Literary Journalism

Rock Band for a night

By Sarah-Lyn Subhan

It was Wednesday night and various gamers had once again gathered in the Multipurpose Room in the Student Union Building. Collectively, they are known as the Gamers of Kutztown University or GOKU, for short. Their meeting time was not scheduled to begin until 7 p.m., but most were already set up and playing by 6:45 p.m. People started to trickle in at the magic hour, but the turnout was significantly less than at the last meeting. It had been loud, lively and overwhelming, but tonight was the opposite. Maybe it was the stress of imminent finals that kept them home, or maybe it was the torrential downpour and fear for the safety of their electronic devices.

I had not been at the meeting long when the high pitch scream of a guitar filled the air. It swallowed the other soft sounds and drowned out the pouring rain beating down on the roof. A few heads turned towards the stage at the back of the small auditorium and then quickly lost interest. A college student sat in front of the one of the larger televisions in the room with a fake guitar in his hands. An audience of empty gray plastic chairs surrounded him. The player’s bright orange Aeropostale zip-up jacket stood out among the neutral backdrop of the room. He held the neck of the guitar in his right hand. His fingers rhythmically keyed the six different colored buttons on the neck as they appeared on the screen. His left hand held the guitar’s body where his thumb strummed a plastic switch. The buttons on the neck and the switch needed to be pressed simultaneously for the game to give credit for the action. The prerecorded crowd cheered as the song continued uninterrupted. The player in orange hardly ever missed a note. He was playing Rock Band.

He was soon joined on the second guitar by Colton, the manager of the Rock Band station, and another guy wearing a burgundy letterman jacket. He adjusted the microphone to accommodate his height, but he still needed to bend his knees. Pressing his mouth to the microphone, Letterman jacket began to sing the opening of “Sweet Child O’Mine” by Guns N’ Roses. His voice was low and pitchy. The lyrics of the song zipped across the top of the TV. Normal eyes could barely keep up with the constant flow of words, but not the singer. He did not stumble once.

I made myself a member of their audience as the song neared the end. “Where do we go now? No, no, no, no, no, no, sweet child of mine.” The audience in the game cheered. The game cut to a scene of the generic background characters in the back of limo buying fast food. It then cut back to the extensive list of available songs that could be played. The songs were organized alphabetically by song title.

The lineup switched. Colton left for another game and Letterman jacket took up the guitar. A new player entered the game- Leslie was short and had to adjust the microphone to its lowest height and even that was too high for her to reach when she sat. She scooted the seat as close to the microphone as she could. She took off her blue puffer coat and draped it across the back of her chair before picking a song. The other songs had allowed the guitar players a moment to adjust to the speed of the song. This one was different. The players jumped right into “Surfin’ Bird” by the Trashmen. “A-well-a everybody’s heard about the bird…” The well-known and repetitive tune had everyone tapping their feet, but Leslie took the song to another level by pumping her arms up and down to the rhythm of the song. “Com-a ma mau papa com-a mau mau,” she sang with enviable confidence. When the song had ended, she went to join the Just Dance Competition. She would switch between the two stations for the rest of the night.

Another new player entered the game to play guitar. Of three modes he chose easy, however his skill level was beyond that. It soon became apparent that he could play with little effort. The band was now a guitar player short. While holding the guitar, Letterman jacket asked all within earshot, “Is anybody singing?” I declined, but reluctantly agreed to play a guitar. It was clunky and awkward to hold. Little did I know, I was holding it incorrectly the entire time. I could not count the years since I had last played, but the regret was immediately recognizable. There were more buttons on the neck than I had fingers for, and the width of the neck needed my entire hand to support it. This left my fingers in an uncomfortable, claw-like position.

Watching the other players carelessly hitting the buttons at the right moment made the game look easy. How difficult could it actually be? The answer became apparent as I struggled to press the buttons as they appeared on screen. If there was one button to be pressed, it was usually done at the correct time. If two were needed, I could usually only press one. Sometimes I was not able to press either. The songs I played required my complete attention, yet I still managed to play poorly. Luckily, our three scores were not combined into one final score.

My hand quickly started feeling the effect of the game. After three, tortuously long, three-minute songs, I had to hand the guitar over to another player. I was afraid that if I did not stop then, my hand would remain a claw forever. The other guitar player had been playing for twice as long without stopping. When I inquired about his resilience he shrugged and said, “You get used to it.” I was disappointed. I had wanted more practical advice.