Next week, Harmonix will release the final downloadable song for its stable of Rock Band games, ending an 275-week streak of song releases. And sure, not all of the 4,000 tracks were winners — insert your own Nickelback joke here, folks — but it was comforting to know that every week, I could rely on a new couple of tracks to play guitar to. And now that is all coming to an end.
It will mark the definitive end of a once great genre, but aside from that, it will also mark the end of a personal decade-long part of my life.
It begun all the way back when the local arcade had brought in the very first Guitar Freaks game. Up until that point, the extent of my arcade-ing was the Space Jam pinball machine, splashes of Street Fighter and that game where you throw basketballs. This machine, with its bright lights, loud Japanese rock and those guitars — “I could be a bona fide rock star!” my primary-school self thought.
I sucked at it. Terribly. My tiny hands couldn’t wrap around the neck of the guitar (an aside: they still kind of can’t) and at the time, hand-eye coordination was something I took people’s word for. And yet it triggered something primal in me — I don’t know why, but all I wanted more of this. So I continued to haunt the local arcades, going though Dance Dance Revolution, DrumMania, and Dance Freaks (but not Para Para Paradise, because). When that wasn’t enough, I downloaded an open-source DDR clone and played with my keyboard.
And the Guitar Hero came out. If Guitar Freaks was the girl I nervously flirted with, Guitar Hero was the woman I immediately proposed to on first sight. Here was a rhythm game with songs I recognised that I could play in the comfort of my own home without having to effectively pay a dollar a song. Of course I fell in love with it, as I did with Rock Band, and its additional instruments and ever-expanding library of songs.
More than ways to pass the time, Guitar Hero and Rock Band came at a time when gaming began to really mean something to me. Up until that point, all I had was a PS1 and a crappy PC, meaning that the then modern splendours of gaming were as much reality as magic and witchcraft were. When I finally got a solid part-time job, I rushed out to get an Xbox 360. And one of the first games I added to my collection was Guitar Hero III. Rock Band and Guitar Hero: World Tour were not far behind.
More than anything else, these rhythm games turned me into your prototypical “gamer.”
It absorbed me unlike any other genre. You’ve probably experienced that feeling when a game totally and completely captures you, when your pupils dilate and your jaw slacks a little bit, where the distinction between you and the game ceases to exist, where the controller is as much a part of your body as your arms and hands. Rock Band and Guitar Hero did this to me without fail. I was executing unintelligible waves of notes with no difficulty, pulling off intricate drum solos as if it were second nature, singing like…well….I was still pretty bad at singing.
I don’t often buy into the marketing hype train, but the Rock Band games were an exception to this. I absorbed every article, every trailer in the lead up to Rock Band 3’s release. I found a store that had broken street date and had begun selling band kits for The Beatles: Rock Band, and although I already had a fully-functioning band kit at home, I seriously contemplated blowing $300 just to be able to play this game a few days early. I seldom get on the Hype Train, when it came to Rock Band, I was shovelling the coal.
These games also proved an efficient gateway drug to the never ending hole that is the high-score chaser. My time at the arcade playing the Bemani games introduced me to Time Crisis II, which I spent many, many hours playing with what seemed like the game’s two best Victorian players; every TCII machine in Melbourne sported their initials. Guitar Hero III and Rock Band led me to games like Geometry Wars. Even now, I spend well too much time studying the intricacies of games like Bit Trip Presents…Runner2.
Rhythm games meant a lot to me. They partially informed some of my habits and tastes. They showed me the world of unabashed fanboyism. They allowed me to experience some of the loftiest highs of gaming. So when the last Rock Band downloadable song is released — American Pie, fittingly — I will download it, I will dust off my trusty-but-aged Guitar Hero III guitar, I will strum my way through Don McLean’s famous song, and in my mind, I will be saying thank you.
Thank you Guitar Freaks.
Thank you Guitar Hero.
Thank you Rock Band, for giving me so much.
Come back on Saturdays for more thoughts and views from the NG+ cast and crew.
[Image credits: Rock Band forums (user: Candor); Games Database; Giant Bomb (user: tepidshark)]