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Best of the Decade: Rock Band

Rock Band

Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation 2, Wii

Release Date: November 20, 2007 (360 and PS3)

Publisher: MTV Games, Electronic Arts

Developer: Harmonix

I still remember how stupid I felt walking through the mall back to my car with the gigantic box of plastic instruments tucked under my arm. For a brief moment, as the mall patrons stared at me with confused looks in their eyes, the thought occurred to me that perhaps spending a large wad of cash on peripherals with which to pretend I was playing music by following along to colored button prompts wasn’t exactly the coolest thing I could be doing with my money.

Once I got them all home and started playing around with them, I never looked back. 

Technically the only instrument the genre hadn’t seen was the drums, but putting all of the instruments together in one game was Rock Band’s real stroke of genius. Everything came together for one of the most brilliant multiplayer gaming concepts ever produced.

The Rock Band series is the culmination of Harmonix’s long quest to perfect the music game. They remain one of my favorite ways to relax and release stress. Even five years or so since the original Guitar Hero, it’s still just as fun to pick up a plastic guitar, fire up my imagination, and pretend I’m a rock star for a little while by jamming out to awesome music. There’s something primal and satisfying about the experience music games provide.

Rock Band took the concept to the next level. By treating the game as a platform, not a solitary entry, Harmonix ensured I would spend a truly ridiculous amount of money on downloadable songs over the next few years building up a sizable library of fun tunes. There’s nothing like being able to choose from over 350 songs from within a single game, all of which I either remember playing from past games or chose myself. 

I had always known somewhere in the back of my mind that I would enjoy drumming. I had never gotten a chance to try, but for as long as I can remember I’ve had an irresistible compulsion to tap my foot to anything even remotely resembling a beat. Most people play air guitar, I play air drums. I’ve always focused intently on beats and rhythm in my music. My favorite musical genre is Industrial Metal and I like anything with a strong beat and churning guitars.

Sensing a pattern here?

So when I first tried Rock Band’s plastic drum set, it was a dream come true. Far more than the plastic guitars, it felt like I was actually playing the drums. The experience was immensely gratifying. I haven’t ever had the room or the money to buy a proper drum set. Part of me values my hearing a little too much to make the leap to the real instrument anyway. Thanks to Rock Band, I can indulge my inner musician while retaining my hearing. 

Fine, fine, I will also reluctantly admit that the vocals are a welcome addition as well. I’m just a tiny bit introverted, you see. I never sing karaoke. I’ve never done vocals in Rock Band in front of anyone else either, and it’ll probably stay that way, but I love plugging in the mic when I’m by myself and belting out vocals to some great music. It’s my version of singing in the shower, I guess. 

Rock Band’s most brilliant move was turning music into a social experience. Almost anyone can play Rock Band. There’s nothing like forming an impromptu band with friends in your living room and rocking out for a while. It’s a fantastic, stress-free cooperative experience. One of the things I miss most about my college days, in fact, is the frequent Rock Band jam sessions with all my area friends. We had some good times on those plastic instruments, man. 

After a couple of Guitar Hero sequels, people asked where music games could go. Rock Band showed the way. A couple sequels later and the industry was asking the same question. Rock Band 3 proves that Harmonix has again provided an answer. It has become fashionable to question whether music games have a future. I have no doubt the do. There’s simply something too satisfying about the rhythm genre for it to go away. From Dance Dance Revolution to Guitar Hero to Rock Band to Dance Central and beyond, music games will remain relevant, even if they change form. I look forward to seeing what the future has to hold and continuing to rock out in my living room.

For letting me share my love of music with friends, for allowing countless sessions of rocking out on my couch, and for showing me that I do truly love wielding drum sticks, Rock Band is one of my Best of the Decade.

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