Geek Out: Chiptunes

It’s time to Geek Out again. Last time I told you about the colorful story-driven Enslaved, and before that, the loot-filled shooter Borderlands. Today’s Geek Out isn’t about a video game, but it’s related.


Chiptunes are songs created with the video game technology of yesteryear. Back then, the audio tech wasn’t so hot, so game composers had to get creative with their bleeps and bloops to make something resembling music. The result is a techno-electric sound, or to someone like my wife, video game music. Chiptunes are responsible for some of gaming’s most memorable songs. Though technology has long surpassed the need for chiptune-like music, several developers (and tons of chiptune fans and bands) have kept the genre alive.


Nostalgia: My childhood is the sole reason I have a taste for chiptunes. Songs like this one (and oddly enough, this one too) are permanently embedded in the hard code of my brain—ready to be summoned at any moment that idle humming or whistling is needed. Some of these tunes remind me of a simpler time in my life, before bills and jobs and other adult responsibilities. I didn’t just like video games when I was a kid, I adored them, cherished the experiences I had with them and marveled at how they came to life through the hard work of so many people. It’s easy to become jaded as an adult, and as a game critic. Chiptunes remind me that games are awesome, and fun.

Running: My running playlist is an eclectic mix of music that keeps me moving. I’ve found that light sprightly chiptunes are great songs to run to sometimes.

Custom soundtrack: Whenever I play racing games on 360 I almost always pipe in my own soundtrack ; I just can’t stand the marketing-committee designed playlists in those games. Throw in some chiptunes and it all feels so much more video gamey.


My wife has followed me down quite a few deep dark geeky alleys in the past ten years, but she just doesn’t get the chiptune thing. So not everyone will like chiptunes, even if you grew up on video games like I did. In fact it’s safe to say that I don’t even like most of them. I prefer chiptunes that subtly blend in real instruments, and most of them don’t do that. A lot of songs slide too far into electronica for my tastes. If you’re interested, here’s a good way to get a feel for chiptunes without falling too far down the rabbit hole: go to Pandora and create a playlist with Anamanaguchi. You’ll hear songs like this one. Give the station a listen a while and see if you like it. A straight playlist of chiptunes can be grating after a while, so it helps to mix it up with some other less electronic sounding songs.


Chiptunes can be found on Pandora, video games of all sorts, YouTube, or at 8-bit Collective, a thriving chiptune community that cranks out some excellent songs. Give it a shot; you might like it more than you thought you would. Even my wife, who just doesn’t get my attachment to the genre, enjoyed the song backing our vacation video