So I didn't beat any games this week. I put some time into Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War before dropping it (I might come back to it intermittently), and I'm just under the halfway point in The World Ends With You, which is amazing so far! But I wanna save that one for when I have a better idea of where the game's going. Right now it's all shrouded in mystery still, which is Cool. Anyways, this week I decided to write about something I almost never stop thinking about: Lo-Fi sensibilities
Now when I say Lo-Fi, if you think of anything you probably think of music. Lo-Fi hip hop has done a lot to bring the fairly niche term into the wider cultural sphere, but if you haven't heard of it, here's my explanation: Lo-Fi music is music that sounds "unpolished", "unfinished", "DIY", or any other similar aesthetic.
Basically it's music that you can tell was made by people who were inexperienced/figuring it out themselves, whether because it's mixed kind of poorly, has mistakes in it, or just sounds like it was done on a budget. This is in contrast to most professionally produced music, which usually sounds very clean and perfect. (if you're here for games talk, don't worry, I'll get to games in a bit)
If you haven't heard this music you probably think this sounds stupid. Why would you want music that sounds like it was recorded in 15 minutes in a garage when you could listen to music that was labored over by a team of professionals? And I can't blame you for thinking that, but I'll go in to why I personally got into Lo-Fi: I can hear the human element. This music, especially the indie rock variant, sounds raw, energetic, and exciting in all the ways that cleaner stuff doesn't. Oftentimes the lack of overhead on this music encourages experimentation with timbre, texture, and song structure. Basically I listen to so much music I wanted something that sounded fun again lol.
From an electronic music perspective, a lot of self-produced music fits this bill too. Wish house music was a little warmer? Lo-Fi house is your thing. Want hip hop that sounds like it was mixed by a four year old but in a good way? Lo-Fi hip hop is super super your thing. Even vaporwave has a lot of elements of Lo-Fi in it, it just tends to be mixed a little better.
And here's where I tie it in to games: Lo-Fi doesn't have to stick to music. You can apply it anywhere. So, in the games industry, where so many AAA games coming out now have such an incredible level of detail and visual fidelity and themes that don't push any boundaries in the slightest, where do you go to find something to challenge your sensibilities? Old games and Indie games.
Indie games are usually made by a small team, by necessity go for a more restricted art style with rough edges, and often deal with very transgressive themes. Often times for an art style they go for a nostalgic style, referencing 16 bit graphics or Low-Poly 3D graphics (think PlayStation 1 or N64). This is when games really embody Lo-Fi for me. Old games are Lo-Fi compared to modern games in the same way as indie games: Often even the more popular games were experimental, made by smaller teams, and obviously the graphics standards of the 90s were less extreme then they are today.
Lo-Fi as an aesthetic is getting more and more popular as the years go on, and art becomes more and more corporatized. When an album goes through 15 sets of ears to sound as clean and masses-ready as possible, it's easy to lose the imperfections that make music interesting. To an even greater extent, if 80 people work on a game, how can any singular creative vision shine through? Especially when it needs to sell 5 million copies and score a 95 on metacritic or no one gets to buy christmas gifts for their families this year. DIY spaces are where the most interesting art comes from, and that's most embodied in the Lo-Fi scenes of today. Celebrating the humanity of a work, the flaws just as much as the successes, the feeling of playing something you can tell a small amount of people worked on, it all comes together in Lo-Fi, no matter the medium.
I'll end this off with some recommendations in different genres and media to test out some Lo-Fi stuff! Thanks for reading this super long and off the cuff essay!! <3