From the Ear’s Perspective: The Day the Music Died

ADolge January 21, 2009 - 1:54 pm

A couple of weeks ago I was at a friend’s house for a small get together. It was nothing special, about eight friends, a nice variety of imported and domestic beer (Okay, mostly PBR), some pizza and chips, and of course, some video games. The game of choice for the evening, Rock Band. Two of us considered ourselves musicians, while the rest fit in that category of “music lovers.” As that evening was the first time I played the game, I popped my Rock Band cherry on songs by the Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, and Blondie.

These are songs I grew up listening to. Heck, these are songs I grew up learning to play and perform in my garage bands. How could a video game feel anything like a surging electric guitar pulsing in your ears or the bass from a kick drum thumping off your chest? It doesn’t, and can’t. Games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero have as much to do with music as MTV does today.

Harsh? No, it’s reality. But that’s not to say these games don’t serve a purpose and have something to offer. They are really the ultimate party game, as I experienced with my friends a few weeks ago.

The game felt like a combination of glorified karaoke, Simon Says and the now defunct TRL (Total Request Live). Projected on a flat screen TV and, through a surround sound system, the game looked and sounded great. The booze helped loosen us up, belting songs at the top of our lungs, not always in key, but always with enthusiasm.

I am probably late to this whole genre of games. It’s not completely intentional, but subconsciously I’ve put off playing these games because they seemed like a fad. Why would I want to play a game emulating a guitar when I have an actual guitar and can play it pretty well? Why would I want to play a game that puts me in the role of a rock musician with a backing band and groupies?

I can’t pretend I didn’t have a good time, but it was pretty clear to me that these games are likely on their way out. Unless they have extraordinary new features. How many times can they remake Guitar Hero and Rock Band? All they seem to do is add new music. These games are already going the way of MTV. The network, like the games, started on a great idea. But after enough tweaks to the lineup, it’s clear the network has less and less to do with music and more to do with pop culture. It wont be too long before Rock Band has downloadable content where you live in a house in Brooklyn with eight complete strangers. After a series of patches, you then find yourself playing a single white male on a reality dating show hosted by Jenny McCarthy. Sure there is still music pumping through the game, but you can’t help but feel it has lost something. Wasn’t this all supposed to be about rocking your way up the charts in the hopes of one day playing in front of a couple thousand people, while bleached blond strippers waited for you in your tour bus?

There is supposed to be some disconnect from the games we play and what they represent. For instance, just because we play Grand Theft Auto doesn’t mean we beat up hookers with baseball bats for fun. So I could see how people would say the same about these music games. They aren’t supposed to emulate actual music performance. They aren’t supposed to make you become an actual drummer or a lead guitarist. They are simply for fun and should be taken with a grain of salt. For me, it’s the latest gaming trend that will likely start to fade in the coming months and years. I do applaud the developers for creating such popular games, but hope they have enough sense to move on when the time is right. Hopefully MTV Games won’t make the same mistakes as the network and try to add more content that deters from the original purpose of the game. The last thing the gaming world needs is reality based games.

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Comments (12)

  1. Adam, I couldn’t agree with you more. Good insight and timely. I already see people starting to lose interest in these games. There are only so many times I can stomach hearing “Slow Ride” in a video game. Lets leave music to the musicians.

  2. Avatar of Murray

    Judging from the game sale trends of Guitar Hero World Tour and GH3, anyone can see that these games don’t bear annual iterations. However, with DLC, the current installments can stay for awhile, becoming the next iTunes. The same goes for Lips and other rhythm games.

  3. Avatar of ADolge

    There’s no doubt these games are fun. I just don’t see their staying-power as a genre. I suppose we play games for many reasons. If it’s to feel like a rock star, I can see why some people like it, but I’ll leave these games for others to play.

  4. I totally agree that games like rock band are on they’re way out as is MTV. But because of the fact that you already a musician excludes you from the reason many people are so drawn to these types of games. Most people who play rock band and guitar hero cannot sit down and rip on a real guitar or jam with their band in the garage. They come to rock band to experience the thrill of being a rock star touring with a band and playing in front of their fans.
    For many to live out their childhood dreams that never came to fruition because they couldn’t keep a beat or sing on key, these games are their way to live vicariously in a rockers paradise.

  5. I kind of see where R-Bomb is coming from. If you already have the ability to pick out a song on the guitar, then the game really won’t have any meaning for you. On the other hand, I agree with the author in that the staying power of this game is horrible. My son owns World Tour and had played it religously with his friends for the first month, but since then, the drums and guitar are gathering dust in the corner of my living room.

    Good job, Adam. I’m your biggest fan! =)

  6. Avatar of ADolge

    Yes. The DLC will keep these games alive for a while. Did anyone see the South Park ripping into Guitar Hero? Stan’s Dad sees the kids playing Guitar Hero. He brings his real guitar down and plays a song. The kids laugh and call him a loser. That pretty much explains how I feel.

  7. While I agree that this, like any other “fad” will die, I think it’s a great way to get kids up and engaged a bit more than just slumped on the couch and wearing out their thumbs. My brother would sit in front of the TV and play* insert his latest game addiction here______ * for 48 hours straight if my mom let him, so seeing him standing up and interacting with the rest of the family for Guitar Hero was great. And like you said, it’s the ultimate party game, although I’ll always be a fan of traditional board games. Nothing can take the place of those…yet.

  8. Your argument has about as much weight as a racecar driver saying that racing games are dead. You just don’t get it. Of course playing a racing game isn’t the same as being in the Indy 500, but that isn’t the point. It’s a GAME. People are being introduced to music that they’ve never heard before and gaining an appreciation for the classics we grew up with. All while playing a GAME. Radio is now heavily influenced by the songs included on these games. Music games are leaving their mark. To declare them a ‘fad’ is silly. To compare these games to being in a real band… ridiculous. Enjoy the game for what it is. You already admit you had fun, so the game did it’s job.

  9. Avatar of ADolge

    I’m not a big statistics guy, but I’d love to see if these games have an impact on kids learning to play an actual instrument. Of course the game is fun, most games are fun (especially with friends). I still stand by my belief that these games are a fad and I don’t believe we’ll see a Guitar Hero X.

    On a side note. What could keep games like this interesting to people like me is if bands have exclusives to these games. Maybe they could develop the game more like an iTunes. I just don’t like the gameplay, plain and simple. Sure, the music rocks, but that’s what it is. From a gaming perspective, I don’t feel it has much to offer beyond a party game. This just goes to show the diversity of gamers like the diversity of music tastes.

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