How The Music Of 'The Adventure Zone' Ropes You In

How The Music Of 'The Adventure Zone' Ropes You In

From video games to podcasts, chiptunes never seem to die.

With the boom of video game creation in the 1980s came a surge of new music made entirely with old computer and gaming consoles known as "chiptunes." Those chirpy, electronic classics have developed from early arcade games like Space Invaders and Gameboy's Pokémon battle themes to modern synthpop and electronic music. As video games have advanced in technology and storytelling capabilities, though, this genre has become a rarity as the industry begins to lean on orchestral, cinematic soundtracks. Even so, the chiptune and electronic genres are still associated with video games, a fact that has led to some interesting developments in music composition for not only games, but everything from movies to, perhaps most effectively, podcasts.

Though certain music genres obviously lend themselves to certain stories, a few select storytellers have discovered the surprisingly effective technique of combining classic video game music with acoustic instruments. The strong ties chiptunes and electronic music have with video games encourage listeners to understand those sounds as fantastical, animated, and vibrant, while acoustic instruments, whether or not they are actually played in the song or are mimicked by the computer, sound grounded in reality. Combining these contrasting styles can result in sound that can be comforting, unsettling, and everything in between.

Though this use of conflicting styles has been around for years, it was brought further into the limelight with video games like Undertale. The popular 2015 RPG was praised for its soundtrack, which combined chiptune with a medley of genres to create a game fueled by nostalgia. Its chiptunes mimic standard video game battle themes, jazz, and breaking news stingers while acoustic instruments, mainly piano, accompany the chiptune in moments that the game needs to make an impact, whether that be establishing a safe haven in "Ruins" or evoking Asgore's sadness and reluctance to fight during the final battle in the bridge of "ASGORE." Though the acoustic instruments and electronic chiptune rarely play at the same time, composer Toby Fox's decision to use both lends the soundtrack heart and excitement.

This technique goes beyond video games, though. As chiptune has evolved with the creation of more advanced music technology, the combination of classic video game sounds with instrumentals has infiltrated everything from pop music to film soundtracks. Of all of its newest uses, though, it seems to have found a home most easily in podcasts. Music in podcasts is as much or more a part of the art as video game and film soundtracks, simply because it is a strictly auditory medium, so every sound counts that much more. In response to the weight music can add to a podcast, two of the most popular podcast creators of recent years have turned to the mixture of electronic and acoustic music. Joseph Fink's podcasts, Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn't Dead, both feature soundtracks by Disparition, who uses "electronic and acoustic instruments [...] fed by natural and unnatural sources. When used as intended, elements of this material may cause disintegration of categorical boundaries. Some processes are irreversible." Disparition's use of these two genres takes both of these soundtracks into the uncanny valley, right where these podcasts need to be in order to work.

The internet's other favorite podcasters, the McElroys, have also introduced this style of music to their storytelling. The Adventure Zone, an Actual Play Dungeons and Dragons podcast featuring the three brothers of My Brother, My Brother and Me and their dad, Clint, just finished its first campaign, the back half of which was accompanied by a soundtrack composed by the youngest of the brothers, Griffin. Though most of the music used in the show has transcended the name "chiptune" at this point, it is undoubtedly inspired by it and finds its beginnings in the same humble place. Using a Rock Band 3 controller, a cheap MIDI converter, and Garageband, Griffin started composing toward the end of the show's third arc in anticipation of the music he knew he wanted to incorporate into the fourth. The resulting initial soundtrack is mainly ambient music composed of 8-bit and electronic sounds. "I’m thinking of them less like theme songs, and more like radio stingers," he wrote in a Tumblr post after first introducing the music to the show. "I should mention that I have no idea what I’m doing and if everyone hates them I will immediately stop doing them, because I am an adult baby."

Obviously, everyone did not hate them, because they soon became an integral part of the show. As the next arc's soundtrack maneuvered between original melodies, Garageband loops, and vocaloids, a good portion drew from classic video game music. That's not entirely surprising, considering Griffin is a founding editor and Senior Video Producer at Polygon, Vox's gaming brand. When Griffin posted the song "See You Later" on Tumblr, he even wrote, "There’s some Secret of Mana and Super Mario World pianos in there, and I think Earthbound bass?" Chiptunes and electronic music naturally suggest new worlds, make-believe, and interactive stories because of their roots in video games, but the fact that the boys are literally playing a role-playing game on its own makes the decision to make the music sound like classic video game music seem like a straight line.

