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Time Enough for Rock Band 3?

I have three guitars. There's the crappy classical that I picked up for $21 at a dorm auction when I was a freshman in college. Then there's my Danelectro U2. And last year my family gave me a Washburn steel-stringed acoustic for my 30th birthday. That's kind of a lot of guitars for someone with my level of skill at playing the guitar. Which is to say, not much.

It's not that I'm uninterested in playing guitar. On the contrary, I would love to be able to play. Actually, I'd love to be able to play just about any instrument. The problem is time--I just don't have enough of it. This is always my problem: I have way more interests than time to pursue them. Heck, even if I didn't have a wife, child, dog, and full-time job, I still wouldn't have time for all the the writing, learning, music playing, listening, games, movies, TV, books, photography and all the other nonsense that intrigues me.

Which brings me to the subject of Rock Band 3.

One of the things about music games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero that always seemed a little odd to me is how disdainful some musicians and music critics were of them. You'd see stories in the gaming (and music) press with people saying things like "It's nothing like playing a real instrument." But that really misses the point, since what matters is whether or not the games are fun--and they are. Moreover, I think it's obvious that some people who might never have picked up an instrument are now taking lessons and rocking out for real because of games like these. Aside from which, any opportunity to appreciate music seems good to me, whether or not you're able to play it.

Interestingly, the folks at Harmonix seem to have taken that criticism to heart, because one of the big changes coming in Rock Band 3--along with the addition of keyboards and harmonizing vocals--is the new "Pro" mode. Unlike previous games, which reduce the song-playing to following a simplified rhythm, Pro mode is designed to much more accurately emulate the real activity of playing the drums, bass, guitar, or keyboard. By the time you work your way up to the Expert level playing as a Pro, you will be expected to play every single note, just as you hear in the real song.

In order to enable the new mode, they're adding more new controllers. If you already own Rock Band, then you're familiar with the amount of space that the drum kit and guitars take up. To play as a Pro, you'll now be adding a two-octave mini keyboard; three add-on cymbals to the drum kit; and a six-string, 102-button guitar. That's right, 102 buttons--the new guitar controller has one button for each of 17 frets along six strings down the neck. And if that isn't real enough for you, Fender is actually making a real guitar that can be used with either the game or a normal amp. There's also a converter box that can be used to connect MIDI keyboards and drum pads.

What's appealing to me is the idea that I might actually be able to kill two birds with one stone. I often find myself bemoaning the sad state of disuse that my game consoles have fallen into--almost as often as I think to myself "I should really sign up for some guitar lessons." The idea that I could conceivably become a better guitarist (or keyboardist or drummer) by playing a video game is wildly exciting to me.

There are certain impediments to this dream, though. To begin with, there's the price tag: even though I already have the original guitar, drum kit, and microphone, the full set of new game plus add-on peripherals will run $320. That's not exactly chump change in the Sakasegawa household.

Then there's the issue of space and hassle--setting up the first game already involved moving furniture and a mess of cables. This one will only be worse.

And over everything else, there's still the question of time. Mastering an instrument takes daily practice, and between work, writing, photography, and wanting to spend time with my family, the only thing left to give up is sleep. I'm probably giving up too much of that already.

The solution, I guess, is finding a way to combine even further. Maybe some day when Jason is older, we'll be able to pick up this game (or its successor) and play together. Hopefully there will be enough time in the gap between him being too young to handle the controls and being too old to want to play with his dad. (To say nothing of actually being in a band with your parents. The memory of my teenaged self shudders at the thought of such staggering lameness.)

Maybe it's all just a dream, but as dreams go it's pretty nice.

Pile of Shame

Yesterday I finished and sent off my latest piece for Life As A Human, an examination of the game Heavy Rain and why it appeals to me. (It hasn't gone up yet as of the time of this writing.) This is now the second article I've written for them about video games, and so far I'm the only one there to write on that topic. It makes some sense, probably, since I think I'm the only guy of my generation (or younger) writing for that site, but it's still a little odd for me because I haven't been much of a gamer for quite a while now.

The last game I played while it was still current and a big deal was probably Mass Effect, back in '07. Which I loved, don't get me wrong, but even at that point I was pretty far behind most of the rest of the gamer world. Consider this (non-exhaustive) list of hugely popular or influential games over the last five or ten years that I did't play (it's lengthy, so feel free to skim or skip): both Deus Ex games, Grand Theft Auto 3 & 4, all of the Metal Gear Solids, all of the Elder Scrolls games after Daggerfall, both Gears of War games, all of the God of War games, all of the Halos after the first, Shadow of the Colossus, both Bioshocks, Braid, Fallout 3, Flower, Heavy Rain, Uncharted 2, all of the Final Fantasies after 7, Super Mario Galaxy, Katamari Damacy, Little Big Planet, all of the Battlefield games, both Modern Warfares, Dragon Age, all of the Splinter Cells, Mirror's Edge, Left 4 Dead, Spore, Civ 4, Geometry Wars, Dead Space, both Assassin's Creed games, and basically all of the post-SNES Zeldas.

I'm obviously aware of the gaming industry, at least to the point where I know what I'm missing, and yet I spend less and less time actually playing games. The "pile of shame" I listed up there--slightly misleading since I don't actually own them--gets a little bigger every year, and it's to the point where I don't think I'd ever actually be able to catch up.

Moreover, I'm finding that I care less and less about the fact that I'm missing out. As with most of the things that have fallen by the wayside in the past couple of years--games, TV, movies, etc.--the pull has slackened a lot. In some cases, like with TV, it actually feels like kind of a chore to keep up, and I actively look forward to the ends of series that I've been following for a while.

The strange thing is that even though the allure of games seems to be falling off for me, my interest them isn't. I spend rather a lot of time each week reading gaming sites, listening to gaming podcasts, and thinking about games and the game industry. It seems that I've become more interested in games as a phenomenon than as art or entertainment that I actually intend to experience. Which seems a little perverse, if you ask me.

My relationship with art and media is always changing as I age, which is, I suppose, inevitable. But it leaves me curious to know where it will go from here. Will I ever get back into gaming? Is it something that I'll eventually abandon entirely? What is it that's holding my attention about gaming now? I don't know, but it's interesting to think about, anyway.

What do you think?

LAAH: Games As Art

My latest piece is up at Life As A Human: Games As Art: To Be or Not to Be? Check it out!

Don't worry, I am still writing for Sakeriver as well. I expect my normal four-times-a-week schedule to resume next week.