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.