Popular culture is always influenced by new and different sources. In the past, famous movie stars and musicians like Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles were some of the biggest pop icons, with many people changing their fashion preferences to mimic them. Today, however, K-pop, TikTok influences, and YouTubers are more likely to change the preferences of young people.
Over the past four decades, the influence of video games has also slowly been increasing. While early titles were shunned by most people, this interactive form of entertainment has slowly become a mainstream activity.
Of course, video game developers have taken many parts of pop culture and put them into their own creations. For example, Grand Theft Auto Vice City is a time capsule that looks back on 1980s music and fashion trends and recreates them in video game form.
But it works the other way, too. Many video games play a role in shaping modern pop culture and their ability to influence the real world has continually increased over the decades.
Pop culture always finds its way into our language. Popular catchphrases, song lyrics, and movie quotes have regularly been adopted wholesale or assimilated into common parlance. Often, they become so ingrained, we forget where they originated from in the first place.
For example, the phrase “make them an offer they can’t refuse” is an adaptation of the famous line from The Godfather (1972), while the line “there’s no place like home” was made famous by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Other commonly-quoted lines include “Houston, we have a problem”, “you had me at hello”, and “how do you like them apples?”.
The same is true for games. Some obvious examples include the words “owned” (or the later variation “pwned”) and “rekt” (a shorthand spelling of wrecked), both of which were used as trash talk but have found their way into everyday use, particularly in politics.
But there are also examples of games making more subtle influences. One notable instance of this is poker, a card game that saw its popularity and cultural significance explode in the 2000s when online card rooms began to rise to prominence. Today, platforms like PokerStars allow players to learn how to play the game and then give them the ability to compete against people from all over the world.
Part of this learning involves understanding poker-related terms and phrases, including “going all in”, “bluffing”, and “having a full house”, all of which are regularly used in everyday life, even if we don’t always think about their origin.
Video game music has evolved a lot over the decades. This evolution has been driven by two key factors: technology and the race to create more engaging and immersive titles. From the tech side, early hardware could only handle MIDI sound effects, creating that distinct bleeping style that became synonymous with the 1980s.
Today, things are very different and musical productions for video games are just as big and important as they are for movies. The result is that these tracks make it into popular culture in the same way that film soundtracks do.
Back in 2021, Forbes reported that the music Minecraft soundtrack topped Spotify’s list of most-streamed game songs. The track Sweden had 77.5 million plays alone, topping the platform’s gaming chart. This was followed by C418’s track named Minecraft in second place with 38.4 million listens. A further five tracks made it into the top 25 list as well, racking up a combined 83.4 million streams between them.
Songs from other popular games, including The Last of Us, Halo 2, Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, God of War, The Elder Scrolls, and Mass Effect all generated tens of millions of streams too.
Dancing may seem like an odd inclusion to this subject, but it’s actually a very notable example. Movies and songs have long brought new dance moves into our lives for decades, just think of the YMCA, Dirty Dancing, or Gangnam Style.
Video games have done the same. The best example of this is Fortnite, a free-to-play title that generates revenue by selling character customisations. One of these customisations is the ability to have your avatar perform a unique dance sequence at the end of a game, showing off to all the players.
Many of these distinct movements, have made their way onto dancefloors, music videos, and social media posts the world over.