Though it has a great hed, Daniel Radosh’s article on the new Beatles Rock Band game reads like a long infomercial, or like a textual equivalent of one of those fake-documentary shows that gets made to promote movies, with interviews with the stars and the director that can be clipped out for use on Entertainment Tonight or get thrown on the DVD as bonus “features.” (Though I can understand why Radosh took the assignment—who wouldn’t jump at the chance to interview the last living Beatles?) It did nothing to allay my confusion about music-based games. Changing radio stations in the stolen cars in Grand Theft Auto still seems a more meaningful musical gaming experience to me than playing Simon to the beat on plastic mini-guitars. I still think I may as well try to play guitar and suck, or simply play air guitar rather than try to master the irrelevant and counterproductive ersatz fretwork of Guitar Hero. (Guitar playing involves raising to the level of instinct the movement of your fingers up and down the fretboard along with the rise and fall of melody. Guitar Hero seems capable of thwarting that development.)
And I continue to think statements like this one—“Playing music games requires an intense focus on the separate elements of a song, which leads to a greater intuitive knowledge of musical composition”—are pretty ideological, wishful thinking asserted as nebulous fact by the game’s marketers. (“Knowledge of the alphabet leads to a greater intuitive knowledge of poetic composition.”) This tepid endorsement has the same hopeful vagueness: “Olivia Harrison, George Harrison’s widow, who stopped by Abbey Road while Martin was working, recalled her surprise upon first playing Rock Band a few years earlier. ‘You feel like you’re creating music,’ she marveled. ‘It must engage some creative part of your brain.’ ” Of course, you are not making music and are only simulating creativity vicariously. But if the game satisfies the brain’s creative impulses, why not just call it real creativity, the same way we might call crack-induced euphoria “true happiness”?