LOS ANGELES - Austin Wintory still can't wrap his head around the fact that he's up against "Star Wars" composer John Williams for a Grammy Award.
"Thank God I've been so busy in the last few weeks since the nominations came out because I don't think my brain could ever possibly comprehend that," said the 28-year-old composer. "He's a lifelong idol of mine. I don't think it's something I could have ever even dreamed."
Wintory is facing 80-year-old Williams and his score for "The Adventures Of Tintin" at the Feb. 10 ceremony, as well as the scores to "The Artist" by Ludovic Bource, "Hugo" by Howard Shore, "The Dark Knight Rises" by Hans Zimmer and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
The biggest difference between Wintory and his competitors? His score is from a video game.
Wintory's nomination for the artsy PlayStation 3 game "Journey" marks the first time a game score has been nominated for a Grammy. Music from games have been eligible since 2000 when "other visual media" were added to Grammy categories previously reserved for music from film and TV. When the Grammys were overhauled in 2011, the category was renamed to "best score soundtrack album for visual media" to fairly encompass all mediums.
Wintory, a first-time nominee who also creates film scores, sees his nod as an opportunity to showcase the creativity of games.
"I don't have any interest in being that one game soundtrack for someone who doesn't own any game soundtracks," said Wintory. "I can think of no higher purpose than if `Journey' were to be someone's gateway drug, so to speak, to discovering much more when it comes to interactivity."
The score for "Journey," which casts players as a mysterious scarf-draped figure who wanders a desert landscape, is an exotic mix of mystical and introspective ditties led by powerful cello solos. Wintory said he tweaked and re-tweaked the score for three years with the "Journey" developers from thatgamecompany.
If Wintory wins at the Grammys, he wouldn't be the first game composer to take home a gramophone.
Christopher Tin won the trophy for best instrumental arrangement accompanying vocalists in 2011 for "Baba Yetu," the Swahili-language song originally featured in the 2005 strategy game "Civilization IV." That tune served as the opening track on Tin's debut album, "Calling All Dawns," which was also honored that year as best classical crossover album.
Unlike other awards that honor music from games, the Grammys solely judge game scores on their soundtracks, just like they do for scores from film and TV. Bill Freimuth, the recording academy's vice president of awards, said entries of game scores doubled since the category was renamed to encompass all visual media.
"For some reason, that worked some magic with the video game community," said Freimuth. "They didn't feel like they were outsiders. They were part of the main batch."
Tommy Tallarico, a video game composer and organizer of the "Video Games Live" concert series, was among the artists who originally petitioned the recording academy to add game scores to awards consideration. He believes Wintory's nomination is a landmark - not only for composers who craft music for games but also the gaming industry as a whole.
"It really shows that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is starting to consider our work art now," said Tallarico. "It's on the same level as film and TV in their eyes, and that's an important first step because a lot of people, when they think of music from video games, they still think of beeps and bloops. That's not the reality anymore."
Freimuth of the recording academy said that while video game composers have lobbied for their own category in the past, it's an unlikely proposition given the current amount of submissions the academy receives from game composers. Besides, this year's awards have proven that a score from a game has no problem earning a nomination alongside a score from a film.