I never realized how many musically inclined friends I had until I bought Rock Band. I knew we were a creative group of people, and I knew many of us had theater backgrounds but I didn’t know that most of my friends are musicians of one sort or another.
So Rock Band was more of a draw for my group of friends than I had expected it to be. One of the interesting observations I’d heard from many of my musician friends was that it was often difficult to reconcile what the game was asking them to do and what was happening musically. Like when they were asked to play a note at one point, it wasn’t always where they thought it should be in terms of the song being played.
This was an entirely new concept to me. Whenever I played the guitar, bass, or drums, the actions for the game were completely abstract as far as I was concerned. The red, blue, yellow, green and orange “keys” I was hitting? Just buttons to push at whatever given time. Knowing the song we were playing only mattered if I was singing because let me tell you, you don’t know the words to any songs you sing. ANY.
But I digress.
I finally had this experience my friends talked about but only after I bought Rock Band 3 and the keyboard controller. Suddenly my fingers where moving in time to the music and my familiarity with the song was a help, my lack of knowledge a hinderance. It’s completely changed the game for me.
You might already know where I am headed with this, dear reader, but in case you don’t here is the *big insight*: I know how to play the piano. I took seven or eight years worth of lessons when I was a kid and although if you sat me down at a piano I would have a hard time recalling Fur Elise or Moonlight Sonata, I can run most of the major scales and know most of the major and minor cords. This knowledge allows me to play the keyboard on HARD, a difficultly level I would never approach with the other instruments.
My previous knowledge of how to play piano mapped over into the game and has completely changed my experience of it. I have always enjoyed Rock Band – it’s one of the few games that pretty much everyone can enjoy, even the people not playing it can watch the videos or the rapt attention being paid to the screen by the performers. And it is a performance. That is part of the “play” of the game – acting the part – and part of the fun.
Part of what I discuss in my dissertation is how game experience maps into other areas of life, that the confidence and problem solving gamers experience gets translated into work or life situations. Well, apparently it works both ways – life experience maps back into the game as well. It’s not a surprise that these experiences interact with each other this way – it is this give and take between what we know and what we are learning that is the foundation of identity formation and gaming is, for many of us, a significant component of that formation.