The Dangers of Rock Band

I was recently afforded the opportunity to play the new ‘it’ game: Rock Band, (which is currently burning through the eyeballs of more than a few of this country’s young men and women) by none other than Tuesday’s On the Phone contributor extraordinaire Jameson Czech. While I enjoyed my time on the plastic axe (though not my time on the extremely frustrating drum kit), I could not help but become a bit horrified at myself and at the game itself the longer I played. The game put out feelers, wrapped them around my throat, and refused to allow me to think about anything other than: “PLAY MORE ROCK BAND!”.

Usually when a game does this to me it is simply the sign that the game is well designed and, quite frankly, damn good, but the more I thought about Rock Band the more I became worried. I thought back to when I first picked up (real) guitar and started teaching myself how to play. It was not only among the more difficult things I’ve ever had to do in the pursuit of enjoyable leisure, it was also easily the most annoying. I’m still not Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn, but I do alright (well enough to front a semi-real band: Brownfields). If a game such as Rock Band had existed when I was first learning guitar, however, I most certainly would have traded in my 15 pound Peavey T-150 for the 2 pound plastic Fender Strat that glimmers so beautifully in the blue light of digital television.

And this is the real danger of Rock Band. It allows kids to take the easy way out of actually learning an instrument by wrapping it up in a shiny package which allows wannabe rock heroes to live out their wildest dreams without really learning the skills or theory which is so necessary in reality. Where would we be if Johnny Greenwood or Paul McCartney had decided that playing their plastic X-BOX guitar was satisfying enough?

Of course there is also another possible endgame to all of this: it could actually stimulate people to go out and buy a real guitar or learn how to play the drums because they see themselves succeeding in the virtual world. Rock Band could be a gateway video game; one which leads to higher interest in studying and creating real music. My only hope is that anyone who starts actually tagging skins or shredding frets after playing the game doesn’t bail out and return to Rock Band before the high learning curve of playing an instrument is conquered.

I’d like to continue these random thoughts but I really need to go call Jameson so I can PLAY MORE ROCK BAND!



Anonymous said...


I, too, taught myself how to play guitar...and I did most of my learning between the hours of 12am and 8am in the basement of a dorm at Miami University. I was, in one word, ADDICTED. I forfeited sleep for guitar and would, at times, allow my head to hit my desk at my 8am classes. After one year of practice, I was probably as good as someone who had been playing for five years. I've been playing for 8 years now, and haven't improved much since that first year.

Over New Year's, I had the opportunity to play guitar hero for the first time. It was the most foreign concept, ever. I just couldn't wrap my head around it. It was so different from that which I have practiced for so long, that I couldn't even get through Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love." Girls were laughing at me. It was humiliating.

I then proceeded to the other room, grabbed my Taylor, and played "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" like I wrote it. Of course...that was after we tapped the third keg, and I may have played "Freebird" that night like I wrote it too. No one really remembers.

My point? Not really sure what it was. But I'm not playing that game again.

Luke said...

The game is a slippery slope, but I'm glad to hear you redeemed your honor with a little zeppelin (and possibly skynard)... even more impressive is that three kegs were involved.

Jameson said...

While I can see the point here (and think it'd be a travesty if the likes of Greenwood or McCartney traded in the real thing for the video game), I think that individuals like the aforementioned are too creative/driven to be satisfied with what a videogame (like Rock Band) can offer them. I mean, Greenwood's ambition is practically stifled already by the constraints of a standard guitar...I would hardly see him stopping once he masterd Rock Band's 100 tracks on "hard". Not trying to be a dick...just saying that I don't think we will see any reduction in the quality of guitar playing in the coming years as a result of these two videogames. Interesting conversation though...

Luke said...

Completely valid statement there, jaymo. Usually those who go far in music are driven by more than just a passing fancy with wanting to learn an instrument, it's a deep, inner longing to do something original and massive.

Still, though, I cling to my theory on the basis that if you put a dam of Rock Band on the river of musicians there will only remain a small trickle of brilliance which will light all of our homes and possibly one day explode, flooding a small sheep-herding village below it.