February 26, 2024

Science explains why playing Final Fantasy songs is good for your brain

Ten years later, the fun and upbeat tune that plays while I design my own video game avatar still makes me want to do a dance in my seat – it’s upbeat, the perfect atmosphere for the opening of XSEED’s 2023 Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life.

The longer I play, the more I’m surprised by how much I remember of the soundtrack. There was the Blue Bar’s evening theme, now called ‘Night’: pleasantly cool and familiar. Romana’s mansion? Still stately, the pinnacle of fantasy. And then I bought my first chicken? Cue round two of the character creation song. I still wanted to dance.

Had I longed for those songs over the years? Maybe a little, to my surprise. I liked the original 2004 games, but not great Harvest moon: a beautiful life and 2005 Another wonderful life for the GameCube. The nostalgia hit me so hard that I even looked up the full soundtracks on YouTube. I’ll let them play in the background as I write this article, reminiscing. As a child I had courted Celia. I got my mom to play her own file. I had been playing on that old square TV in the living room after finishing my homework.

Had I longed for those songs over the years? Maybe a little, to my surprise.

Harvest moon

Some things I hadn’t thought about in years. If you had asked me to hum a song Harvest moonI wouldn’t have been able to do that – and yet, when I started streaming those soundtracks, I found myself doing just that: humming along, as if I’d been playing just a few days earlier.

Spurred on by the music, I didn’t just remember the songs A beautiful life but also a lot from the 1999 classic Harvest moon 64, my first farming sim – including ‘Village’, which plays year-round, and ‘Summer’, which only plays during that season. I didn’t know those tunes were hidden somewhere in my head since the years. They only needed a little push to return to conscious memory.

It turns out that keeping memories of music alive is incredibly common, as many studies have shown. However, much of the existing research focuses not on game soundtracks, but on bands. A 2022 review found that the nostalgia music brings has several benefits. Synthesizing more than three decades of existing research, the authors concluded that music-evoked nostalgia “acts as a buffer against adversity” such as sadness, and can also promote optimism (which, not coincidentally, is some of the benefits are of resilience, a life skill that can be cultivated through gaming). This is because nostalgic music has been shown to improve a listener’s mood.

That 2022 review also notes that music has the potential to help patients with dementia. Some research suggests that musical memories may remain relatively unscathed in people with certain types of dementia. This is huge considering dementia is on the rise. Many other studies have also focused on the memory aspect. A 2021 pilot study conducted at the University of Toronto that looked at 14 people with Alzheimer’s disease who were in early cognitive decline found that listening to old favorites improved cognitive functioning. Their preliminary results suggest that songs associated with autobiographical memories have particular power for these patients, as shown by MRI data.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has nostalgic music.


But as a 30-something with no discernible memory problems, none of these studies applied to my unexpected one Harvest moon to hum. That’s where something called the musical memory bump comes into play. Coined in the 1980s by a group of psychologists and psychiatrists, the bump was defined in a 2020 study as “the disproportionate recall of memories” between the ages of 10 and 30; these researchers found a connection between those memories and the music from the time period in which those memories took place.

Furthermore, they found that this musical connection was strongest between the ages of ten and fifteen, peaking at the age of fourteen. There are further highlights in childhood and adolescence, with the 15 and 20 age categories both in second place, and the five and ten age categories. third place.

Practically speaking, this means that the songs we hear as teenagers become “deeply entrenched in our memory banks and have incredible lasting power,” which is exactly why I remembered those old Harvest Moon songs that were once inspired by the music. I first played it around the age of nine. I talked about it with my friends. One day during recess I even made my own Flower Bud Village newspaper. I vividly remember the blue-gray construction paper I used when I first considered myself a journalist.

That checks many of the boxes of the memory bubble: age, music, nostalgia and autobiographical memories.

It is a very real and powerful nostalgia, noted Dr Andra Ivănescu, senior lecturer in games studies at Brunel University London and part of the Ludomusicology Research Group. She pointed to the power of games to connect players. Despite the stereotypes of basement loners, “gamers are always social,” she says. “Even if you play it alone, you’re still part of the community that plays those games.”

This sense of community is enhanced by music, whether it is a major franchise Breath of the wild remixing the original Zelda main theme into the nighttime horse riding track, or a video game concert that brings players together IRL.

This is why you will remember the boss music of your favorite RPG and best friend who used to play GTA Vice City and loved the soundtrack.

Rockstar Games

“Even if it’s not 8-bit anymore, even if it’s completely different instruments, even if it’s completely customized in a million different ways, you’ll recognize that [nostalgic] theme,” says Ivănescu. “That will be different from graphics and gameplay.”

This is why you will remember the boss music of your favorite RPG and best friend who used to play GTA Vice City and loved the soundtrack. If we are nostalgic for these songs, we are also nostalgic for our past.

There has been some research on video game nostalgia, including a 2023 psychology study suggesting that nostalgia produced by games could potentially benefit players’ psychological well-being by increasing their experiences of “enjoyment and appreciation,” but there is more research is needed to better integrate gaming and gaming experiences. nostalgia research. Unfortunately, their work is not specifically about music.

Other research on music in games includes a 2023 anthology with a chapter on the use of classical music in games, and a 2022 anthology on nostalgia and game music. Ivănescu herself wrote a book in 2019 about the use of popular music in gaming, as Annette Hanshaw, a jazz singer who was voted best female popular singer in 1934, whose music appeared in BioShock 2.

Annette Hanshaw, a jazz singer who was voted best female popular singer in 1934, had music appear in BioShock 2.

2K games

All of this is to say that the benefits of other types of nostalgic music may well extend to game soundtracks, but that can’t be said with complete certainty until it’s more thoroughly researched. Gaming as a hobby has never been all good or all bad, and as science starts to take it more seriously, the research surrounding gaming will only improve.

Where are gamers in the meantime? Doing exactly what we do best: playing games, whether new worlds or remakes, making memories and enjoying a hobby that might also benefit our brains musically. As for me personally, I would love to see a remake of it HM64 (if you’re reading this, XSEED) for updated gameplay, the nostalgia factor, and a remix of a killer soundtrack. I can’t wait to hum along.

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