The thing is, Griffin never seems to want to stick to a single style. Within the same narrative arc, songs constantly flow between acoustic and electronic. Even "Oh Hey, It's Hodge Podge!," the most chirpy of the "Crystal Kingdom" arc's songs and possibly of the entire show, becomes a mixture of the two by the end. This blurred line between electronic and acoustic is exactly why the music of The Adventure Zone succeeds, though. Though every other composer obviously adds to their respective stories by finding a balance between these two styles, the line is not so blurred or essential that Undertale could not function if it was solely chiptune or Alice Isn't Dead couldn't without electronic. Moments in The Adventure Zone that are crafted with songs that span both genres like "Voidfish (Duet)," "The Purple Worm," and "Arms Outstretched," though, simply would not work in the same way if the music was not an amalgam of electronic and acoustic sounds. The duet between the Voidfish's electronic singing and Johann's harp just before the "Crystal Kingdom" arc begins actually put a lump in my throat once Johann sped up the Voidfish's song and turned it into something shocking and beautiful. "The Purple Worm" takes the acoustic drawl that so perfectly matched the ambience of the "Eleventh Hour" arc and cuts the bass with electronic beats and loops that back the arc's absurd conclusion. The entire "Suffering Game" album flits back and forth between chiptunes like "The Felicity Winds," ambient sounds like "The Wheel," acoustic tracks like "Battle Axe Proficiency," and club beats like "Wonderland - Round 1, 2 & 3," so when "Arms Outstretched" took each of those styles to form the music for the arc's climax it became one of the podcast's most moving moments.

Podcasts on their own are an interactive medium. The fact that they are an audio-only platform means that the audience must invest some of their own imagination as they listen. Video games by definition require audience interaction, too. In combining the implicit interactive nature of video games with the grounded, real-world attachment that comes with acoustic instruments like piano, harp, guitar, and drums, Griffin is able to back the podcast with music that inherently lends itself to getting the audience involved, provokes inventive, creative thought, and invites real emotion.

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37 Drake Lyrics From 'Scorpion' That Will Make Your Next Instagram Caption Go Double Platinum

Side A makes you want to be single, Side B make you want to be boo'd up.


We all knew Scorpion was going to be the summer banger we wanted. However, Drake surprised us with two sides of an album and two sides of himself. Mixing rap and R&B; was genius on his part, so why not dedicate 37 of his lyrics to our Instagram captions?

1. "Don't tell me how knew it would be like this all along" — Emotionless

Definitely a "I'm too good" for you vibe.

2. "My mentions are jokes, but they never give me the facts" — Talk Up

This one's for my haters.

3. "I wanna thank God for workin' way harder than Satan" — Elevate

For when you're feeling blessed.

4. "I promise if I'm not dead then I'm dedicated" — March 14

In Drake's story about his son the world knows about now, we get a lyric of true love and dedication

5. "My Mount Rushmore is me with four different expressions" — Survival

6. "Pinky ring 'til I get a wedding ring" — Nonstop

7. "I gotta breathe in real deep when I catch an attitude" — 8 Out of 10

This first line of the song is about to be spread on the gram like a wildfire

8. "Heard all of the talkin', now it's quiet, now it's shush" — Mob Ties

9. "California girls sweeter than pieces of candy" — Sandra's Rose

This is gonna have every girl who has ever stayed in Cali all hot and heavy, watch it.

10. "I think you're changing your mind, starting to see it in your eyes" — Summer Games

Y'all know how these summer games go

11. "Look the new me is really still the real me" — In My Feelings

When you've got to profess that you've changed 200%

12. "Only beggin' that I do is me beggin' your pardon" — Is There More

13. "Shifted your focus, lens lookin' jaded" — Jaded

14. "Back and forth to Italy, my comment section killin' me" — Can't Take a Joke

Necessary for when you've got people hyping you up already

15. "People are only as tough as they phone allows them to be" — Peak

Y'all can't have this one, I'm stealing it

16. "Work all winter, shine all summer" — That's How You Feel

Put in the work so you can flex on 'em, summer 18

17. "Blue faces, I got blue diamonds, blue tint, yeah" — Blue Tint

18. "I stay busy workin' on me" — Elevate

19. "Ten of us, we movin' as one" — Talk Up

The perfect reason to get the largest group picture you've had on your gram

20. "October baby for irony sake, of course" — March 14

This statistically applies to 1/12 of y'all reading this, so take that as you will (we October babies are the best)

21. "She had an attitude in the summer but now she nice again" — Blue Tint

22. "I know you special girl 'cause I know too many" — In My Feelings

23. "Gotta hit the club like you hit them, hit them, hit them angles" — Nice for What

24. "She said 'Do you love me?' I tell her, 'Only partly,' I only love my ____ and my ____ I'm sorry" — God's Plan

If you haven't used this one yet, get to it

25. "But I'm blessed I just checked, hate me never met me in the flesh" — I'm Upset

26. "It's only good in my city because I said so" — 8 Out of 10

Follow this up with a location and shoutout your hometown

27. "My haters either on they way to work or they arrived" — Can't Take a Joke

28. "I always need a glass of wine by sundown" — Final Fantasy

Has Drake ever been more relatable?

