Smile and Nod

Smile and Nod: Is it Too Loud, or Am I Too Old?

Russ Pitts | 23 Jun 2008 17:00
Smile and Nod - RSS 2.0

So they abandoned their baby and created Rock Band instead, where you can play as the whole band if you want, and if you have more than two people over for drinks and rock fantasies, that's exactly what you'll do. Whether you want to or not. Because you don't spend $170 on a drum kit and not make somebody use it.

Same with the microphone, although god help me if I can think of anyone at the Guitar Hero parties I went to who could carry a tune well enough not to make a complete fool out of themselves. They'll do it, but they won't like it, then they'll make you do it, too. By the end of the evening, everyone will have taken a turn, and will slink home feeling slightly ashamed and a little confused. As if they feel like they should have enjoyed themselves, but for some reason didn't. Like paying for sex in a foreign country. I call this Karaoke Revolution syndrome.

I understand the theory is people will get together and have the experience of making music together and feel the way real musicians feel when they are actually in a band and actually making music. Don't get me wrong, I totally get the theory. I just think it's bullshit. People playing these games don't feel like they're actually making music because they aren't. They're playing a game, and the emotional response they get is as from playing a game. Period. Playing music is hard. It takes work. Which is why, when it all comes together, every member of the band is clicking together and the notes just feel right, it seems so magical. There's nothing magical about punching a plastic button in time with a metronomic display on a television screen. At best, it's merely awesome. Even on the plastic drum kit.

I heard someone in the office recently say about Rock Band, "Man, this isn't like sitting around in your living room playing on a plastic instrument and pretending to play the guitar. This is real." Yeah, man. Listen, I've slapped my thighs in tune to the music sitting in the car at red lights. I've banged my table like it was a snare drum. I've tapped an actual drum stick to the rubber surface of a plastic drum kit. Hell, I've even tried my hand at the drums. But no matter how much Rock Band I play, I'm not a drummer. I'll never be the drummer. I'm just the guy who hangs out with the band.

Guitar Hero III, the latest edition of the franchise that started it all, isn't much better. Used to be you just picked up your guitar and played a song. Now, with the challenge modes and the tricks and powerups there's strategy involved. It's like playing Cowboys and Indians with the kid who insists on making up rules. "Indians can't go past Billy's yard or they're dead. Cowboys have to start blindfolded." Screw that. It's Cowboys and Indians, man. You run around and shoot each other. Done.

I suppose I felt the same way the first time I played a deathmatch with specialized rules. In fact, I know I did. It's like when the guys on the Halo or whatever server are like "OK, now this isn't in the rules, so you have to remember to ..." and that's whenh I check out.. I don't log on to remember some kid's made-up rules. I log on to kill. Guitar Hero III makes me feel the same way. I don't pick up my plastic axe to play Deliverance banjo showdown with Tom Morello. I'm there to play.

I suppose I could go back to the old classics. Guitar Hero II is still a fine game, as is the original, and the new guitar controllers are fantastic. But the last time I played, something was gone. It just wasn't the same. I was overly conscious that I was just pressing buttons to the beat. I was better at it, but it wasn't as much fun. I didn't feel like a rock star anymore. I didn't even feel like the guy hanging out with the band. I just felt like a 30-something year old douchebag with a living room full of plastic guitars. Maybe it's just me.


Russ Pitts grew up wanting to be a mechanic. True story. His blog can be found at

Comments on