Picking apart the hype of new and classic video games.

Grammys lead to an unexpected gaming milestone

In a surprising turn of events, composer Christopher Tin found himself making an acceptance speech on the fly during last night’s 53rd annual Grammy Awards.

Why is this news? Well if you’re a fan of the Civilization series, you will recognize the tune, “Baba Yetu,” from the 2005 release of Civilization IV. The song won in the Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists category.

Tin seemed taken by surprise when he took the podium and after a few shout outs, reminded the audience he had just made history by being the first musician to win a Grammy for a song originally meant for a video game.

“This nomination, well I guess this win is kind of historic because this song was written for a video game,” Tin said. “I hope this brings more awareness to the fact that great music is being written for video games.”

“Baba Yetu” is a half haunting, half inspiring arrangement that plays heavily on a gospel chorus singing the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili. According to Tin, he was approached to write the song by Soren Johnson, a former college roommate of Tin’s working as a programmer for Fireaxis Games.

Since that time, the song has garnered a solid reputation, having been played internationally by gamers and classical music fans alike.

The win is a step forward for those of us still sore at Roger Ebert on the games-as-art argument, but the six-year lag between the song being recorded and receiving any accolades tells us something. Grammy judges would have likely taken an interest in the song when it was first released in 2005, but what are the odds anyone on the panel was actually exposed to the song at the time?

It could be that Tin was ineligible to win the award until the song was released commercially in 2009, however it seems more likely that judges simply were not aware that the video game music industry has moved on from this.

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