These past few years have seen a radical improvement in the production values of video games. Much to the delight of the narratologist, so called "AAA titles" have adopted the cinematic qualities of a Hollywood blockbuster. More and more celebrities are showing an interest in voice acting for games. Big budgets are blown on having the best visual effects on the block. Writers have learned how to create more convincing, likable protagonists and richer, more momentous story arcs. These past 365 days have seen some of the most well-made games in the history of the industry, and some of the most immersive, soul-stirring stories we've ever experienced.
But can you play Assassin's Creed with a Stratocaster? Can you drum your way through Mass Effect? While playing God of War II, do you ever get to play The Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz"? No, we're fairly sure you do not (though that would be awesome).
Video games are thought of as more than toys nowadays -- a distinction that gamers and game developers should be proud of. However, amidst the recent sea of epics and masterpieces, we can't forget that video games are tools for entertainment -- and no game released this year provided more entertainment for us than Rock Band.
If you've ever closed your eyes while listening to a song, and imagined that you were on stage, playing in front of a full-to-brim Madison Square Garden, Harmonix has created a channel for you to bring that daydream to fruition. You're always aware you aren't playing real music, but it makes no difference. Drums are being hit, and guitars are being strummed -- it doesn't matter that they're made of plastic. The illusion of musical interaction is there, and is stronger than any other rhythm game that came before.
To look around the room and realize that three of your friends are under the same spell is a pretty incredible moment. It would be futile for us to try to fully describe the bonding experience that Rock Band provides. We can't explain the intricate system of responsibilities and accountabilities band mates begin to develop between one another due to Harmonix's cleverly designed gameplay, nor can we describe the shared sense of accomplishment you get when you perform a song well.
To witness a group of grown men and women erupting in jubilation after pulling out the fifth star on "Foreplay/Long Time" on the Big Rock Ending would seem like madness to the untrained eye. But this is what Rock Band does to groups of people who let the game transport them into their own musical fantasies. In a few posts this year, we jokingly referred to Rock Band as "Harmonix's rock star simulator." Now that we have the game in our hot little hands, and know well its capacity to capture our imagination, we humbly retract our sardonic tone.