An Interview With Thomas Spargo, Founder of Gamer's Rhapsody

Published: November 13, 2014 3:30 PM /


Gamer's Rhapsody Logo

This weekend, Gamer's Rhapsody will hold it's inaugural event - and I'll be there! I had some questions about the convention, so I emailed the founder of the event to get some more background.

  • What made you decide to start a convention? Is there a certain goal you have for the event?

    I started the convention because I have a deep passion for music, and in the last five years, that has grown to include video game music above all other genres. I play classical guitar and have done a few covers of Zelda songs on Youtube. I also play piano and dabble into other instruments. As a guitar instructor, I introduced video game music into some of my student's repertoire, and about 90% of my students went crazy over it. I found out that there are many other people who also love video game music, and that helped inspire me to start this convention. I'd really like to see Gamer's Rhapsody turn into an organization that can not only attract people on a national level, but a community that promotes collaboration, new art and music, and new concepts in gaming through a formation of a non-profit 501c3 organization. We attempted to start the process this year, but realized it's going to take lots of time to go through the IRS process of getting tax exempt. So we decided to postpone it until our first convention happened. Back to the collaboration, I hope attendees bring their instruments for our jam room, and I hope artist come prepared to sketch in our art room and display their work over the weekend. Both of these two rooms operate on a casual basis, so if someone feels like playing and drawing, or even just watching, they are free to just jam with others.

  • Is there a specific focus you had when putting the show together?

    As our subtitle suggests, we are a video game media convention. We are trying to be open to all of the creative fields inside the development of video games like their music, art, story, and engineering. With that, this year does have a bigger focus on development and music because of the guests we have attending. We have 8 guests of honor who range from internet personalities to composers, and game journalists, to the Corgi King. In addition, we have six game development studios who will be on site and showing off their latest games.

  • The location of the event is interesting to me. Minnesota in the winter is a pretty brutal place. Are you hoping to get people together from across the country, or are you focusing on the Twin Cities gaming community?

    For this year, our main focus is on the greater Twin Cities area since this is our first year. Of course the reason I choose Minnesota is because I am from the coldest state in the country, so it was only natural, but in addition to that, I think Minnesota has a very active gaming scene going on considering its location. We have a very active chapter of the Independent Game Developer Association, along with some minor studios of Activison. As far as the cold though? If you are from a state that is warmer, I'd imagine you'd look very stylish in a fluffy down jacket.

  • Other music and gaming conventions like MAGfest also promote the marriage between the two mediums. Did you take influence from what they’ve done and incorporate that into your show?

    I remember when I first came up with the idea for Gamer's Rhapsody. I had to google to see if anyone else had an event similar, and of course I stumbled upon MAGfest and some other video game music focused events. I certainly drew inspiration from many of those, but I'd like to think ours is slightly different.

  • What would you say sets you apart from other, similar events?

    As a disclaimer, I have not had the opportunity to visit other video game music conventions like MAGfest. Part of why I started Gamer's Rhapsody was because people in the upper midwest often don't have the opportunity like those on either coast do to experience awesome events like MAGfest. So while I can't speak on behalf of other events, I would imagine our event falls somewhere between MAGfest and Game Music Connect. Although both of those events are focused on video game music, they both seem like completely different events. As the MAGfest website states, they are a festival, not a convention. In contrast, Game Music Connect seems closer to a professional conference that is also open to the public. So I think Gamer's Rhapsody fall somewhere in between those two. My goal of our convention is to be fun, artistic, informative, and playing games. So in the morning, we have more of a conference set-up happening on our main stage with panels and workshops going on about video games. Some take a look at the correlation of video game music and classical music, one panel is a "name that tune" game show, and we even have a speed runner playing games with music composed by Jake Kaufman, one of our guests. Then once it gets dark, we have our concert series with Dale North, Nerd Enhanced Sound, Do A Barrel Roll, Disasterpeace, and Jake Kaufman in that order. So even the music that night ranges from piano/vocal to jazz and chiptune.

  • Are there any challenges in getting people who aren’t into video games into video game music?

