Japanese video game music has received considerable attention in ludomusicological research, but the broader culture and public perception of game music in Japan has received relatively little scholarly scrutiny. The article addresses this gap by examining how video game music has been conceived as a distinct genre in early Japanese media discourse, namely writings in Japanese gaming magazines and mainstream media from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Drawing upon a constructivist perspective on mediated discourses, the article considers discussions in media as active agents that contribute to the formation of perceptions of the surrounding world. Through this process, media discourse can potentially influence how audiences experience and evaluate video game music as well as how practitioners create music or identify themselves as composers. The data reveals three particularly prominent interconnected categories: (1) game music as children’s music; (2) the conception of game music as transitioning from “background music” to “real music”; and (3) using authorship as a legitimacy marker. Especially the Dragon Quest (1986–) series and its composer, Kōichi Sugiyama (1931–2021), played a prominent role in shaping these categories. While generally presenting game music in a positive light and contributing to a conceptualization of video game music as a distinct genre, all three categories effectively distance game music from its original context within the game. Instead, they incorporate aesthetic judgments, wherein the value of the music is assessed in relation to preexisting musical styles and genres outside the gaming context. Early Japanese discourse thus exhibits a limited comprehension of the audiences and functions of this genre. These observations nevertheless broaden an understanding of the history of game music as well as its public position in Japan and elsewhere.

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