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Koji Kondo DICE awards

It’s About Time Koji Kondo Was Inducted Into The AIAS Hall of Fame

These days, entertainment award ceremonies seem to have slipped into the realm of the perfunctory. They’re carried out without enough pizazz and, strangely enough, with a surplus of Taylor Swift. Thankfully there’s still a soiree that, while unfairly underplayed, has managed to retain a sense of dignity: the DICE awards (Design Innovate Communicate Entertain). And this year, there’s an especially relevant inductee: Koji Kondo. 

But what are the DICE awards, you ask? Fair question. The conspicuous lack of promotion around DICE could paint the occasion as a modest and inconsequential affair, but that’d be a mistake. In fact, the entire event has been said to be the equivalent of the Academy Awards for games. DICE is hosted by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS), a non-profit and 33,000+ member-strong organisation, legitimised by an impressive roster of partners. According to the AIAS LinkedIn page, members include individuals from heavy-hitting companies like EA, Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and Epic Games, to name a few. 

For the past 26 years, this cadre of prominent colleagues have not only been voting on top games of the year, but they’ve also been ushering in influential figures for outstanding contributions to the gaming world. Just glancing over the laundry list of individuals currently part of the AIAS’ Hall of Fame is humbling. The hits include Nintendo all-father Shigeru Miyamoto as the first Hall of Fame inductee (for obvious reasons), followed by Virtua Fighter creator Yu Suzuki, co-founder of Blizzard Michael Morhaime, CEO of Epic Games Tim Sweeney, Hideo Kojima and more. With so many impressive names, it’s really a surprise that Koji Kondo is just now joining the party. 

Anyone who’s ever picked up a controller will immediately be familiar with Kondo’s contributions to games – nay, the world of pop culture. To the musically literate, it’s E, E, E, C, E, G, G; to the illiterate, it’s duhduhduh-duh-duh-Duh-DUH. However you translate it, the theme to Super Mario Bros; is one of the most iconic melodies ever composed. Much ado has rightfully been made about the famous score, with an excellent deep-dive in the 33 1/3 series, but while he could’ve easily rested on his laurels and stopped, Kondo went way past Super Mario Bros. 1. 

Just a year after the first Super Mario Bros. game, Koji Kondo would strike gold again with The Legend of Zelda score, thus giving him the keys to both franchises and each of their future melodic iterations. A personal favourite of mine was Ocarina of Time; a game that literally hinges on playing tunes on your eponymous Ocarina (Song of Storms totally slaps). The man has his musical fingers and toes in so many touchstone tunes that it’s mind-boggling, which only goes to underscore just how interconnected music is with games, especially Kondo’s.

In a 2009 interview with the composer himself, he humbly reveals that he wrote the legendary notes to Super Mario while playing the game, simply basing the feel and mood on the gameplay. He poignantly states later on that music is crucial in creating an enjoyable atmosphere in games, and is one of the main reasons that keeps games stay alive in our memories years long after the fact. Indeed, due to the abundance of players who experienced Kondo’s work mid-game as kids, a kind of neural nostalgia takes place, transporting us back to the good ol’ days. 

In the AIAS’ charter, the Hall of Fame induction is “bestowed on game creators who have been instrumental in the development of highly influential games and moving a particular genre forward”. The latter here is the most relevant. While not a game creator per se, there’s a good chance that Shigeru Miyamoto’s little plumber game would’ve sunk without its snappy soundtrack. Likewise, a plucky elf boy’s adventure to save a princess would’ve been underwhelming at best without its epic music. 

Check out the DICE awards and, as a primer, give a listen to a chunk of Kondo’s CV. It’ll take you back in the best of ways. 

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