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Gamers Become Stars with Rock Band or Guitar Hero

Meet the newest kind of bar band

Hill maintains that these games are at best, akin to karaoke. "Yeah, you can just get up there and go, but there's so much more to music than the karaoke version," he says. "And I guess the thing about karaoke is that it is an acceptable format to suck. That's practically the expectation."

Hill says the games lack randomness, improvisation, happy accidents, the insanity of real life, and he can't believe that so many people would rather play music vicariously than actually play music. "For me, playing music provides so much joy, and this seems to me more like reality television," he says, especially the star search shows like American Idol and Rockstar Supernova, which he believes nurture a false ideal of what performing is and/or should be.

What's more, Hill says that the interaction between a person and an instrument is the very process that makes one musician sound different from another, even if both of them have perfect pitch and play the same song on the same instruments.

The death of stand-alone karaoke? There's no need to fly solo when you can play with your friends...
Photos by Daniel Kramer
The death of stand-alone karaoke? There's no need to fly solo when you can play with your friends...
...like these Rock Band players at Lucky's Pub.
Photos by Daniel Kramer
...like these Rock Band players at Lucky's Pub.

"You lose the interaction with the instrument in producing the note," he says of these games' tone-neutral, pitch-perfect controllers. "Music in its simplest form is singing — that's why so many people do it, but if you are doing it right, you actually use your whole body to produce the note. Your vocal chords are just the reed. You're breathing, and it shows if you smoke or if you run. The physical element is part and parcel of creating music that is meaningful."

Hill sounds a lot like San Francisco Chronicle games reviewer Peter Hartlaub, who granted that the games were a ton of fun. In fact, that is the problem with them.

"Every once in a while I'll speak at a junior high school about my job, and as part of my spiel (don't do drugs!), I always try to explain the difference between fun and happiness," Hartlaub wrote in November of last year. "Fun is staying up with your friends on a school night and playing Halo 3. Happiness is getting into a good college, working hard in your twenties and later settling into a profession where someone will pay you to play Halo 3.

"Getting three friends together to play a nearly perfect version of Blue Öyster Cult's 'Don't Fear the Reaper' in the game Rock Band is a lot of fun. Getting the same friends together, buying some instruments, practicing really hard and playing a really shaky version of 'Don't Fear the Reaper' is a lot more likely to make you happy."

"Yeah, I concur with that thought, even if I might use different words," Hill says. "My high school band did do a cover of 'Don't Fear the Reaper,' and it was fun, and it made us happy."

john.lomax@houstonpress.com

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