    Their certainly are. Many people over the age of, say 50, have commented that video game music is only "bleeps" or "noise." It makes since to receive those comments from someone with little experience with video games, but I think that stereotype is starting to change. I think many people are realizing video game music has more substance than most pop music, and is just more than sound effects on a screen (I do think sound design is very important). I think as with any hobby, it's hard to convince other to share the same passion you have for something, and that it's often easier to just find other who already have that passion. I do hope that events like these will help the general public realize what is actually in video games, and not just considered a "time waster" which I think that attitude is already starting to change.

  • In the modern video game market economy, do you feel like game music is properly valued and represented?

    First of all, I just want to point out how cool it is that we are experiencing the birth of video games. In my lifetime, in terms of graphics, I have seen 16 bit turn into images that are close to being photo-realistic. With that, I think people don't know how to handle video games just quite yet. When video games first started coming out, the general idea was that video games are greater than the sum of all parts. Basically, if the video game was bad, everything was bad. Now, each video game component is starting to be dissected and analyzed. For example, most reviews of games I read don't necessarily include the game music into the overall review score when typically all other aspects are reviewed and help determine the final score (graphics, gameplay, story, etc.) So in that sense, I thin video game music is not taken as seriously in the gaming community as it should be, but then again, I think you could say the same thing about movies too. When it comes to releasing the music for download, I think you run into the fact that the current gaming business model isn't set up to make money on the music of the game, but only on the game in itself. I think composers should be fairly compensated for their work in a game, but if the studios catch on that they should enforce their copyrights on the music as strongly as the actual music industry does, I think we will run into a major problem in the video game music community. To me, I see it as, the more you listen to the video game music, the more you get attached to the game, the more games you'll buy. So for studios to not rely on income from selling downloads of BGM, they could benefit from stronger loyalty in the future. (I'm not sure if this is actually where you were expecting to go with this question. If this wasn't what you meant, feel free to rephrase it, and I can respond again.)

  • How do you feel about licensed music in video games? Does that take away from the experience or add value?

    I think it depends on the game, the target demographic, and the overall feeling of the game. Take Guitar Hero and Rhythm Heaven for example. Guitar Hero would have never made it past a single game had it used original music in the game. The market it was targeting would have only been interested in playing rock songs they knew. On the other hand, Rhythm Heaven thrived on it's own original music, and really wouldn't have worked any other way. In both senses, each benefited from their respective music style. If we set aside that genre of game, I feel like it's really up to the discretion of the director. I personally feel more impacted and drawn in when their is original music in a game just because their is thought put into the sound design like character themes, motifs, and other audio cues. In a game like Legend of Zelda, I couldn't imagine it any other way. But I feel like games with themes of photo-realism and fantasy based heavily on our world, have an easier time justifying use of licensed music. If the game draws upon places that exist in our world, using music from our world makes sense. If a game is in it's own entire world, I think it should use it's own music, otherwise you get confused on the atmosphere and creativity of that world. The same thing also applies to movies. If you movie is a coming of age story set in Chicago, using licensed music isn't crazy. If you have a coming of age story set on Pluto, you better have original music in that film.

  • What will it take for you to consider this event a “success”? Any plans on making this a recurring thing?

    Overall, I want attendees to have fun and to take something away from their experience, whether that's actual knowledge, a friend, or just doing something they haven't before. My number one goal is to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. In addition, I want to make sure our sponsors and exhibitors get exposure. So make sure you visit our website and checkout Game Informer, Top Score, and Scarletmoon Productions. We are definitely planning on making this a yearly event. As soon as this year is done, we will begin our venue search.

  • If you were stranded on a desert island, and for some logically explained reason you could take 3 games with you (no internet, though), what would they be and why?

That's tough. I would probably choose A Link Between Worlds because I need to pick a Zelda game, and I wanna pick a cheery one that won't be depressing or scare that crap out of me (I'm looking at you Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask). Then, I'd probably pick Final Fantasy X because that seems only fitting for that scenario. For my third game, I would pick a Smash Bros. game just because it would give me enough time to actually figure out good strategy to beat anyone with any sort of skill level. Fighting games have never been my strong suit, but give me a sword, a puzzle, a platform, or throw me behind a wheel, and I'll pose an actual challenge.

 It's shaping up to be a good time for those looking for a music and game celebration event. Be sure to check out their website for tickets and more info, and I'll have plenty of coverage from the event this weekend spilling into next week!

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