A couple of weeks ago we took a little weekend vacation to Louisville, KY, to enjoy the city and see Video Games Live! Billed on the website as "an immersive concert event featuring music from the most popular video games of all time," the description doesn't really even cover it. Imagine yourself sitting in your seat with a huge smile on your face as your childhood plays out in front of you – that barely scratches the surface of the experience.
Walking into the Kentucky Center in my Pwned.com shirt, I was impressed by the throng of people standing around, talking and playing with one another on games being projected onto the walls of the foyer. The crowd pulsed with excitement. The pre-show festivities were the perfect primer for an audience of gamers: get gamers to play video games, whetting their appetites for the ensuing experience. Before the show I took this picture:
From the moment famed video game composer and the evening’s conductor, Jack Wall, entered the stage it was established this was no ordinary performance. Encouraged to participate and cheer, the crowd was immediately engrossed. The show began with a medley from the annals of video games past from the bleeps and bloops of Pong to the addicting tune of Donkey Kong. Not content to favor either retro or contemporary gaming, the show was a beautiful mixture of new and old, playing to the needs of the crowd consisting of various ages and gaming backgrounds. We heard pieces from the Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft and Halo franchises. It did not matter the game played, the cheering and clapping for remembrances old filled the house with the kind of gaiety you’d hear at a playground filled with children. Those “children” were transported by the music that defined a cultural foundation they have built their lives upon, regardless if those foundations were built upon a 3-D Mario bounding through space, a 2-D Mario defining platform gaming, or the earliest Mario, called Jumpman, who just wanted to save his sweet Pauline.
The music was not the only entertainment of the evening. The on-stage games of Space Invaders, Frogger and Guitar Hero added to the fun, but also brought about the one downside to the show: the peanut gallery seated directly behind us. They had comments for everything that the individuals on stage did or said. The worst of it came when the Guitar Hero contest winner took the stage. The guy even declined the offer to play on the hard difficulty, opting for Expert level. The notes were flying down at a torrid pace and his fingers were flying, and yet he failed out of the song. He was jeered but allowed to redeem himself. My girlfriend, an avid enjoyer of playing the guitar in Guitar Hero and Rock Band, noticed immediately that something was amiss. As the second try started, it was obvious that the orange button was broken. He played an amazing display using red, yellow and blue that I would need 6 months to master, only to miss every orange note. Just watching the on-screen indicator never code orange was enough evidence to me.
Not for the guys behind us. Throughout both attempts their shouts of “Orange!” and “Push the Orange Button!” were picked up by others around us including the mother sitting in front of me who was obviously drunk. Finally, having had enough, I turned around and curtly told them it’s obvious the orange button is broken and resumed encouraging the guy up on stage. My girlfriend informed me that there was not a peep out of them for the remainder of the show.
There were a few other fantastic pieces of the show that stood out to me. There was the appearance and play of Martin Leung, the Video Game Pianist, which was simply amazing and moving. This was his first on-stage performance with Video Games Live. While he was performing, the cameraman would zoom in on the keys as his fingers glided across the ivories. During the intermission I was shocked to see a number of people run out of the auditorium to continue playing games during the break. In retrospect, I am not sure why I was surprised. I mean, really, you just can’t stop a gamer from playing when it’s available. Lastly was the number of younger children that were jumping up-and-down and screaming for Halo when it was announced. They were with their parents. My desire to encourage those parents to more closely moderate what their 10-year-old plays was silenced by the moving melodies and the propriety to mind my own business.
After the performance we conversed with other gamers in line for the meet-and-greet. Martin Leung, Jack Wall and Tommy Talarico came out to sign autographs and speak with those of us who stuck around after the show (Pictures Below). After hearing these men speak on-stage about the show’s birth and existence, seeing their enthusiasm and energy manifest in their performances, experiencing the show firsthand and the brief moments talking to them, I was awestruck by the passion they have for their work and for the industry as a whole. It’s obvious that these gentlemen enjoy their labor of love with a passion I hope to find for myself.
Video Games Live is more than an interactive audio/visual experience that sweeps you away for a few hours. This show is the beginning of living evidence that video games are an art form. A masterful blend of art, animation, orchestration, fan interaction and rock concert, Video Games Live captures all that you know and love of your video game past, present and future, and transforms it into a voice that does not cry out “We have made it!” It exuberantly exclaims, “We’ve always been here!”