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'Rock Band' Ruled

The story of how the videogame turned one meek fan into a ‘Rock’ god

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Last Saturday night, I had rockin’ plans. I was going out with a buddy in L.A., and the town was to be painted red, among other colors. But first, we agreed, let’s play a little Rock Band 2 at his place. Armed with fake plastic instruments, we blasted through hits by Foo Fighters and Soundgarden while fans on screen woo-hooed (and occasionally booed). Then his girlfriend marched in. Nope, not to turn off the console — to form a power trio with us! A little Rock Band turned into a lot of Rock Band, and a lot of Rock Band turned into the whole night. Ladies of Los Angeles, my apologies for the no-show.

There’s a good reason that the Rock Band franchise has sold 6.5 million units along with 30 million downloadable songs from acts like AC/DC, Bob Dylan, and the Killers. (Coming soon: a Beatles edition.) The game — which allows you and up to three friends to ”play along” with popular songs by clicking buttons and tapping pads while the bravest of the bunch karaokes the vocals — transforms reserved folks into tongue-wagging freak shows. I certainly didn’t expect to become a groupie. But Rock Band cleverly deluded me into believing that volcanic anthems were pouring from my lips and fingertips — that I was moving the masses. Sometimes, at least: Trying to sing ”Livin’ on a Prayer,” I sounded so much like an asthmatic Deputy Dog with his junk in a vice, Tommy and Gina are now seeing other people.

The game also tested my interpersonal skills. When EW’s L.A. bureau got a console, five of us formed a group. Alas, I was one of two bassists, a setup even more awkward than .38 Special’s double-drummer redundancy. I don’t want to rehash all the politics, but my insistence on playing mostly Smashing Pumpkins songs didn’t tickle my bandmates. One day, strolling by the conference room, I noticed them practicing without me. There’s nothing more humiliating than being pushed out of an imaginary band.

Still, the beat goes on. When I sing in the shower, I wonder if the words AWESOME or WEAK will flash above me. When I look at a rainbow, I don’t see Skittles or a pot of gold, I see the opportunity for a kickass drum fill. And when I hear System of a Down’s ”B.Y.O.B.,” I tense up, visualizing the furious flurry of colored bars that gets me jeered off the stage. But I pledge to live fast and die young trying to conquer it. If not today, maybe Saturday night.