10 Things I Learned From ‘Video Games Live’

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After waiting several years, I finally got to see “Video Games Live,” and picked up some cool merch in the process. Image: Lisa Tate

Nearly ten years ago, I wrote a story titled “A Geeky Mom’s Guide to the Orchestra” for a blog (International House of Geek) I was freelancing with before I had the fortune to be part of GeekMom, Video Games Live founder Tommy Tallarico was nice enough to send me some comments for it.

Since then I had been dying to get a chance to see this event in person, but it seemed to always pass over our neck of the woods.

Finally, this year, I was able to close out my 50th birthday week by taking my family to this incredible mix of classical and contemporary sounds, and multimedia when El Paso Symphony Orchestra hosted Video Games Live in April at the historic Plaza Theatre.

Having waited for so long to see this, I was worried the performance wouldn’t live up my expectations. It well exceeded them, in both its content and performance value.

Tallarico said he created Video Games Live in 2002 to not only show audiences the cultural and artistic significance of video games, but as a way to introduce younger audiences to the performing arts. Judging from the performance I attended, he achieved both these goals, and I learned quite few things about the show and the legacy of a gaming it celebrates:

Just like a video game experience the show is always changing. Tallarico said the content and games featured at each of the Video Games Lives two-plus-hour concerts are always evolving. Popular demand and requests play into the around 20 songs they feature in the show, and there are always mainstay audience favorites including Legend of Zelda. This year’s finale piece celebrated the popularity of Pokémon, but some other memorable pieces were Overwatch, Castlevania, Metal Gear Solid, Mario, Kingdom Hearts, Halo, and the beautiful Okami.

The show is a record breaker in more ways than one. The performance we saw was Video Games Live’s 470th performance, helping it to continue its Guinness World Record status as “Most videogame concerts performed.” It also has a World Record for “Largest audience for a live videogame music concert,” when 752,109 people witnessed the show in 2015 at Beijing’s Exhibition Theatre and on live stream. Thankfully, the capacity at The Plaza was just over 2,000, and was nearly packed.

Tallarico knows his gaming. Tallarico is not only a multi-instrumentalist performer, he has worked on music for more than 300 video games for PlayStation, Nintendo, Xbox, Sega, PC games and more. He also currently serves as the president of Intellivision Entertainment who is anticipating their release of the new family home video game console, the Amico, in 2020.

The tour’s conductor also has an impressive resume. Since 2010 Emmanuel Fratianni has served as principal conductor for Video Games Live, but he has guest conducted with symphonies around the world. He has also worked on music for several television shows and films including Breaking Bad, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Avatar.

You haven’t heard the Skyrim theme unless you’ve heard it live. It’s hard to believe how powerful that song (already one of the best video game themes in my opinion) can be until you hear a live orchestra of 120 musicians accompanied by a choir 70 voices strong belt out this piece. I need to give credit to our city’s symphony orchestra who performed this as well as any orchestra could, and to the vocals provided by students from El Paso’s Franklin High School. This is going to be one for these young singers’ resumes. This piece was far and wide my favorite of the show, and made me want to grab a sword, jump on my noble steed, and head out the face the dragon under the vast, wild skies.

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Some of the graphics on games like WarCraft see in the performance, demonstrated how far the artistic designs of video game medium has come over the years. Image ©Blizzard Entertainment.

The evolution of game graphics is a testament to the talent of game designers. Just from seeing the onscreen graphics for games like Legend of Zelda and WarCraft alone, it is impressive to see the artistic evolution of video games as they grow from pixilated figures to realistic computer animations. The graphics and backgrounds on some the Warcraft games alone are as beautiful (if not better) than what I have seen on some motion picture CGI-created worlds.

This is a tour people had been wanting for a long time. Tallarico said when he first wanted to create a live orchestra performance based on the music of video games, he was told gamers don’t want to go to the symphony, and symphony-goers aren’t interested in video games. He tried it anyway, and the very first Video Games Live performance at the Hollywood Bowl drew an enthusiastic audience of more than 11,000. Sixteen years later, it is still going strong.

There is a good amount of humor in the gamer world. One of the ways this performance kept audiences of all ages entertained was by incorporating humor throughout. There were fans films at the beginning and “video game vs. video game” videos pitting retro and new games against each other. The Frogger vs. Grand Theft Auto video was particularly funny. It was also fun to see the video game lingo used in the show including the intermission count down set up like a computer loading content. When the audiences cheered for an encore, it was preceded by a graphic stating “Encore Unlocked!”

Earthworm Jim is 25 years old??? One of the games Tallarico worked on, and featured in the show, is that of the quirky fun worm hero on his quest to save “Princess What’s-Her-Name.” The first game in this series was released in 1994, 25 years ago! That’s the same year my husband and I got married, but Jim still looks as dashing as when he was created, kind of like the Bruce Campbell of video game characters.

The sheer number of people inspired by the medium is staggering. Tallarico emphasized how many people have been inspired by the video game medium, and mentioned not only cosplay, but music remixes, stories, fan art and videos. He showed off a few incredible cosplayers images during the performance celebrating Final Fantasy, and said earlier in the show new content inspired by video games is uploaded every day “literally in the tens of millions” on sites like YouTube, DeviantArt, and music mixing sites. Wow!

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No photography was allowed during the performance, but we were able to get some before and after family shots, including getting to meet the tour’s creator Tommy Tallarico and conductor Emmanuel Fratianni. Images: Rick Tate.

If we needed any more proof gaming can bring people together, when the majestic theme to the game Mass Effect began, a man across the aisle from us got out in the aisle and proposed to his girlfriend. She said “Yes.” I hope they have a Mass Effect themed wedding cake.

It took me a few years to get to see Video Games Live in my hometown, but it was well worth the wait.

Video Games Live is taking a two-month break, but will start up again with a performance on June 15 with more shows planned in the United States, China Bulgaria, Spain, Italy and Brazil for the remainder of 2019.

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