Video game music, much like video games themselves, is something that the mainstream media is slowly coming to terms with as a viable form of art and entertainment. There’s a lot to be said about Sephiroth’s theme from Final Fantasy VII or the rich soundtrack to the Halo series because they enrich the overall gaming experience, but sometimes there’s music beyond gameplay. Sometimes we get a song that video games inspire.
And so we get “Exile Vilify” by a Cincinnati-based band called The National. This song was created as a single and released last year in conjunction with Portal 2, the sequel to Portal created by Valve. It only appears in one small section of the game, a Ratman’s den in Test Chamber Three in Chapter Two.
The song itself is a soft, haunting melody of piano, violin, and vocals by Matt Berninger. The lyrics touch upon a never-ending struggle, the ache of being banished and despised, and the seeming futility of one’s plight. It’s appropriate if you know anything about Doug Rattmann or the whole sad history of Aperture Science, though it isn’t necessary to enjoy it.
I think I enjoy this song both for what it is and what it’s inspired. On one hand, it’s a great melancholic song, worthy of any soundtrack. But on the other hand, Portal fans have done some very cool things with it. Valve encouraged them, for example, with a contest to create music videos using “Exile Villify” to tell a story about Portal games or Doug Rattmann in particular.
For your viewing and listening pleasure, here’s my personal favorite (courtesy of YouTube user MikeMov89Portal2), which didn’t make first place in the contest, but “1.00000000001th Place” (though the winning video is still very good in its own way and has more sock puppets):
I highly recommend you give this song a listen, then go and play Portal 2, and then give The National and Valve some more love.
Bibliography: The National. “Exile Vilify” (single). Written by Matt Berninger. Performed by Matt Berninger and Aaron Dessner. Used in the game Portal 2 by Valve Corporation. Release date: April 19, 2011.