Social Context in the making

Bringing the Band


The drums sat in a corner of my room, untouched, with a thin veneer of dust and fabric-fluff turning them slightly gray. The drumsticks were a pristine birch, unstained by sweat or grease. Stacked nearby lay my two guitars: one haphazardly disassembled, the other mottled by pox-like rust along its strum bar. These toys, once prized, formed a small altar of neglect.

Rock Band fell out of my regular rotation after I moved into my own quiet, cramped apartment. The thrill of channeling Eric Clapton as I wailed on 5 tiny plastic keys suddenly became routine. I stopped chasing DLC, stopped paying for music I owned twice (sometimes thrice) over, stopped trying to squeeze a bit of extra dexterity from my digits.

It wasn’t until this weekend that I took the game seriously again. Unexpectedly, a few friends dropped by with the explicit goal of rocking the f**k out. They weren’t interested in facemelting shreds, or knuckle-cracking drum fills. Score-mongering held no value to them. It was only the promise of fun that drew them to the game. It was much the same with my old roommates. They didn’t play to gold-star songs or to one-up each other. Three-hour rockathons surreptitiously assembled in the middle of the night were social events, not gaming events.

In the middle of chortling through a 12 note streak (thanks to some creatively rendered lyrics for “Eye of the Tiger”), I realized just what I had been missing these last few months.


Hell yes! Even though I don't play Rock Band solo like I used to, it's still a great party game. You just need to forget about high scores and have fun.

RB has never felt like a challenge-type score-chasing game to me—I never had to "beat" RB. It's just pure fun, which is while we're still playing it every week or so. We get better just through persistence, my wife and I push each other to improve, and we high five each other when we gold star a song. But it's always just about the rockin'.

I realized just what I had been missing these last few months.

The seductive moves of Cory "Demiurge" Banks?

The amount of hours I've put into Rock Band, the sequel and all of the DLC in no way correlates with the amount of Gamerscore I've got out of them.

This is because all of my Rock Band has been played with the keys Red, Yellow, Blue, Red, Red, Blue, Blue, Red, Yellow, Blue. Loud, proud and with great company.

Rock Band made me discover singing. It's something I cherish.

And last year I picked up a real electric guitar and really discovered music. I have videogames to thank for that. Knowing that this is precisely what Harmonix set out to do only makes it better.

Watching a bunch of guys attempt vocals on Lady Gaga songs reminds me why I still play Rock Band. It is goddamned hilarious sometimes.

Since I can't get away from the situation you've come home to, then I can't say much beyond "Welcome Back!" I saw earlier this weekend I need to go back in and defend my ranking on a couple songs.

The Enforcers have put together for me a list of songs I need to work on before next PAX; I get pretty thin on the ground once we get out of arena rock of the "get off my lawn" age.

jlaasko - it's cool to hear you say that. I love to sing. I wish there were more vocal-centric features, like being able to sort by vocal range. My son the baritone keeps trying to ratchet his vocal cords up to Journey and that's not something I would wish on anyone. It's even worse in Beatles; he keeps trying to hit some of those high harmonies on Abbey Road. And if I had at least a notion as a guide I'd know better that to even go at some of those things without time and privacy to figure out how to change the key. That's not something you want to do in front of your friends.

And don't worry about your key colors. I'm worse off - I still play Easy on drums, and I don't know if I'm ever going to get any better at it.

Has anyone else here noticed the difference between how they play when they're alone vs when they're with friends? Is it different depending on which friends? I will try just just about anything on my own, or with the kids a couple really close friends. But if they've just filled the house with a bunch of relative strangers, there's kind of a pressure not to embarrass myself and them so I'll tone down the difficulty and watch what I choose so I don't take chances.

momgamer wrote:

Has anyone else here noticed the difference between how they play when they're alone vs when they're with friends? Is it different depending on which friends? I will try just just about anything on my own, or with the kids a couple really close friends. But if they've just filled the house with a bunch of relative strangers, there's kind of a pressure not to embarrass myself and them so I'll tone down the difficulty and watch what I choose so I don't take chances.

I think I have the opposite situation as you, momgamer. When it's Mrs. Gravey and myself, we only play what we like, but since we play (and download) a lot, that's a huge number of songs—including a lot we wouldn't have discovered otherwise if we didn't "have to" during the story modes (I love Boston, thank you RB).

