"ATTENTION GAMES INDUSTRY COLLEAGUES!"
If you've written about games in the UK over the last few years, then you might have had an email or two in that time bearing this alarming headline. They come from Mark Robins, a 13-year games industry veteran who used to work as a journalist at Computec and Future Publishing before moving into PR. He's pretty well known - the firm he works at, Lunch PR, is an agency whose clients include Bethesda Softworks - and Robins' emails are always about the same thing: he wants you to vote video game music into the Classic FM Hall of Fame.
The weird thing is that the emails have nothing to do with his job.
"This campaign has nothing, nor has it ever had, anything to do with any of the clients I represent," Robins tells me in an email exchange. He's hugely adamant on this point and, knowing him reasonably well, I can believe him. "This is a purely personal crusade. Skyrim made the Hall of Fame thanks to community motivation by Bethesda's social media team. It's no secret that I run the campaign, but I don't actively tell people who I am via the social media channels and I'm actually really keen to keep this as distant from my work as possible."
The reason I'm discussing this with Robins at all is that just over 12 months ago, at the start of 2012, he asked me if we could cover his campaign on Eurogamer, and I tried to fob him off by saying, "It's the kind of thing we'd probably write a story about during a quiet month if you make any headway." And I know that's exactly what I told him, because he actually quotes it back to me in an email on 10th January 2013 forwarding me his latest "ATTENTION GAMES INDUSTRY COLLEAGUES!" email with a nod and a wink.
So on the one hand I'm writing today because he's got me bang to rights. Robins' campaign didn't just make some headway last year, but in fact recorded amazing success. Thanks to his efforts, he and his followers not only propelled Aerith's Theme from Final Fantasy 7 and the theme from Skyrim into the Classic FM Hall of Fame, but Classic FM produced a pair of two-hour shows featuring nothing but video game music.
"One of the interesting things I found when I started this was just how accepting the people at Classic FM were of the music," says Robins. "To them the revelation was, 'Oh, we thought game music was all beeps and bloops, but actually this stuff is great. If Mozart or Beethoven were alive today then who's to say this isn't the stuff they'd be composing. It absolutely sits alongside movie and traditional classical music.'"
I've tried to speak to Classic FM about this and despite some friendly emails I haven't had any answers back from the relevant department, but you only have to glance through last year's Hall of Fame to see that the radio station - broadcast nationally in the UK - embraces music from a wide range of sources, including games, TV and film. Skyrim gets pride of place on one page a few places behind Mozart's Symphony No. 41 but ahead of Debussy's Preludes (bad luck, old horse). You have to click almost to the end to find Aerith's Theme, though, because heavy voting means it settled at 16th in the chart, with Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Holst's The Planets for near neighbours.
Aerith's Theme has emerged as a standard-bearer for Robins' movement, but it's more than just a focal point for a small community of like-minded music-lovers; there's a unique fascination with the Japanese RPG soundtrack. "If you're talking about video game music, there's a very special relationship between RPGs and their music, and [Nobuo] Uematsu is the master of his art," says Robins. "He is gaming's Beethoven and while everybody will argue their own favourite, Final Fantasy 7 is probably his most popular score. For a lot of people FF7 will have been their first experience of a sweeping RPG score and I can't think of any other game that has been re-orchestrated as much as this one has. While not originally written for an orchestra, you can tell Uematsu would have scored it for one if he could. The versions that are played worldwide now are superb bits of concert music."
Ah yes, the concerts. Robins says he loved game music from a young age ("While friends at school were chilling out to the latest Bros and George Michael LPs, I was literally that kid putting a microphone up to his TV speaker and recording a mixtape of C64 classics"), but it wasn't until a Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011 that he decided to start the campaign. "For me, everything I'd heard that night was just as stirring, just as special and just as moving as any piece of traditional classical or movie music," he says. "That classical video game scores don't get the same respect or attention as movie or even TV scores is a real shame. That's when I decided I'd try and do something to redress the balance."
As well as the JRPGs, Robins points to Medal of Honor as an unlikely influence. "I think Michael Giacchino's score was a magnificent piece of work," he says. "This was the moment, for me, that the orchestral scores of video games hit a par with - and in many cases excelled past - movies. Watching the veterans talk about their experiences over the end credits might have brought a lump to the throat, but it was Giacchino's music that pushed you over. Without it, I genuinely feel Medal of Honor wouldn't have been half the success it was, and without Medal of Honor, would there have even been a Call of Duty?"
This year Robins is encouraging people to vote for Nobuo Uematsu's soundtrack to Final Fantasy 7 again. He points out that thanks to last year's voting effort there is now loads of video game music in Classic FM's voting database, making it easy for people to highlight particular favourites. He also encourages fans of classical game music to join the Facebook group - not just to rock the vote, but also to share their enthusiasm.
Heading over to the Classic FM site, I can see why a small but dedicated group of fans could tip the scales to favour their preferences - it doesn't look like the most robust voting set-up in the history of the internet. But I don't think that's a big problem, and judging by the way Classic FM has embraced video games, the organisers don't either. They seem open to new things, which is not always something that seems to be true of people who don't know games very well and are suddenly forced to acclimatise to their presence.
As for Mark Robins, I know a lot of games industry PR people and, while plenty of them are passionate about games or the games business, I don't know many who would be prepared to spam the journalists in their contact books with extra-curricular emails promoting those passions. After all, it's kind of annoying. And surely "not annoying the journalists" is pretty important currency for someone working in public relations? In a world that's increasingly aware of and hostile to PR and marketing, I rather like that he doesn't care.
As I sit here finishing this post, my email tab shows (1).
"Games industry friends, if you do one thing this week..."