By Youyoung Lee
Updated November 07, 2007 at 08:00 PM EST

Let me start by saying I am pretty good at Guitar Hero. I beat the entire game on Expert. I’m already 35/40 songs through on the new GH3…which came out last week. With 10 years of violin training under my belt, my fingers can fly. (When I shred, I get more male attention than I’ve ever received.) But one night, while participating in a bar’s weekly Guitar Hero night, an unsmiling man named Brian annihilated me, scoring a whopping 98 percent (compared to my 87 score) in the song “Less Talk More Rock.” Crushed, I walked back to my friends.

“It’s okay,” they laughed, patting me on the back. “Think of it this way: the winner in this situation is actually the loser.” And suddenly, I realized that they were right — recognizing that one of the beauties of gaming is its potential for social dynamic. Like karaoke, Guitar Hero brings people together. So weeks passed, and we continued to congregate for the bar’s game nights. Eventually, we moved on. New friendships were made, others cemented, but at the root of it, we agreed, was this game. This all happened last summer.

So I can’t even fathom what reaction MTV’s own music game, Rock Band, debuting November 20th, might have provoked from us. MTV’s PR dude Jeff Castaneda showed me around the game when I stopped by their offices a few weeks ago for a test drive. Created by Harmonix — the geniuses behind the original Guitar Hero — Rock Band takes the established mold and blows it up. (At $170 for the bundle, it might blow up your savings as well.) Most everything about this game is on a bigger scale. Rather than one guitar, you now have four pieces: a set of drum pads, bass and lead guitars, and a mic (for the vocals).

And there’s a more ambitious online component: you can meet forpractice — and battle other bands — in the comfort of cyberspace.There’s plenty of downloadable content available on either the Sony orMicrosoft networks. You can even order T-shirts with self-designedlogos (on for your inevitable groupies and hangers-on. Licensed master tracks include jukebox crowd-pleasers from Radiohead’s “Creep” and the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” to the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Map” and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”.

But the game’s most ingenious aspects emerge through its amazingdegree of personalization. Players create avatars from the ground-up:everything from skin color to attitude. The result is that virtually notwo characters are alike. A “free play” mode enables you to improvisenotes and drum beats into a type of cadenza, boosting creativeperformance.

As for playability? I jammed with the gang atMTV for nearlytwo hours — and after a while, I admit, we just stopped talking. Ourband, Hounddog (or something like it), was really just that damn good.We conquered Paris (the city) and earned a tour van — we were a dreamteam. Alas, it was all over too soon, and I had to return to work.

Still, there remains one crucial, unavoidable flaw in the game’snear-perfect emulation of the rock-star life — and it’s a biggie: thatmoment when would-be rockers just can’t shake the idea of playing withplastic toys anymore and actually contemplate moving on to the realthing.