A few weeks ago, I had one or two questions in the comments section of this blog about my opinion of Guitar Hero. I recently wrote an article for Slate about the newly released video game Rock Band, which is akin to GH, but expands the experience to involve more players.
Monitor Mix seems as good a place as any to continue the discussion.
The line between gamers and non-gamers is clearly diminishing, if not already obsolete. I went to a music performance the other week at a place called Backspace. This alcohol free, bagel serving hang out is replete with a "Scrim Room", wherein one sits in front of a computer screen for hours, ostensibly engaging in acts of faux warfare or wizardry. I am the first to admit that I know little about this sort of gamer, though I do find the dedication admirable. The obsession is not so different from my own friends' enthusiasm-bordering-on-addiction to games such as Settlers of Catan, Mafia, or Scrabble. There are also the casual video game players, those who put on boxing gloves and punch the air via Nintendo's Wii or who master solos a la Guitar Hero. They play during their lunch breaks or to help wind down after work; it's social and certainly more participatory than watching TV. And isn't compulsively checking and updating your Facebook page just another form of gaming? In other words, few of us are immune.
With so many of our interactions being mediated by computers, video games have become the rec rooms of the virtual community centers. The best and newest games, such as Rock Band, meld the virtual with the actual; they make little distinction between what is palpable and what is imagined. With Rock Band, you are hanging out with your very real friends, playing along to the master recordings of real songs, and on screen you are atop some of the biggest stages in the world. Of course, the truth is that you are nowhere except in front of your TV. But Rock Band professes that it doesn't matter—though you might not be creating memorable music with your friends, you are creating a memorable, real-life moment, all with the help of the unreal.
Part of me feels that Rock Band is yet another example of our culture's increased tolerance of phoniness, whether for the sake of simplicity or out of sheer denial. It's certainly easier to pretend to make art or to speak the truth than to actually do either.
But it is also unfair to hold Rock Band, a video game, to the same standards that I do artists, or politicians for that matter.
From the Slate piece:
There is a sad similarity between Rock Band and some actual bands, and that is the attempt at realness. With so much of music blurring the lines between ersatz and authenticity, at least the Rock Band game is a tribute to rock, rather than an affront. In the realm of fakery, I would choose Rock Band over American Idol or over any of the other flimsy truths masquerading as music.
So, do I like Rock Band? In short, yes. If people listen to David Bowie or Black Sabbath because of the game, if they get even one glimpse of Keith Moon's frantic genius or feel how Kurt Cobain's guitar lines were as expressive as his hoarse cry, then Rock Band is better than listening to most of the awful music out there. And, the truth is, not everyone should form a band. Any stroll on MySpace or visit to a modern rock station will tell you that. There are probably a handful of bands who would be doing the world a favor if they broke up and played Rock Band instead. They might actually learn a thing or two.