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What’s Next for the Music Rhythm Genre?

Rock Band delivered all the big obvious improvements to Guitar Hero, and it’s an excellent game, but what else can they really do besides adding more content, instruments, and refinements?

In a recent interview, Harmonix (developers behind Rock Band, Guitar Hero 1+2, and Frequency + Amplitude) explained their intentions:

We would like to make it possible for people to introduce their own music into sort of the Rock Band ecosystem, which is a pretty complicated topic. It isn’t easy to achieve – there are IP issues, ratings issues, and so forth. So there are a lot of things to work through to get that to work, but that seems like a natural direction for the franchise to move. We’d love to have it be a vehicle for people to be able to express themselves in terms of creating their own music and bringing it to a wider audience.

We also think there is a lot of potential for personal self-expression within the constraints of the game. Right now, the game does a really good job in bonding players together. That emotional feeling you get if you are in a band and you are succeeding is really powerful and we’re very pleased that it worked as well as it did.

But we think there is a lot more potential for personal self-expression within that envelope. You can see just little bits and pieces of it – there are drum fills, rock endings. There are ways for people to play distinctive roles and express themselves, but only a tiny fraction of the overall experience. We see a lot of potential for expanding that.

There are two ways to look at the genre:

#1 – Music is a powerful means of creative self-expression. the music/rhythm video game genre can aim to democratize this power to regular people.

It sounds like this is what the Harmonix guys are aiming for. That’s a grand and noble goal.

#2 – Music/rhythm games aren’t about self-expression at all. They are about mastering the dexterity of mimicking a technical pattern with a special controller or your feet. The games completely remove the element of creative self-expression and that’s precisely why they are so popular. It isn’t just the difficulty of playing an instrument that stops regular people from playing music, it’s the fundamental fact that the world doesn’t want to hear about the deep emotions or creative expression of ordinary people. And most ordinary people know their place well enough that they avoid composing and performing music.

I’ve gone to several social functions or family gatherings where a good game of Guitar Hero was enjoyed. The odd thing was that there were very highly trained musicians in the room, but it would have been wildly inappropriate for them to perform live music, yet playing the music game was completely acceptable. A genuine music performance would have been socially invasive. It’s just too much of that person’s personality and emotions. The music game works at a party because it’s more like a game of darts or pool.

There is room to expand the dexterity elements of the genre. Two obvious improvements are new instruments like pianos and supporting real MIDI instruments in addition to toy replicas.

So what do you think? Does the future of the music/rhythm genre lie with personal expression or simply as improved games of technical dexterity?