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How Rock Band 3 solved world peace (or at least my awkward social situation)
by Andrew Testerman

The beginning of my junior year of college was a rough one. I was involved in a rather commitment-heavy production of The Producers, which didn’t leave me much time to interact with my new roommates. By the time the show was over, I felt I was past the point of no return with my living situation. My roommates were a year older, and a more talented, hilarious group of guys were hard to come by. As silly as it seems, I felt a bit intimidated by them. I took to spending time in my own quarters, not socialising or interacting much at all. By the end of first semester, things weren’t looking terribly rosy.

When I returned from the Christmas break, I had some money saved and a plan for a brighter new year; a way to bring my roommates together, and for me to feel like I was part of the group. The plan worked better than I could have ever hoped. The three gentlemen I lived with turned from strangers to some of my best friends, and I still look fondly back on those days even now. We were brought together by our love of music and video games.

We were brought together by Rock Band.

I don’t expect my experience with Harmonix’s most successful franchise to be the standard tale, but I can’t help but wonder how many other relationships have been fostered by three plastic instruments and a microphone.

In the years since I bought Rock Band, I’ve had it at nearly every party, social gathering, or friendly meet-and-greet, and the results have been unanimously positive. In the gaming world, this is a rarity, especially for my friends that don’t even play video games. What makes Rock Band so unique that it taps a sector of gamers even its major competing franchise can’t?

Perhaps the biggest reason why Rock Band is able to court non-gamers is its focus on music. The Rock Band franchise has avoided adding 'game-y' gimmicks to its titles (okay, mostly avoided), instead concentrating on giving the players a purely song-driven experience. Rock Band provides the opportunity to experience some of the greatest songs in rock and roll, all without needing a profound understanding of how to perform a headshot in Call of Duty or score a perfect goal in FIFA.

For the gamers, Rock Band offers a strange, compelling power fantasy: becoming a fully-fledged rock star. Say what you will about how ridiculous it looks to play a plastic guitar, drum set, or keyboard: when you have five people playing 38 Special’s Hold on Loosely in tandem, the feeling of absurdity goes right out the window. Musicians may scoff at how playing Rock Band is nothing like the real thing. Duh. Rock Band isn’t necessarily trying to recreate how to play The Clash’s I Fought the Law; it’s trying to recreate the feeling of successfully playing a song, and help to spread this feeling to anyone who wants to try.

For me, Rock Band has helped me garner an appreciation for songs I wouldn't usually care for, as well as increase my respect for songs I already enjoy. By playing the drums for Foo Fighter’s Everlong, or the guitar for The Knack’s My Sharona, I’m able to dig deeper into the smaller sonic elements that make these songs great. By playing with other people, I’m exposed to genres of music I wouldn’t normally consider, and find that I’ve slowly grown to love the likes of Boston, REO Speedwagon, and even Lady GaGa.

My favourite part about Rock Band is the sense of camaraderie that the game nurtures. More than becoming a rock star - more than enjoying music - I love how Rock Band brings people together. Once the group is together, the memories start to come together as well. Memories like sharing a duet with that cute girl from Calculus, or a huge group sing-along to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, or playing Puddle of Mudd’s She Hates Me because you all shamefully remember liking that song, or the triumphant feeling of nailing that guitar part you’ve been working on for so long, in front of all of your friends. With the right group, Rock Band takes a normal social gathering and turns it into the stuff of legends.

With Activision putting the Guitar Hero franchise on hiatus, and Harmonix not releasing another disc-based Rock Band game for 2011, it seems as though the music game is in jeopardy of going the way of the point-and-click adventure game (though not too much jeopardy, depending on who you talk to). I sincerely hope this isn’t the case. I’ve had too much fun belting the lyrics to Fall Out Boy’s I Don’t Care and laughing at my friend’s rendition of B.Y.O.B. to be done now. Perhaps I’m in the minority amongst gamers now, but as long as there are new songs to buy and new experiences to have, I am far from ready to lay down my drumsticks.


- Andrew Testerman

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