Readers recommend: songs about games | Peter Kimpton

Press play: now name your top tracks about poker hands to Xbox adventures, survival strategies or chess moves, all in the devious games of love and life

Hello. And congratulations for clicking the link that has brought you here. You have now entered a game. The game is known as Readers Recommend.

RR is a game which, at the same time, isn’t a game. But it is certainly playful. But even if a game, it is certainly like no other. Why? Because simply by entering the game of RR, you have already won. The more you enter and take part, the more there is to discover, the more fun there is to have, and so the more you win. There aren’t rules, as much as guidelines. So then, first, some general ones, particularly handy for new players:

General game guidelines

1. Think of songs. Name them, probably one at a time, in the comments below. Ideally include a link for each from YouTube or another site, and if you have time, a short explanation about why the song is a good choice.

2. What song? The song must be related to the topic of the week. More of that in a minute.

3. Be very nice. RR is all about shared knowledge, imagination, connections and friendliness. RR is also a very popular place to be, one of the most popular in the Guardian. It is packed with friendly, musically-rich people who connect with each other. Banter, jokes, interesting facts and anecdotes are very much welcomed. Sniping and bitching, unless it’s meant to be friendly, mutually amusing and ironic, is more often frowned upon. One way to be nice is to show approval to another reader is by seconding their song nomination. Somebody on RR once meant to write “second” and accidently typed “sedond”, by mistake. Somehow, over the years, this has stuck and became abbreviated to the word “dond”. So if someone says “dond!” to you, then they like the song you’ve named. Dond!

4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 as many times as you like.

5. Don’t feel like you have to be competitive, but many RR players love to name songs as fast as possible, and get there first! But even better, try to think of songs no one else can.

6. If someone in comments says a song is “zedded” it means that it is on the A-Z list of previous songs chosen, after nomination, for previous topics in what is called the weekly results blog. That blog always appears a week after this one - it’s essentially another writer’s choice of the best of songs about this week’s topic. All A-listed songs are to be found in an online treasure trove, an superb RR fan site called the Marconium, which tells you everything you need to know. But if you are new to the game of RR, don’t worry about that now. Just suggest as many relevant songs as you can, and repeat all the above.

7. Mild warning: the RR game can be addictive. But if there’s such a thing as a good addiction, this is it. It is like having a dependency on hearing great music, breathing fresh air, healthy living, reading a good book, and making friends.

It’s all in the game, yo … Omar Little - a true player in the HBO series, The Wire.

Game on: this week’s guidelines

1. Name songs that allude, in lyrics, titles or style, to any kind of games - but don’t include official athletic sports such as football, cricket, or running. So if not sports, what games?

2. Your game songs might allude to traditional board games such as chess, draughts, Monopoly, dominoes, and other tactical games, knowledge-based quizzes such as Trivial Pursuit, or “skill-based” family games that so often seem to come with explanation marks - Kerplonk! Koppit! Buckaroo! In songs, the references to these could be metaphorical as well as literal, such as being a pawn in the game.

What is it about these older games that endure? Are they designed to sharpen alertness, increase hand and eye co-ordination, teach us to have fun and collaborate, or train our minds be devious in a competitive world? Probably all of the above. In that oddball combination of two contests, chess-boxing, particularly popular in eastern Europe and Russia, three-minute rounds with the gloves on are interspersed with three minutes at the chess board. The knockout blow usually comes on the board, where there are even more devious, deceptive and ruthless tactics to catch your opponent off guard.

Far Cry 4
Far Cry 4. A far cry from tiddlywinks, also a game that involves flicking buttons. Photograph: PR

3. Look up “games” on the internet and you’ll inevitably enter the frighteningly addictive universe of video games. You song choices might touch on the latest high-end graphics worlds of Half-Life, Grand Theft Auto, Far Cry, Mass Effect, or Age of Empires. Is this a morally bankrupt, shoot’em-up, build-your-own-fantasy world that your song mentions? Then name it. Beware of getting sucked in, as in the extraordinarily organistic insider sci-fi game world of David Cronenberg’s film eXistenz.

