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What’s the deal with all this rustic music in sci-fi video games?

Futuristic places with country-fried soundtracks

Clayton Ashley , senior video editor, has been producing and editing videos for Polygon since 2016. He is the lead producer of the tabletop gaming series Overboard.

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.

You can learn about all of this and more in the video above, and if you enjoy this edutainment journey, check out more of our videos on our YouTube channel!

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