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Rock Band: Wasp Daddy

While there certainly were first-person maze games that preceded it, Wolfenstein 3D will always be remembered as the game that introduced the “first person shooter” genre to the masses. Even though the game has been copied hundreds if not thousands of times, Wolfenstein laid the ground rules for the genre. Likewise, while musical rhythm games have existed in one fashion or another for some time (Guitar Freaks predates it), it was Guitar Hero that took plastic bongos and maracas out of players’ hands and handed them their first plastic six-string (albeit, without strings).

While the Guitar Hero franchise turned a generation of videogame players into wannabe guitar gods, Rock Band took things one step further by also including drums and microphones, turning solo guitar players into full fledged virtual band members. Yes, there were karaoke-style games prior to Rock Band (the SingStar games were quite successful) and several arcade-based drumming games (like Drum Mania and Percussion Freaks) along with home versions like Taiko Drum Master, but it was Rock Band that created the “band-in-a-box” package and got kids playing fake instruments together.

There is a growing legion of people, most of them musicians themselves, who detest the entire genre of “guitar games.” Earlier this year, John Mayer denounced Guitar Hero because “it doesn’t give you the same thrill that playing a real guitar does,” and Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger said that players “would be better off learning a real instrument.” To be honest, I don’t understand the animosity. I played a lot of games as a kid, and not once did I think I could beat the real Dr. J in a game of basketball after playing One On One: Julius Erving and Larry Bird. I don’t think Activision’s game Space Shuttle would help fly the real thing, I doubt I’m qualified to build my own town after playing SimCity, and I’m pretty sure all of the denizens of Mortal Kombat would surely kick my ass should I encounter one while strolling around Outworld. I’m not sure why any musician would feel threatened by kids playing videogames with plastic instrument-shaped controllers, unless they are worried that their secret will get out: most eight-year-old boys with a week’s worth of training could play the majority of guitar riffs heard on popular radio today.

For his birthday this year, I bought Mason Rock Band for the Nintendo Wii. (I can hear some of you — “He bought a game?” Unfortunately, it is hard to download a drum set.) The box itself is impressive; it’s big but not too big, and heavy but not too heavy.

Up until last night I had neither played nor hooked up Rock Band. Considering we bought the package for the Wii, I was surprised at how many wires there were. The drum’s kick pedal connects to the drums with a wire, the microphone and drums both connect to the Wii via wires to a USB hub that also connects to the system via a wire. It wasn’t that long ago that all systems had wired controllers, but I guess I’ve grown so used to wireless controllers that the spaghetti mess of wires we had going on seemed archaic.

Mason grabbed the guitar and I made a make shift drum riser out of a metal folding chair, and with that our band “Wasp Daddy” was born. (Mason has a thing for drawing wasps, and I’m the Daddy.) Like Guitar Hero, Rock Band has a mixture of both new and old music and there’s something enjoyable about watching a six-year-old play along to bands like Mountain, the Rolling Stones, Rush and KISS.

One of the things I like about Rock Band is that each person can set their difficulty level independently. That allowed me to play the game at Medium while Mason tackled Easy. You are allowed to pick your skill level before starting each song, which was convenient as Mason and I tended to swap instruments every couple of songs.

After Susan and Morgan made it home, Sue picked up the microphone and the three of us plowed our way through a couple of songs before it was bedtime. Say what you will about these make-believe music games, but I can tell you that Susan has never joined Mason and I in a round of gaming, so there’s something to be said about that.

Rock Band crosses generations well. Musically games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero may only be one step above playing air guitar, but I doubt you could talk the average family into hanging out and playing air guitar together for half an hour. The game’s music is diverse enough that both kids and adults can find things they’ll like without being too annoyed. One of the best things about Rock Band is, since it supports four simultaneous “musicians,” everyone gets to play every time. One of the worst things about Guitar Hero is waiting ten to fifteen minutes for your turn.

Mason has already asked Santa for a real guitar for Christmas this year, so I guess we’ll see if his interest in Rock Band and Guitar Hero carries over into the real world.

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3 comments to Rock Band: Wasp Daddy

  • Jeff

    When and where will the tour start?

  • Susan

    Eh hem…You didn’t mention that I scored 100% on my debut song.

  • Larz Blackman

    I suspect the animosity comes from the sense that their territory is being infringed upon. Musicians spend a lifetime mastering their instruments, and here come a bunch of pleebs who think that they are musicians just by pushing a few buttons to the beat, getting a sense of satisfaction that wasn’t really earned.

    Now, I’m just voicing it from their perspective. As a kid, my fellow skaters detested other kids who thought that they were real skaters just because they had a skateboard. We called them “posers” or “poseurs.” I think something similar is going on there.

    I play guitar, and when I first saw Guitar Hero, I cringed. But once I tried it, I recognized the fun in it. In the end, it got me to play more guitar because I had to create my own sounds instead of being content with them being pre-packaged.

    I know parents who are musicians who refuse to let their kids play the games. Instead they force them to hold real guitars that they can’t even begin to appreciate. Unfortunately, those kids are missing out on fun and learning some good skills like basic rhythm and tempo, and basic hand-eye coordination that could carry over to playing a real instrument.

    Let the kids play!