Many video games, particularly those based on skateboarding, are given a relentless musical backbone with songs, likely earning the songwriter far more in royalties than any standard format sales. Personally I’d avoid watching any films based on video games like the plague. Or perhaps like a plague of zombies. They are almost always crimes against cinema (er ... Resident Evil?). And if your song takes you there, perhaps it might refer to the old-school, with a bit of Super Mario, Street Fighter, Space Invaders or Pac-Man. If a song mimics or samples sounds from these games - then these too can win plaudit points.

Do video games affect our behaviour - de-sensitising us to violence, ruining our ability to conduct normal relationships? Well, of course they do/don’t. As comedian Marcus Brigstocke once put it:

“If Pac-Man had affected us as kids, we’d all be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive electronic music.”

It eats time … Pac-Man in 1983.
It eats time … Pac-Man in 1983. Photograph: Sinibomb Images/Alamy

4. Perhaps the most likely references to games in songs may be to do with cards. Many a heart, mind, car and house has been won and lost over Blackjack, Rummy, Wist, Bridge or Crazy Eights. While there has been a previous topics of deception and gambling on RR, this is still a whole area of colourful gamesmanship that can be exploited in song this time around. Who is the dealer? Are you wearing your poker face? What kinds of cards are you holding, and do any particular ones feature in the song title or lyrics?

5. And then there’s the biggest one of the them all – the game of life. It has infinite rules, constantly broken, changing tactics, with ultimate prizes. Songs alluding to life games, wicked or otherwise, may work best as extended metaphors. In short, people pull each other in different directions, forge alliances, put on personas, all to survive, and thrive.

There’s a world of this going on in song, but to inspire and illustrate here are a few examples in the world of the film and TV. Arguably the massive futuristic franchise, The Hunger Games is really an echo of ruthless Japanese school survival film Battle Royale. But much sharper than any of the weapons in either of these is that political drama House of Cards (1990), starring the marvellously manipulative chief whip, played by Ian Richardson (the series has more recently remade in the US for Netflix).

House of Cards starring Ian Richardson
House of Cards starring Ian Richardson as the ultimate political manipulator, Francis Urquhart. Photograph: PR

Then there is the utterly ruthless medieval fantasy contest of life and death, Game of Thrones (or Game of Jobs as one colleague has called it), based on the series of books by George RR Martin, who in turn cruelly plays with his readers as to who might die next. Over five brilliant HBO seasons, The Wire is exemplified by the superbly wily character of anti-hero Omar Little (“It’s all in the game, yo!”). My personal favourite in this genre, however, even above gangster and family game-playing masterpiece The Sopranos, is Deadwood, an extraordinary story of an emerging gold-mining town in 1870s South Dakota, where, with a supreme cast and Shakespearean script spearheaded by the villainous landlord Al Swearengen (Ian McShane - yes old Lovejoy himself), and some very tough female characters, it portrays articulate, complex, inventive and survival game-playing at its very best.

Deadwood, 2006
Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, W Earl Brown and Sean Bridgers in Deadwood, season 3, 2006. Photograph: HBO/Everett/Rex Features

So, are you game? This week’s umpire of the ultimate game is the that knowledgeable RR veteran nilpferd, who will play along with your many game song nominations and choose a list of the best by next Thursday 22 January, so please put play your best hand of songs in comments below (and optionally in the Spotify playlist) by last orders 11pm UK time on Monday 19 January. Game on!

To increase the likelihood of your nomination being considered, please:

• Tell us why it’s a worthy contender.
• Quote lyrics if helpful, but for copyright reasons no more than a third of a song’s words.
• Provide a link to the song. We prefer Muzu or YouTube, but Spotify, SoundCloud or Grooveshark are fine.
• Listen to others people’s suggestions and add yours to a collaborative Spotify playlist.
• If you have a good theme for Readers recommend, or if you’d like to volunteer to compile a playlist, please email
• There’s a wealth of data on RR, including the songs that are “zedded”, at theMarconium. It also tells you the meaning of “zedded”, “donds” and otherstrange words used by RR regulars.
• Many RR regulars also congregate at the ‘Spill blog.


Peter Kimpton

The GuardianTramp

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