David Bowie. The man, the myth, and sadly now, legend. He was a number of things: a singer, painter, model, artist, actor, and so much more. He was an incredibly influential person and an icon, the kind we may never see again. You might know his catchy songs, seen him on the big screen, or admired one of his many portraits, but regardless, It is clear how much of the world he touched. His embodiment and music extends into video games where his influence made a meaningful impact.
Omikron: The Nomad Soul
Release: Windows (November 1999), Dreamcast (June 2000)
Omikron takes place in a futuristic city of the same name. In this fourth-wall breaking game, the player investigates a string of murders by a serial killer within this vast city encased in a crystallized dome that protects Omikron from the ice age. The city is divided into sectors with their own class of civilians, unique architecture, and themes with the city itself controlled by a government supercomputer.
The themes and story of Omikron were fairly outlandish upon its release. It tackles topics such as drugs, politics, and an anti-government body. These topics were rare to see during 1999 and just shows how ahead of its time this game was. The gameplay combined first-person view with 3D fighting segments and glimpses of puzzle-solving. This helped the game standout from more one-genre focused games. Reception was lukewarm with mixed reviews, but there was one person this video game has that no one may know: David Bowie.
David Bowie helped with development ideas, the soundtrack, and made two cameo appearances in Omikron. He played as Boz, a revolutionary wanted by the government (authorities), and the nameless singer from a band called “The Dreamers,” a music group who performed illegal concerts. Not only did he lend his voiceover, Boz’s face resembles the legend himself.
For the soundtrack, he wrote three tracks for Omikron that would later be rewitten for his ‘Hours…’ album. Those tracks consist of “Thursday’s Child,” “New Angels of Promise,” and “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell.” Each song laid a perfect foundation for the futuristic setting and demeanor of the game. “New Angels of Promise” is performed during the game’s intro and paints city landscapes with an eerie message. The lyrics keep repeating the word “suspicious” as if there is more to Omikron than is being revealed. When the player observes a concert performed by the Dreamers, David Bowie’s “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell” starts to play. The graphics are not on par with what is seen today, but plays out like a music video. The Dreamers are on stage being who they are, playing a concert for anyone to hear.
Release: Xbox 360 (May 2010), Windows (February/March 2012)
Alan Wake is one of the best psychological survival horror games I ever played. The game follows a best-selling thriller novelist, Alan Wake, as he tries to find out about the disappearances of his wife during a vacation in Bright Falls, Washington. Alan Wake is eerily similar to a thriller television series which breaks up the game into episodes. Throughout each episode, Alan experiences events unfolding from his latest novel, which he does not remember writing. Major spoilers follow.
The final episode, “Departure,” has Alan returning to the cabin he and his wife stayed at while on vacation. He finds himself in another world, filled with darkness and confronts the Dark Presence, a supernatural force that terrorized Alan and his wife. With a flash of light, Alan disposes the Dark Presence and is relinquished from his nightmare. However, instead of leaving the cabin, Alan walks towards his typewriter. The windows reveal a shadow still surrounds the cabin. Alan sits down at his typewriter and comes to a realization:
I understood what I had to do now. I knew how to write the ending to “Departure.” There’s light and there’s darkness, cause and effect. There’s guilt and there’s atonement. But the scales always need to balance. Everything has a price.
Once the credits start to roll, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” plays in the background; a fitting masterpiece to end a phenomenal video game. “Space Oddity” discusses how Major Tom’s departure from Earth was successful, much like Alan Wake’s latest novel. At a certain point in the song, Major Tom travels “past one hundred thousand miles” where he believes “my spaceship knows which way to go.” He wants ground control to do one last thing for him, “Tell my wife I love her very much.”
The similarity between Major Tom and Alan Wake are evident thanks to Alan’s demeanor at the end of the game. He must finish his book no matter the obstacles and with glazed eyes, he acts as if his typewriter “knows which way to go.” He cares deeply about his wife, but understands that he has gone too far; “Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.” The darkness will not let Alan go.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Release: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows (September 2015)
The opening mission for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain shows the protagonist, Venom Snake, using a Sony Walkman. The tape inside is labeled “From the Man Who Sold The World.” When Venom Snake presses play, Midge Ure’s cover of David Bowie’s song reveals a cloudy scene. Venom Snake wakes up from his coma, glossy-eye. While the opening credits roll and vision clears, the song fades into the background until the nurse finds a conscious Venom Snake. The radio falls onto the ground, and Venom Snake closes his eyes.
This song is perfect for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I do not want to spoil anything, but this song encompasses much of the story. Each line in the song can be referred back to something relating to this phenomenal video game. More importantly, David Bowie’s interview with BBC Radio 1 is brilliantly describes “The Man Who Sold the World” almost as describing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The comparison is inherently clear:
I guess I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for… That song, for me, always exemplified kind of how you feel when you’re young, when you [see] that there’s some piece of yourself that you haven’t really put together yet. You have this great searching, this great need, to find out who you really are.
Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and DJ Hero are three music rhythm games I loved playing with friends. I remember being blown away by the first Guitar Hero. The controller felt unnatural, but the music kept me wanting to play. Thanks to my wonderful friends, I was able to listen to David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” for the first time (though it may have had many mistakes since we were all bad at the game). A similar thing happened when I heard “Suffragette City” played on Rock Band for the first time. I remember seeing demo kiosks at my local Best Buy featuring this game. Unfortunately, “Suffragette City” was cannibalized by people who never played a musical instrument in there life.
DJ Hero was different since it involved a turn-table and mixes that combined two artists. I bought this video game on a whim since I was heavily into music rhythm games at the time. I liked hearing remixes and mashups with different artists, but nothing prepared me for this. David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” was featured in three mashups with 50 Cent’s “Disco Inferno,” Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and Boogie Down Productions “Jack of Spades.” Each mix was remarkable! I played each mix on the hardest difficulty over and over again; though mastering these tracks proved to be difficult.
Another fond memory of David Bowie was when skating around listening to “Queen Bitch.” Skate took the skateboarding video game genre and turned it upside down. It used a controller’s analogue sticks to accurately represent street style tricks like no other game. I remember skating around trying to perform an impressive combo, then fail miserably with “Queen Bitch” playing in the background. This meshed well with the soundtrack that included hip-hop, punk and modern rock.
The Legacy Continues
David Bowie is an incredible artist with ideas no one could dream up. His legacy will forever continue through music, pop and video game culture, film, art and much more. I recommend that everyone listens to his latest album, Blackstar, which released on January 8, 2016. This spectacular album proves how great David Bowie is and forever will be. The instrumentation, lyrics, and overall craftsmanship of this album proves that he still had more ideas to share with the world.
Let me leave you with my favorite track that will forever play in my heart.