When Video Game Music Becomes Lullabies

The first few weeks of a baby’s life are perhaps the most exhausting for new parents. The unique combination of constant worry, a highly-disrupted sleep schedule, and the daunting prospect of being in charge of another human life do strange things to your brain. You find yourself suddenly being nocturnal, or just not sleeping at all. And in this sleep-deprived state, you have to do everything you can to make sure that the baby, at least, gets enough rest. Soothing a newborn is akin to playing the lottery: one sequence of numbers might win one day, but the chance of them working ever again is so slim that it may as well be impossible.

In these moments of desperation, you try anything you can to get them to sleep. Rocking is a good start and a staple of this process. What else though? Sometimes pacing is good, sometimes staying still is good, sometimes stroking their hair works, sometimes the baby no longer even has hair — fun fact, babies can be born with hair and then lose it. It all feels a lot like a science experiment, one where you know the desired outcome, but have no idea what hypothesis you are testing or what the variables are. It is also one where you have lost the cognitive ability necessary to even consider having a testing group. Grasping at straws, you sing any song that comes to you.

Earworm Jim

Games affect us in weird and wonderful ways. Many millennials grew up gaming from a young age, and we are now having kids of our own. While parenting advice changes from generation to generation, the one thing that is often constant tends to be the lullabies we sing babies to get them to sleep or soothe them. And it turns out that a lot of the music from games is actually quite relaxing and works pretty well as a way of helping kids drift off. While we’re waiting for the days when they can use a controller — instead of just trying to eat it — singing them to sleep with songs from our favourite games makes sense.

The song that I landed on for my little one — and the one that works the most consistently — is “Mother I’m Here (Zulf’s Theme)” from the Bastion soundtrack. Aside from being just a generally brilliant soundtrack anyway, this song, in particular, fits the kind of things I want to be singing to my daughter about. It also just so happens that Lyra and Mother have the same number of syllables so with a simple swap it becomes personalized too:

I set my sail
Fly the wind, it will take me
Back to my home, sweet home
Lie on my back
Clouds are making way for me
I’m coming home, sweet home
I see your star
You left it burning for me

Mother (Lyra), I’m here
Eyes open wide
Feel your heart and it’s glowing
I’m welcome home, sweet home
I take your hand
Now you’ll never be lonely
Not when I’m home, sweet home
I see your star
You left it burning for me
Mother (Lyra), I’m here

I want to tell my daughter that I am always going to be there for her, and this song is perfect — the fact that it makes her relax is a nice coincidence. And it does — it genuinely helps her to fall asleep, which makes it the single best and most useful song in existence.

It could have been anything, but the music in games seeps into your brain like little else. Whether it is because you like the song itself, the lyrics, or the thing it represents, game music is in a lot of us, and we’re passing it on to our kids.

Keep It Simple Stupid

And it turns out that it isn’t just me. There are lots of parents singing or humming songs from games to their little ones. Despite it seeming strange to anyone that doesn’t game, it makes perfect sense for those of us who do to use these songs. And there are a few tracks in particular that came up again and again when I asked other parents about their lullabies of choice.

“Simple and Clean” from Kingdom Hearts is one of them. Ignoring the remixes, the original is a pretty laid-back, relaxed song, so humming along to it while praying for your baby to go to sleep makes sense. Editor and writer David Jagneaux found himself reaching for the recognizable tune when “Brahms’ Lullaby” got stale: “Because I have always heard they like soft-sounding music, but other than the generic baby lullaby song that everyone knows I don’t know many. So instead I just thought of songs I did know off the top of my head, and naturally, it’s gaming songs.”

The Ocarina of Go To Sleep

But the source of the most popular tunes — according to my conversations with other parents — probably won’t surprise you. The Legend of Zelda’s music is full of wonderful orchestral swells, but also has some of the most soothing music around. Writer and teacher Ewan Wilson says he’s hummed both Ocarina of Time and Metal Gear Solid 2 songs to his child, adding “I guess it’s a generational thing. People with kids right now were formed via games from the late 1990s and early 2000s.”

Parent and Oculus employee Vanessa Vanasin hums both Majora’s Mask and Zelda’s Theme to her little ones when they go down for naps. I asked her how she landed on these songs in particular and she said, “I have very distinct memories of how moved I was emotionally when I first heard these songs in-game. Probably more impactful than those songs are the memories conjured and feelings projected as I rocked my littles to sleep.”

It makes perfect sense, then, that these songs would come to a parent trying to lull someone into a deep sleep. Hell, one of the songs is literally called “Zelda’s Lullaby.”

A list of lullabies from games would be easy to put together — along with the ones already mentioned, we could include the Journey main theme, “Coin Song” from Final Fantasy VI, and “Emil” from NieR: Automata. While many of these have full versions, the naturally repeatable nature of many game background music fits perfectly into the role too. After all, you never really know when your child will actually drift off. Plus, you need it to be something you can recall by default and just cycle through, because you could often do with a bit more sleep yourself.

It seems that as younger generations have children themselves, this kind of trickling of game music into everyday life could become commonplace. It’s just one more example of the ways that games are filtering into different realms of culture as the first generations that grew up with them are becoming adults themselves. But of all the ways that games have affected me, I never would have expected that having their music stuck in my head might help me as a parent.