I'm usually OK with soundtracks as long as they don't actively annoy me; of course, it's nice when they do something more than just provide not-too-irritating background noise I may or may not turn off. Douglas Wilson looks at the relationship between gameplay, music, and meaning (and what makes for a 'musical' game) over at GameSetWatch, picking a perhaps unlikely example to illustrate the relationship he's talking about: Civilization IV. After explaining precisely what he's getting at, Wilson opines:
Even though the music of a more “traditional” game may not affect the gameplay on the level of the code, it can certainly affect the way we experience the game mechanics, just as the game mechanics can alter our understanding of the music. Indeed, since experience is ultimately what matters, I would argue that any deeply synergistic soundtrack-gameplay relationship that acts on an emotional or cultural level can be just as "musical" as the formal mechanisms of rhythm games – physical game controllers or no. ... Take a closer look at Civ IV, and you’ll see that the real meaning of the game lies somewhere between the mechanics, at those interstitial places where gameplay slides into and intersects other forms of expression.
Is Civ IV a music game? My favorite films (and games, for that matter) manage to weave together story, music, visuals, and all those other little bits that go into the making of media — often to splendid effect. But does that make them musicals, or music movies, or music games? Or "just" splendid, thoughtfully produced media? I'm not convinced on some of Wilson's points, but his overall meditation is worth a read. Grand Pianola Game Music [GameSetWatch]