If science fiction video games have a typical sound, it’s synthy and electronic, which makes a lot of sense considering their futuristic settings. But a recent crop of sci-fi games have sounded a little more… rustic. From banjos to dobros to harmonicas, it’s definitely not the sound of the future. I was curious if there was anything to this micro trend, and I discovered pretty quickly that these games had more in common than just a country-fried soundtrack.
While at first these games might appear to be some flavor of sci-fi western, they don’t really fit that categorization. Rather than focusing on a Lone Ranger-esqe figure looking to escape their past in a vast frontier, these games are more focused on characters who are just trying to get by. The more I looked into this, the more it became obvious I needed to talk to some experts: I spoke to Lisa Yaszek, a professor of science fiction studies, to give me a grounding in the history of sci-fi, and Dom Flemons, a musician, cultural historian, and practitioner of old time music, who helped me understand where this music came from and the incredible history of the banjo itself.
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