7 Oct 2010

Rock Band 3 - Finally a Music Game For Real Musicians?

There was one thing which cause real guitarists and musicians to look down upon the peripheral based Guitar Hero and Rock Band games. They were just pretend. Whether this disdain came from resentment of the fact that any amount of skill with a real guitar could put you at a severe disadvantage when playing the games (a friend of mine who is a very good guitarist was rubbish at guitar hero) or simply a kind of artists snobbishness (an activity that made non-musicians feel talented for a lot less time and practice than 'proper' musicians) is up for debate. The simple fact is that the first generation of these games were just that, games.

This looks set to change with Rock Band 3's Pro mode, which has been previewed by Edge magazine. In pro mode, the drums will support 3 extra cymbasl on top of the 4 toms and bass drum. The keyboard (yes a keyboard) will be pitch accurate across 2 octaves, and the guitar, oh the guitar...

The above looks like a normal Stratocaster guitar doesn't it? Well, it is a normal, fully functional Stratocaster electric guitar, with strings and everything, you can even plug it into an amp or play acoustically without one. It is also a Rock Band controller. With Rock Band 3, not only will guitar virtuosos be able to play on an even field with those using the standard guitar controllers, they will also be able to learn the guitar parts to songs they didn't already know.

This is not just a game anymore, its an instrument. Neither is it 'edutainment' as it is not forced upon the end user. If you don't want to 'go pro' you don't have to, but if you have any musical ambitions at all you'd be a fool to pass up the opportunity. I hate to say it but Rock Band 3 may indeed 'make learning fun'.

Back in the halcyon days of my youth, I had dreams of being able to play guitar, but practicing was boring and hard work with no discernible and quantifiable reward apart from sore fingers. With Rock Band 3 I'll be able to measure my progress exactly and will be happy building up my high score bit by bit, simply because I'll have a high score which I can use as a measure of my improvement.

A lot has been said about the 'Gamepocalypse', predicted by Jesse Schell, and many will wonder if this is a step down the road that leads to every activity being measured and added to our high score or achievement tally. Personally, I'm all for this one. Anything that takes some of the pain out of learning to play a musical instrument and gives you a easily understood measure of progress is OK with me.

Harmonix, developers of Rock Band 3, are already calling it a medium, and in a way they are right. The term 'rhythm game' just doesn't seem enough to describe something as monumentally groundbreaking as this. Its release is going to send ripples across multiple industries; games, music and education. And maybe, just maybe a generation which has had little access to being able to play music will grow up with the ability to entertain round a campfire with a battered old acoustic. Not only is this a big shift in gaming, teaching real skills which are usable outside the context of the game, its may usher in a a return to a time when everyone could participate in making the most human of artforms (even if it was just with a comb and paper or empty jug.)

This truly is a band in a box. It is bringing music to the masses in a way that no other video game has ever done. It is a paradigm shift of absolutely epic proportions. Every school should have at least one of these if they are at all serious about teaching kids to play anything. I mean, who wants to learn the oboe, clarinet or trombone when you can be in a rock band and learn to play guitar?

I'm already shopping for a tour bus.

Photo from Edge article.

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