An Ear For 8-Bit

Over 1,000 Gamers Weigh in On the Most Memorable Music in Video Games

What if you had your own soundtrack constantly playing, even as you just stood there and thought about your next move? What if your every jump or right turn had a little accompanying sound effect? Well, this essentially describes the virtual reality of video game life. Often, these little noises and musical snippets are catchy enough to become intertwined with our daily lives. But which video games resonate in particular?

Over 1,200 self-described gamers weighed in to determine the most memorable music in video games. We collected their responses to determine the most recognizable theme music and action noises in a gamer\'s psyche today. Gamers also suggested the best music to listen to (apart from given soundtracks) when they were looking to change things up. Read on to see what they had to say.

Game Playing Songs


Super Mario Bros. was the only theme song to be recognized by a whopping 90% of gamers. It was also more likely than any other video game song to be regarded as "catchy" by the surveyed gamers. As one fan adoringly commented on the YouTube video for the song (which has been listened to more than three million times), "All gamers rise for the Gaming National Anthem."

The Pac-Man theme song was nearly as recognizable as that of Super Mario Bros., but not as enjoyable or "catchy" to as many people as Tetris' music. The Pokemon theme song was also recognized by three-quarters of respondents, though the song from its more modern app phenomenon, Pokemon Go, was only recognized by 31.2% of gamers surveyed.

The Angry Birds soundtrack also stood out, not in terms of recognizability, but in terms of catchiness. With the game earning over 50 million individual downloads, gamers found this song to be catchy 62.8% of the time.

The Sound of Virtual Death


The sound of a specific video game hero's death was recognizable to no less than 93.6% of participants. The sound of Mario's death etched a deep audible mark on the memories of almost all surveyed gamers. His transporting-through-a-pipe sound, though probably more desirable than a Mario death, was less recognizable. Perhaps this reflects the dark, yet common, human tendency to better recall negative memories than positive ones. The standard jumping sound was even less memorable than the pipe and the death sounds.

"Waka waka" was a familiar noise for many, recognized as Pac-Man by 85% of gamers. Though these repetitive noises and other gaming music may annoy some, 19% of gamers said they would never mute video game music when they were playing.

Preferred Video Game Music


When gamers had the chance to choose their own music, most went with hip-hop and/or rap. In fact, 44.2% preferred this genre and listened to it while playing video games. Hip-hop/rap was also the preferred genre for first-person shooter (FPS) game players. Hip-hop was replaced by classic rock for gamers who played role-playing games (RPG) more frequently than FPS.

Electronic dance music was the most polarizing genre. Though electronics and video games might sound like they would go hand in hand, just 23.7% of gamers wanted to listen to this genre while playing video games. That said, EDM was actually the No. 1 choice for a subset of gamers who preferred playing MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games).

Flowing With the Music


Listening to music seems to improve the video gaming experience for most players. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said that this held true for them, but 31.7% said it had to be non-video game music to truly enjoy it. Twenty-six percent took it a step further and created their own special video game playlists. And thanks to these creators, another 24.1% of respondents said they followed video game-themed playlists that others (or algorithms) had already curated.

The Sound of the Game

Gamers who enjoyed either the video game's soundtrack or music of their own while gaming might be onto something. Music has been shown to improve everything from memory to mood and brain function, so why couldn't it improve video game skills?

To better enjoy your next video game experience, first try browsing a few pre-made video gaming playlists. Mix up your normal routine and explore a soundtrack you may not have otherwise thought to game to. Or maybe just listen a little closer and appreciate the plethora of small but important sound bites that make up the experience of playing your favorite video game. After all, these are some of the most recognizable sounds of our lives!

Methodology and Limitations

For this project, we administered online surveys to 1,205 avid gamers via Amazon Mechanical Turk. To qualify for this study, respondents had to indicate affirmative responses to the following:

To determine the most memorable video game music,'s research team drafted an exhaustive list of 50+ video game titles. From there, we pulled and converted YouTube videos into MP3 audio files. Next, each audio file was trimmed down to 3- to 10-second clips. We employed A/B testing in the survey for each video game theme or action sound, so not every participant listened to all 50 sound clips. The sample sizes for each visual are as follows:

An attention-check question was used to ensure respondents read, listened, and answered all questions in their entirety. Respondents who failed to answer this question correctly were quickly identified and disqualified. The main limitation of this study is that the data rely on self-report. Self-reported responses are typically faced with several issues such as, but not limited to the following: attribution, exaggeration, telescoping, and recency bias.

Fair Use Statement

Think you or a friend could recognize more video game songs than the 1,200 gamers surveyed? Feel free to share this article with whomever so long as the purposes are noncommercial and you link back to this page.