that video games are becoming more and more accepted as a valuable cultural asset.”
But for other members, the orchestra is just a hobby, and they enjoy the community it provides.
“We all really like video games,” says violinist Jessica Paakari. “This community just makes it better.”