The New York Times put up a huge, in-depth article about The Beatles: Rock Band yesterday: While My Guitar Gently Beeps
Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper's will be full-album downloads along with Abbey Road
Also of note, and I quote:
PEOPLE WHO PLAY Rock Band and Guitar Hero like to post videos of their efforts to YouTube. Almost inevitably, these attract comments like the following:
“pick up a real guitar”
“lets see you get a life, and actually get out of the house instead of been a loser and trying to show off with your ‘skill’ to touch plastic”
“you dont rock your a sad loser whos never gonna loose his virginity”
There is something about music video games that infuriates people. The hostility comes largely from musicians, although many people who enjoy these games are musicians themselves. Even people who are not offended by the games are frequently baffled by them. Olivia Harrison admits that her husband’s response to Rock Band probably would have been, “Why don’t they play real guitars?”
Gamers in turn are baffled by the criticism of what is, after all, “just a game.” People who play Halo or Gran Turismo are rarely asked why they don’t pick up a real gun or race real cars. You rarely hear that Monopoly is a waste of time because it doesn’t actually teach anything about buying hotels. The disparagement of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, then, suggests that music games do resemble actual performance, at least enough so that people feel the need to point out that they are not. Indeed a common defense of Rock Band is that it does teach musical fundamentals or at least inspires people to upgrade to proper instruments. MTV Games’ Paul DeGooyer likens Rock Band to the Kodaly method of music instruction, which assigned hand symbols to do-re-mi and involves using rhythmic tapping as pedagogical building blocks.
Kiri Miller, an assistant professor of ethnomusicology at Brown University who studies video-game music, says the two most common responses to the game are equally misguided. “Either these games are supposed to be teaching you some fabulous skill that we can celebrate or they are supposed to be having some terrible deleterious effect and turning you into some kind of automaton,” she told me. Instead of thinking of the games in relation, good or bad, to traditional performance, she finds them “compelling in and of themselves as a new form of musical experience.”
The hostility that people have toward Rock Band and Guitar Hero, she adds, is an expression of schizophonic anxiety — “schizophonia” being the composer R. Murray Schafer’s word for the split between music and its source, first coined 40 years ago to explain why an earlier generation was deeply troubled by the advent of recorded music. The way people came to terms with the phenomenon of recording, Miller explains, “was to create these really sharp distinctions between the live and the recorded. So we know what’s live, and it has its particular value and authenticity; and we know what’s recorded, and it also eventually has its particular value and authenticity.” Music gaming disturbs people because it upends those distinctions by adding to recorded music “this component of physical bodily performance that we think of as being a hallmark of liveness.”
Scorn for music gaming is thus related to scorn for lip synching. Miller, who identifies the games as “rock drag,” says it’s no coincidence that so much of the online vitriol takes the form of homophobic slurs, or that Guitar Hero was mocked by “South Park” as Guitar Queer-o. “I want to be careful not to drag us too deep into the valley of queer theory,” she said, before going on to explain that the hatred of Rock Band likely has something to do with people using their bodies in a way that fails to match expectations — they’re obviously not playing music, but it sure looks and sounds as if they are — and doing so in a way that is simultaneously tongue-in-cheek and sincere. For the Beatles to embrace this transgressive and supposedly juvenile and nerdy medium in such a public way is “a benediction” that only history’s most important rock group could give, Miller says. “I fully expect it may help me get more grants.”
Peering over his rectangular tinted glasses, Starr admitted that he’d tried to play Rock Band only once: “It’s impossible. I cannot watch the line going down and play at the same time.” The problem, he suggested, is that he’s a musician. People who like Rock Band, “they’re playing a game, they’re not making music. The music is already made.” The game, it seemed, perplexed him a little. “The kids are getting really great at this game,” he said, “but they couldn’t suddenly go and play the Staples Center.”
At 67, McCartney, even up close, is still unmistakably the cute one. He smiled, the lines around his eyes crinkling, and unbuttoned his jacket as he sat down. Like Starr, he volunteered that he can’t play his own game, but he suspects that if it had been around when he was a kid, he would have liked it.
Would he have liked it too much? I asked. If his drive to play rock ’n’ roll had been satiated by a 1950s Guitar Hero, would the world have been robbed of the Beatles? “I don’t think so,” he said, shaking his head. “Knowing me and knowing my ambition.” He thought for a bit, then added that any kid who is going to become a musician anyway won’t decide to stop with a game. “They’ll get the Beatles down, but then if they’re that into music, they’ll just hook up with friends, like they do, and say, let’s try to write one of our own. I think that’ll always happen.”
Anyway, good article. Long, but worth the read if you're at all interested in the game.