For the past few years, video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have been a major craze. The designers of these games pride themselves on how close the game is to playing a real guitar, or being in a real band. Tiny plastic buttons almost simulate guitar strings, and notes pass by on the screen in time to the music. If you’d never played in a real band this could feel like a general approximation of what it’s like, but there are a few things that don’t seem quite right.
First and, unfortunately, most important is merch. If the programmers really wanted to give these games a lifelike feel they’d make a section of the game before you even begin where you beg borrow and steal money to print CDs and press T-shirts. There would also be an interlude after every level where you sat around for a few hours trying to get people to buy your t-shirts. Not only that, but if you failed to sell your t-shirts, you wouldn’t be able to move on to the next “venue” regardless of your caliber of playing.
Then they could get into the really fun stuff. The majority of the game would be spent sitting in a van crowded with gear, trying to navigate in all kinds of weather. Torrential rain and icy roads would make this part extra realistic and an unreliable transmission in the van could help make it feel like you were really on the road. To keep things interesting, there could be a whole level dedicated to trying to find gas money to keep the van running.
Throughout all of these levels there would also be a meter for how well you were getting along with your band members. Dealing with the “Axl Rose Syndrome” in lead singers, and trying to keep your drummer from drinking too much would make this meter rise and fall.
Other uncontrollable situations would affect your progress, like angry phone calls from girlfriends at home or news of eviction from landlords because if you can’t put gas in the van you certainly can’t pay rent at home.
Now if Rock Band was really like being on tour, the game would have to make the actual playing satisfying enough to go through all of this. Those few minutes on stage would have to be worth all of the pain and frustration and bullshit, because in reality playing music professionally is more than a hobby, more than a full-time job, it’s a way of life and at it’s best, it’s all worth it.
LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org