Composer Gustavo Santaolalla says that for years, he’d been waiting for a video game like The Last of Us to change everything. “Video games were always on my radar,” he tells Consequence, not because he’s a gamer — “I’m a terrible player, I don’t know how to play” — but because right around the time Santaolalla was winning his second Oscar (for the score to 2006’s Babel), he was watching his teenage son game.
“I enjoyed watching him play, and I always thought, watching my son, if somebody creates a game that will connect with a gamer on an emotional level, aside from the killing and the fighting, and the combat and the survival, this is going to be a moment that is going to change the history of games,” he says.
After Babel, Santaolalla says he was approached by several gaming companies about working on their projects, but “nothing reverberated with me, I’m very picky [about] what projects I get involved with.” However, when he was approached to compose the score for the first Last of Us game, things were different.
“When I met Neil [Druckmann, writer/director of the original games] and Neil told me the story of The Last of Us, I said, ‘This is it, this is it. This is the game,'” he says. “Not particularly because of the story but the concept, the idea of this emotional connection with a gamer. Then when I learned that people were crying while playing the game and crying almost at the same places, just like in the movies — you really see and can prove that there’s those peaks, those moments where the emotional connection really is made.”
While in the case of The Last of Us, the game came first, followed by the series, Santaolalla thinks that “it could have been also the other way around. It could have been first the series and then the game, because it’s a great story… It’s a story that I think, particularly in the historical moment that the world is living and what we’ve been through and stuff, it touches a lot of people. I know there are a lot of people that are really into the show but probably hate video games. That’s what it is, because the story is what connects.”
Set in the aftermath of a devastating plague, The Last of Us did in fact receive widespread acclaim for its ability to connect with gamers, and Santaolalla went on to compose music for the game’s sequel as well. Now he’s back for the HBO series adaptation, which Druckmann co-created with Craig Mazin, bringing the signature sound he developed for the games to TV.