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Music Week: Someone should make a game about: Frank Ocean's Channel Orange


Hello! Welcome to a Someone Should... with a Music Week twist. A classic album tangled with a classic piece of hardware.

We all have a sound which reminds us of our gaming childhood. For me, it's the Artisans theme in Spyro The Dragon. For Frank Ocean, evidently, it's the Street Fighter 2 opening beep. It's this sound which opens his debut album Channel Orange, a narrative album about a conflicted adolescence whose only constant was video games. This beep follows the distinctive start up sound of the original PlayStation, before Ocean takes us on a journey of unrequited love, drug addiction, coming out, religion, Hurricane Katrina, and existential dread.

We might associate the PS1 with Final Fantasy 7, Tekken 3, and Crash Bandicoot, but the truth is we all associate the console with something deeper. The sounds, the look, and the feel of the machine reminds us of the time we were enthralled by the PS1. Channel Orange, bookended by the PS1 start up and the fuzz of a CRT TV switching off, wraps up Ocean's songs in the era and the memories of the PS1.

It feels like a love letter to video games - not to Street Fighter 2, nor to any specific game - but to the pure escapism video games can offer. And it's full of such rich, engaging stories that inverting it, turning the whole thing into a video game, is the best tribute I can think of for one of my favourite albums of all time.

There are a lot of albums that I could listen to from start to finish. Very few of them would make good video games, but Channel Orange is the exception.

I'm not suggesting a Sweet Life shooter or Monks As A Service. But with the flowing, interwoven stories of Channel Orange, held together by the sounds of a PlayStation, there's potential for a slow burn narrative. Something along the lines of Life Is Strange or Firewatch. Something like Gone Home or What Remains Of Edith Finch, only instead of exploring a house, we explore the album itself, and all the different tales within it.

Take Forrest Gump, for example. Ostensibly a retelling of the film from Jenny's perspective, it's actually about unrequited love and Ocean coming to terms with his sexuality, told via the idea of running. Not only is running a core part of the Forrest Gump movie, it's a basic building block of many games, and Channel Orange offers a way for this running to be used narratively, a la Sayonara Wild Hearts and racing.

Or Super Rich Kids, a song of Gatsby-esque empty wealth that ends in Gatsby-esque tragedy. Super Rich Kids even references stories within stories, and intertwines with other Channel Orange tracks Sweet Life and Lost. It folds into itself and branches out into different paths, different choices, as the best narrative games do.

I've always thought of Channel Orange to be an album about the PlayStation. One day, I'd love to be able to play it on one, and not just through Spotify.

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About the Author
Stacey Henley avatar

Stacey Henley


Stacey is an entertainment reporter who has written for The Washington Post, IGN, Polygon, and more. She's an editor for Into The Spine, and spends her free time discovering new worlds and exploring vast terrains, but only in video games. In real life, she mostly stays home.

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