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video game revived the radio star
by drew wright

At the ripe old age of 34, I feel slightly foolish walking into a Gamestop or Best Buy to purchase video games. Browsing in the same isle as a 13 year old with purple hair just doesn’t seem right. It’s kind of like shopping at XXI Forever when you’re XLVIII. Usually I tow along my four year old to make me feel just a little less lame. The cashiers always see through the charade and loudly ask “Would you like the bonus premium protection plan on your copy of Miss Donkey Kong Jr.?” Sometimes the really plucky ones ask if I would like to reserve a Special edition version of Pokemon Universe which comes with a code to unlock battle gear Pikachu.

The cashier will undoubtedly ask if I want a bag. I always reply “Yes, but not that tiny one please”. I would rather them place the game in a bag the size of a house so it looks like I bought something cool; like a Blu-ray disk player or a paper shredder. To which the cashier always counters with “Sorry, all we have is small bags right now”. Fine, just place my nerdery in the see through bag of shame, maybe you could throw a couple of D & D dice in for good measure? I think that’s why god invented cargo pants, to hide video game purchases and Yanni CD’s.

Now I know there is nothing to really be ashamed of. I am smack dab in the middle of the target market for game manufacturers. But I think there is a stigma that remains attached to playing and purchasing video games. Kind of like a moped, its fun until a friend catches you with one. Yet, thanks in large part to the Wii; video games are being embraced as a form of entertainment by a larger variety of people. Women are supposedly the largest area of growth in the gaming market. There are now two - 6 inch, battery containing plastic toys that women are enjoying all over the world.

Now ladies, don’t get mad at me for that last statement. First, I envisioned that I would lose most of you on the first two words of the title of the article. Second, if you had made it to this point, you are probably cool enough to handle a little sexist humor and smart enough to see the truth in that sexist humor. Besides, male gamers are cast as sexually frustrated, unfulfilled, living in the basement of their mom’s house, outcasts that would rather “Finish Him” then “Finish Her” (i.e. Brodie in Mallrats). So really, sexual humor is all we got. Guys, don’t think the jokes not on you if you haven’t seen Alec Baldwin Shake It on SNL.

Usually when I buy a game embarrassment turns into anticipation as I get closer to my car. The problem with video game purchases is that you don’t get the instant gratification that you do with a book or CD. You can open a book and read the first few paragraphs before you make the purchase (at least this is what I have been told about book purchases). A CD can be opened and popped into your car radio before heading home. In fact, keys were invented to be sharp just for the sole purpose of opening the 16 layers of CD security. With a video game, you just have to resign yourself to opening it when you get home. On occasion I might open the game in my car and look through the booklet, but that usually just leads to speeding and a bunch of trash on my dashboard.

On one particular day I went to my local Best Buy with a few gift cards in tow and browsed the gaming section with my usual air of humiliation. Now I have been in many real bands, some that were actually pretty good. The thought of playing someone else’s music on a toy guitar or plastic drum set never really appealed to me. There is always something liberating about gift cards, so if there was ever a time I was going to buy Rock Band, it was this day.

If carrying a DVD sized video game up to the counter causes me the slightest discomfort. Imagine the red faced embarrassment I was feeling as I carried the 5 square foot Rock Band box up to the counter. I stood in front of the display for at least 30 minutes before I even mustered up the courage to test the weight of the box. Another 15 minutes was spent hiding from customer service as they walked by. I waited for that perfect moment, when there was little traffic to encounter on the 300 foot walk to the check out stands. I plucked a XBOX 360 version off the shelf with uncanny speed, and shuffled quickly to the counter.

“Would you like a one year protection plan?” No thanks, just take my gift cards, stuff them in your register and let me go about my day in peace.

Now there was no real excitement in the purchase, I had fought with myself over the last year on whether I was going to give into the pop culture phenomenon. I didn’t even open it up for a couple days, let alone in my car. My son was more excited by the size of the box, then the contents. So in an attempt to appease him, I took all the pieces out, put some of it together and gave him the box.

For about the first four days I think my son had more fun playing with the box then I did with the game. There is nothing more frustrating then spending your life playing a real instrument, and not being able to finish Radiohead’s Creep on drums, on easy. It has always been argued that the mind of a drummer is not easily trained; and my ability, or lack there of, to coordinate colored bars to hand and foot was beginning to drain my soul. So I dropped the drumsticks and picked up the Stratacastor imitation guitar.

It was very strange, but my ability on guitar easily out weighed my ability on the drums. The game was more fun on a different instrument, maybe because there were no expectations. Within a week, I had worked myself to hard difficulty, to expert in about a month. The game grew on me, and at some point I fooled myself into thinking that I was actually playing the guitar. I no longer had to focus on colors; I was learning hammer-ons, pull offs and picking up finger speed. I was a Rock star in my own living room, unless my wife walked by and gave me her usual snicker. The type of snicker that says “What a nerd, get a life you loser”. I had her hooked in about two month’s time. There is nothing more romantic then rocking out to Dead or Alive with your loved one.

One of the more amazing things that can happen while playing Rock Band is the ability to learn to appreciate songs that might have previously induced nausea. I think that this is the great upside for the musicians that have songs in the game. Artists are benefiting greatly from having their songs reproduced in color coded bars. Just a brief search on the internet reveals that artist’s revenues can increase 200 – 300% after inclusion in any of the Guitar Hero/Rock Band rhythm games. Of course songs that suck, will always suck, but after trying to beat My Sharona on expert for a week straight, the song finally struck a chord. In addition, some of the best songs in the Rock Band series are the songs I had never heard of. I have probably downloaded a couple dozen songs just because of playing them in a video game.

Pop culture is a strange beast; new trends usually circle around to reviving old trends. Music begat radio, radio begat TV, TV begat Video Games and now Video Games are being credited for helping to revive the music industry. Songs from the Rock Band series, both old and new, can be heard more frequently on the radio, bars or while shopping. So if you have a few gift cards burning a hole in your wallet and you just don’t really need anything. There are far worst things in life than rocking out to Soundgarden with your wife in the living room.


I have spent the better part of my life trying to figure out just who I am. Im a Seattlelite, with just a touch of New Yorker and North Carolinian. Im a soft-talking, fast-driving, rain-loving son of a bitch that refuses to believe that he is getting older. However, each day I awake to the sound of my child's laughter, and slowely realize that getting older might just be a good thing.

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