There was nothing wrong. I was deeply, deeply immersed in The Orange Box. There’s something about the quality of the light in Half-Life 2 that just sucks me in — that bleak, wintry illumination washing over a defeated, depopulated, picked-over Earth with its tumble-down, head-crab-infested farmhouses. And the audio: sometimes I reload my pulse rifle just to hear that little three-note sequence.
So I did not have a problem filling my leisure hours. Then I got a package in the mail the size of a very large cat-carrier or a small steamer trunk. It contained Rock Band. I was all: meh. I had never played much Guitar Hero — I guess I was snobby because the basic gameplay mechanic is so simple, and I’m generally suspicious of novelty controllers, and, hey, I play a little guitar (basically “Wish You Were Here” over and over again), so what do I need with this thing?
But dudes: it really is cool. It’s partly the original music, which they did an unbelievable job getting the rights to, and it’s partly the great great interface design — lots of sparky bright liquid colors and mellow gold tracery, surprisingly easy to follow even when you’ve got the full power-pop quartet playing. And the gratification is instant. Having basically never touched a stick, I was up and drumming along to “Creep” on Medium in a couple of tries, badly but happily. (I sometimes forget the kick drum is there.) I’ve mostly been rocking guitar and drums, since my singing is painful for others and shame-making for me, and the bass parts are just not that exciting.
When you can coerce other people into getting involved, something really surprising happens. You really do feel like you’re getting a diluted but authentic sense of how cool playing in an actual band is. Once everybody is set up and jacked in and ready to rock, it’s one of those rare almost-impossible-to-have-a-lousy-time situations, and you all look at each other with this goofy expression on your faces, and nobody wants to stop. It’s not quite like anything I’ve ever experienced playing a game. I have it set up in my office, and people just drift in for a set. $170 is a lot to pay for a video game, but if you can get a shot at this thing, you should try it.