Learned associations in music and video games

The classic train of thought in neuroscience and psychology holds that the sense of smell and memory are intimately related. The brain regions associated with processing smell and memory, the olfactory bulb and the hippocampus respectively, are physically close to each other. Although, close proximity does not necessitate any connectivity between the regions; the two regions could be close to each other without ever talking to each other.

Smells do trigger strong emotional responses in me. But, personally, sounds (in particular music) seem to be the most closely associated sense with memories.

I have the weirdest, most vivid memories of the video games I was playing when hearing certain songs. Hearing a song that randomly pops up on my iPod sometimes triggers my mind to flash back to previous situation around me while playing these games initially. Sometimes I can remember my body position, the surroundings, what I was wearing, and in some cases, my emotional state. I can recall exact combinations of songs with specific areas in the game. All this, yet I’m often times unable to remember simple facts about experiences I had just had weeks ago. 

But a lot of times, I listen to music OUTSIDE of the game music. 

All of the following associations between video games and music are wildly inexplicable - and totally true. There is no reason any of these associations should be made, and I honestly think that despite the billions of people in existence, these associations are strictly unique to me and no one else.

Japanese pop star Ayumi Hamasaki and Cold War era Real-Time Strategy game Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2

How I would ever discover this artist is one of the biggest mysteries of my childhood. Despite having achieved the fame of level of Japanese Britney Spears, the average American has probably never heard her voice. 

Somehow "Ayu-chan" found her way onto my Napster queue. I had her album "I am..." constantly playing during the time when C&C RA2 was my major gaming time sink. Appropriate for gamers who are planning to both command and conquer, her hit song "evolution" is driving and excessively energetic.

Armenian-American hard rock band System of a Down and the quirky 16-bit era JRPG Earthbound

There is something infinitely appealing about Serj Tankian's bursts of lullaby-esque singing interspersed with heavily-accented yelling combined with catchy melodies. Not necessarily my preferred genre of music, but I still found myself deep into System of a Down in the late 90s.

Somehow, the best tracks from this album (including Aerials, my all time favorite) are tied in with that Blue Man cult part from the Super Nintendo JRPG Earthbound. Serj WAS the soundtrack for me. I played the game long after it had first hit American shelves in 1994, so I missed out on the initial playground talk hype of the game. Instead, my experience of Earthbound was poisoned by a combination of desperation to finish the game quickly and the heightened expectations that others had built for the game. A part of me is sad that I never experienced how the official soundtrack sets any part of the game mood. But a bigger part of me enjoys that I randomly crave SOAD.

Cleveland-born rappers Bone-Thugz-N-Harmony and psychological survival horror Silent Hill

At some point maybe a decade ago, on a trip to the motherland, I remember playing Silent Hill with my cousins. While exploring a portion of the insanity-inducing elementary school of the game, the telephone in the room rang - and we all jumped. The game is unbelievably scary, in part because the original music is the perfect soundtrack for a horror experience. It's way too creepy. 

Instead, I played my own music over top of it during my time in Silent Hill. The music of choice at the time was a CD given to me by my cousin while I was overseas, E 1999 Eternal by Bone-Thugz-N-Harmony. "Crossroads" is the ageless track that really put them on the map, but for me, the song that really pulled me in with their unique delivery is the titular track.

What are your weird musical associations? Share them with me below.