29. "It's your f***in' birthday. Happy birthday" — Ratchet Happy Birthday

Let's go get kicked out of an Applebee's

30. "I move through London with the Eurostep" — Nonstop

31. "I stopped askin' myself and I started feelin' myself" — Survival

Mood all summer 18

32. "They keep tryna' get me for my soul" — I'm Upset

33. "I'm tryna see who's there on the other end of the shade" — Emotionless

34. "Only obligation is to tell it straight" — Elevate

35. "It don't matter to me what you say" — Don't Matter to Me

This line from the King of Pop (MJ) will give you chills. R.I.P.

36. "I'm the chosen one, flowers never pick themselves" — Sandra's Rose

37. "Say you'll never ever leave from beside me" — In My Feelings

Couple goals, amirite?

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It Is Pointless To Pity The Homeless

Guilt is the silent killer of political action.


Two summers ago, when I was an intern at The Father McKenna Center in Washington DC, I met Jason, who was homeless. I had just finished closing the shelter's computer lab for the evening, and the attendees of the AA meeting in the shelter's cafeteria had started to say their goodbyes and disperse until next week. As I was leaving to take the subway home, and as he was leaving to walk back to his encampment, wherever it may have been, Jason and I converged with each other at the front door of the shelter, and we introduced ourselves to each other.

Jason had two children, aged four and six, both of whom were protected from him under custody by his former wife. She had made the decision to divorce him because of his drug use, which posed a danger to the couple's children. (Jason did not hesitate to admit to this.) Shortly after the separation from his family, he became homeless. He had a high school degree and some former experience doing construction work. Aged into his mid 30's with minimal employment, Jason had been struggling to find a job for years.

As we walked, he told me about his kids, and how sometimes he hears about them during occasional phone calls with his wife. For a moment, he turned his head to look at me in my eyes, and he quietly told me about how proud he was of his daughters for completing the first and third grades of elementary school.

If you are homeless, it takes an immense amount of courage to make the commitment to go to a homeless shelter. I believe that the one thing that most people struggle with, homeless or not, is the challenge of confronting one's own demons. Jason had demons, luggage, regrets, and so on - I had those too. Jason had first stepped at The Father McKenna Center shortly before I began my internship. As I performed the duties of my internship, Jason and I, together, experienced a great turbulence in our individual missions to confront our demons; and with that turbulence came sobriety. Not relief or improvement, but sobriety. True self-improvement is a year-long commitment, but self-awareness is a skill which can be utilized at any time.

Jason and I spoke several times throughout my internship. One of the last interactions I had with his before I completed my term happened again at the front entrance of the shelter. He told me that after years of searching, he had found the initiative to apply for a job. "Even though she and I needed to go our own ways," he said, "I still want to show my wife that I care about her. We're not married, but I still want to provide for her and the kids. I don't know how they feel about me, but I want to show my daughters that I am still their father, and that I love them."

When I started my internship at the shelter, I genuinely believed that I would come out of it depressed and disillusioned. But I learned to look beyond the misfortune and suffering, and with that perspective, I started to find more and more inspiration in the facets of life by which I had previously felt discouraged and depressed. I have not seen Jason in two summers, but I think about him every day, for strength.

Say, for instance, that you start to feel as though the daily grind of your summer job is starting to become too monotonous. Us undergrads are tirelessly told by our advisors that the best possible use of our time during the summer, outside of college and other than working for pay, is time spent volunteering and building up our resumes. After some online research and phone calls, you break down your volunteering options to three different nonprofit organizations in your area: Your first option is to spend 3-5 hours once a week helping a local community center care for its flower garden, fresh herb greenhouse, and wildlife sanctuary. Your second option is to spend Tuesday and Thursday evenings bathing, petting, and reading storybooks to all the dogs and cats at a nonprofit rescue shelter. Your third option is to spend 5 hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at an inner-city homeless shelter and rehabilitation center for men who have been recently released from prison.

This where the conflict begins. Deep inside, you know that volunteering at the men's shelter is, in your opinion, the most valuable kind of work you can do. Human beings require more attention than plants and pets. Humans beings need to be kind to each other, and so, you may want to volunteer at the shelter.