But when we have friends over, it's a painful ordeal of them only wanting to play what they know, which could be a tiny fraction our 300+ song collection. And God help us if a friend is singing, as that cuts the number down even further since they won't sing songs they don't already know all the lyrics to, if they're comfortable singing at all. So a lot of the time is spent quietly and dully, scrolling through songs. I would rather play anything than nothing.

Either we have lame friends, or we aren't on the same wavelength of what makes playing Rock Band fun. Maybe they only want to hear songs they know and like; well I f*cking hate Paramore, but if it comes up I will play the hell out of it because the experience of hitting things, pressing buttons, or matching pitches well is still fun regardless of the theme.

Secretly, Mrs. Gravey and I wish that if our friends are going to play drums, they don't go goddamned nuts on their fills: just play through it if you don't know what to do, you're f*cking up the rhythm for the rest of us! Maybe we take it too seriously in our house.

Oh, and you're a filthy enabler. My son saw this article up on my screen, read it over my shoulder and was suddenly inspired to make sure there were new batteries in all the RB controllers and he's working on Maxwell's Silver Hammer as we speak.


"I thought I was out, and they pulled me back in"

Just this Sunday morning, I played raquetball with 2 friends. We all went back to my house for lunch, and ended up in an all-day rockathon that finished at about 8pm, with an ever changing cast of friends arriving and leaving. Completely unplanned, utterly impromptu, and totally awesome. Beer was, of course, involved.

It drove home to me that I have 3 distinct styles of play. These apply equally to the Guitar Heroes and the Rock Bandses.

Alone, the games are an achievement-chase, pure and simple. Screw gold stars, gimme the G's. I play through each song on each instrument once and once alone.

With the wife, they're a fun way for the two of us to play games together. We both push the limits of our skills, her by double-tasking a guitar and a mic, me often doing the same on the drums. One of us will sometimes drop a difficulty level if the other is really pushing the envelope, to provide a steady stream of star power to keep their partner alive. It becomes musical co-op survival-horror, with all the ammo hoarding that that implies.

With a group, it becomes about showing off, whether it's belting out Master Exploder as loud as I can, playing Expert+ drums on GH: Metallica (without the benefit of a second pedal, no less), or spazzing out to insane solos on the guitar. The goal is to hear someone say "Holy F***, Jon", when they see the seething mass of notes racing down my track. Flattery won't get you everywhere, but it will get you a cold beer from a shameless show-off.

I actually had the opposite experience. For a long time, any time I got together with my friends, Rock Band and its sequel was the default passtime. No matter what we started off doing, eventually we wound up back at someone's house arguing over who had to try to sing this round.

Right around the time Beatles' Rock Band came out, I started to get a little sick of it. It had become too much of a good thing. I was no longer even hearing the music any more, just the banging of drumsticks on the plastic edge of the drum, the clack-clack-clacking of fret buttons, and the constant bitching about how this guitar controller is all f*cked up, the strum bar sticks and the tilt sensor doesn't work, when do I get to use the GOOD guitar.

A couple weeks later, I downloaded some Flight of the Conchords on RBN as much because I'm a huge unabashed FotC fanboy as anything else, and as there was no one else around, I strapped on a guitar and started playing and singing along all by my lonesome.

Suddenly everything clicked back into place. THIS was what first sold me on Guitar Hero years ago when the very first one came out on the PS2. Not customizing avatars, not thinking up silly band names, not futzing around with far too many cords and settings and, to put it bluntly, PEOPLE. Just getting lost in the music.

To me, it's really about the fake performance. I just sing on Easy, I don't really care about the "game" part at all.

We've gotten around the painful "scrolling for something I know" by printing out the song list so everybody can check it out when they're not playing. It's somewhat laborious with all the DLC, but so worth it.

I still play the Beatles version every once in a while. Drunk people love to sing.

I also play by myself occasionally, because apparently Beatles RB players aren't as good as regular RB players and I can post scores in the leaderboard top 500 or 1000 for most songs. I guess I'm one of the people who cares about getting the gold stars.

I think that has more to do with your opponents, rather than the difficulty level. People playing Beatles are salted with a lot of old folks who don't play with the same intensity as the face-melting whippersnappers on the regular Rock Band circuit.

I don't find it "easier", but it's got a completely different focus. Regular Rock Band is all about getting in there and making a noise. That's why you get those solo hunks in the songs. In Beatles, it's all about matching them far more precisely.

You're braver than I. I've never gotten up the courage to try to play up online, even in Beatles and with Goodjers.

Another thing I dig about these games is that it made me realize I can handle a lot of higher notes that I never thought my otherwise deep voice could handle. Who knew Boston would be my wheel house? Not I.