The problem is certainly not that nobody wants to volunteer at homeless shelters. I consider myself an optimist, and I still think that the majority of people living in the United States wish to care for and support each other. The true problem is that even when a good-minded, empathetic, caring person wants to offer their kindness to the homeless, there are layers upon layers of illusions, false impressions, misconceptions, misunderstandings, and (most importantly), miscommunications which prevent them from doing so. What must truly be addressed is not how much attention is being paid to homelessness, but how attention is paid. There are many kinds of layers of illusion; the majority of them are certainly racial illusion. A vast number are economic. Others, however, are emotional. A lot are just flat-out moral as well.

The growing epidemic of homelessness, as an affliction, is the product of political injustice, racist systems, and greed. But the homeless lifestyle itself, however, is not political in nature. Homeless people are not statistics in a study, neither are they variables in a social equation. Homelessness is a daily struggle for a human life, and those who are homeless suffer. They are as emotional and as sentient as the well-off office workers who pelt them with quarters as though they're fountains.

Understanding homelessness is especially hard for people on the polar opposite side of the social/economic spectrum from the homeless. It is somehow harder for a wealthy and educated person to understand homelessness than it is for someone from lower-class origins to do so. As I said before, I genuinely believe that the vast majority of people on this Earth have the moral initiative to help those less fortunate - but this initiative is excessively overridden by the reflexive tendency most people have to compare and juxtapose themselves. This act of reflexive juxtaposition is what scares most people away from homeless shelters.

Call it what you want - "juxtaposition" is not the only word one can use to describe this feeling. Some people might call themselves "overqualified." From a political perspective, some have referred to it as "white guilt." Regardless of what you call it, it is reflexive. Homeless people, just upon sight, are registered with labels and false truths. The visceral, instinctive reaction to a homeless person is "Look forward, walk firm, and don't make eye contact." This is what needs to change.

In western society, people who grow up privileged - with parents, shelter, an education, and relationships - are subconsciously taught, unintentionally encouraged, and silently conditioned by the people around them to treat the homeless with, above all else, pity. The etiquette of reacting to a homeless person suggests something of a "passive melancholy." Like I mentioned before, under this mannerism of avoidant sorrow, homelessness is not a condition of life. It is a political symbol. The stumbling beggar in the subway and the raggedy busker on the street corner are effectively dehumanized by default; as long as they are evidently homeless, their role in the social dynamic of these public places is automatically different from yours and mine. The status of homelessness completely nullifies - no, prevents - a person's worthiness and rightful entitlement to human attribution, and without mercy, they are turned into something which is not human: a figure which is nothing but a representation of itself.

After years of riding the bus and subway, I have become aware of several different categories in which the people around me fit; I see the day laborers, who are categorized by being older men, clad in paint-stained construction pants, functioning in close-knit groups of six or seven. I see the government employees, who are categorized by the loudness of their gazes of exhaustion, directionless and unfixed, garbed in outdated albeit notably well-fitted suits, bland floral blouses, sky-blue button downs, the incredible pant suits, and khakis, and khakis, and khakis. I see the college-aged summertime interns running coffee for politicians who never remember their names, and they, too, are categorized; specifically by their calculated movements, blatantly artificial exteriors, and the endearing aura of simultaneous youthful naivety and capitalistic millennial-themed ambition (they also act like they know where they're going, when really, they don't, but they never stop to ask for directions). I see the mothers, the trust-fund white kids from Gonzaga, the beatniks from Howard, the Reagan-bound luggage-bearing vagabonds, the punks, the academics, the racists, the anarchists, the activists, the drunks, the wandering, the sleeping, and of course, the emblematic tourists in their MAGA hats, graphic tees, and jorts.

What kind of a response is demanded of those who choose to protect the weak? How are the wounded addressed by the healers? How should I talk to someone who suffers? The photographers, the journalists, and the volunteers cannot hope to rile a revolution alone. Neither can the teachers hope to raise a generation freed from toxicity alone, nor can the young politicians on the Hill hope to deliver their country to safety and stability alone. The problem of homelessness can be addressed, as can it be confronted, observed, studied, and journalized. Don't get me wrong, though - this type of action is deeply important: The awareness of a problem creates an opportunity for its solution. But the raising of awareness is not enough. The confrontation of our reality is not enough. To take the first step beyond awareness is to give attention to those who are in need of it; to attend to the weak and the wounded, and to act for their protection and their healing. In the words of the French revolutionary Simone Weil: "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity."

Song suggestion: LCD Soundsystem - American Dream

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