“Rock Band is racist”?

I’m leaving out the name of the sender, but I had a strongly personal and angry reaction to a reader letter today. If I print it in the magazine, then I’m giving this guy way too much attention. If I post it on OXM’s blog, then it just looks like I’m overreacting. Since my reply was so personal, posting it here seems to be the best way to get it out of my system. And you people already know I overreact.

The letter:

I’m sorry for bringing this up, but I don’t agree with the target audience of Rock Band. African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and any other culture that don’t like Heavy Metal, and Rock, are purposely overlooked. Video Gamers come in all races and colors, and Rock Bands’ songs should reflect that. Other video game developers take this diverse audience into consideration when creating games, but not the creaters of Rock Band. And to make it worse, the Downloadable Content is not any better. You left out many of the greatest artist of all time, why? Disco, Jazz, R&B, Hip Hop, Latin, Rap, and Pop. Where is it? (And yes, there were drums, bass, guitars, and vocals in all of those genres.) This day and age, I can’t believe I still have to address the “Race” issue. You have no idea how old this gets. My daughter asked me if the makers of this game were racist. Maybe you can answer her?

I don’t expect a response, most people run and hide from this issue. But when creating / reviewing games in the future, consider the entire gaming audience, not a select few.

Missing the entire point of the game, jumping to the worst possible conclusion with the most slipshod logic possible, taking personal offense at something that doesn’t exist, then accusing other people of moral wrongdoing…! This stuff makes me literally shake with anger.

My private email reply:

I will gladly answer your daughter’s question. No, the game makers are not racist, and to assume that bias exists where it does not is illogical, irrational, and downright dangerous.

Rock Band is aimed at people who like rock music in the same way that Forza is aimed at people who like sports cars and Mass Effect is aimed at people who like science fiction. It’s illogical to blame a game developer for not meeting your personal tastes, and downright unjust to accuse them of something as diabolical as racism as a result.

I would suggest doing some research into what the company has said about the game’s position before accusing someone of racial injustice. Quoting an interview with Alex Rigopulos:

“That said, Rock Band isn’t the end of what Harmonix has planned for the coming years. I really think that there’s a lot of unexplored territory in other genres of music that we very likely will pursue over the coming years as well. Country is an obvious one, hip-hop is another obvious one. So there are a lot of places that we haven’t even begun to even touch on yet that it’s very likely that we will over the coming years.”

You can read that interview in full here.

Now, how about the fact that there are only about six or seven female-vocalist songs in Rock Band, including the first downloadable content? Are the game creators sexist because women singers are only represented on about a tenth of the tracks? No, it’s just the way it worked out with licensing and what tracks they could get together in time. Rock Band is a huge step, but you can only cover so much ground at once. I’m not going to assume there’s some sort of evil social agenda where none exists. The truth is far more mundane.

On a personal level, I’m really to hoping I will one day see Living Colour in Rock Band – I’m a big fan. And if Rock Band can expand to include, say, funk, I will be thrilled to have the chance to play some Bootsy Collins. I also hope we see some Chuck Berry and Little Richard while we’re at it. Do you know why? They’re all great musicians. Period.

It’s not about race unless you MAKE it about race. I don’t hear music in black and white. This day and age, I can’t believe other people still do.

For the sake of future generations, please explain this to your daughter.

Also — and this was so obvious I didn’t even mention it — it’s called ROCK BAND. Ingredients: Rock.

Surely there is enough racial injustice in the world that we don’t have to create some fresh?

MP3 of the Moment: “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”

I haven’t done one of these illegal music sharing things in a while, but hey, it is the season of giving.

Whirling Dervishes were an alt-rock 90s band from New Jersey. When I was in college radio, they put out an EP called Wish It Would Snow, which was later rereleased as the Grinch EP. I fell in love with their version of the song, to the point that I tabbed it out for amateur guitarists everywhere.

Ho ho ho download it already.

Romantics squabbles

Apparently sometimes cover bands can be too good.

Mine does not suffer from this problem, but I found it interesting all the same. FWIW, the master license is far, far more expensive than a cover license; I get small-quantity mechanical licenses for the Palette-Swap Ninja stuff, even though a) we are likely safe as parody and b) we don’t make any money and likely wouldn’t be worth going after. Either way, we do it to avoid any…Imperial entanglements.

But this? Getting a master license so you can record a cover version is a nice dream if you’re the copyright owner but not feasible for anybody who would want to, you know, record a cover.

Santa, you’re here early

And I will be just as thrilled Christmas morning to find that my living room has gone from looking like this:

To looking like this!

Yes, that’s right — a brand new Xbox 360 faceplate, and it’s the Japanese “water puzzle” one! Also, that’s a 40″ Sony Bravia HDTV in place of our standard def 27″ JVC.

I’ve been begging Kat for the permission to upgrade the main set to HDTV, but she’s been resistant because SD stuff usually looks like crap, and she watches more TV than I do. TiVo compression already makes the programs suspect enough; to throw it into an HDTV would make it worse. But the arrival of a good deal on a TiVo HD unit in an email combined with Black Friday sales and a few lucrative holiday gigs for the band this coming month finally made it happen.

We paid a little more than I expected for a little less screen real estate than I expected, but the picture clarity was more important to both of us, and on that front, we have no complaints at all — the Bravia line’s reputation is well earned. I have never seen a DLP set that didn’t give me “rainbow effect” issues — even the 73″ Mitsubishi monster we just reviewed gave me trouble, which can only mean my eyes are messed up — so I was adamant about getting an LCD. I’m really happy with this one.

And it was one of those crazy Black Friday things where it was the last one in stock, so if we hadn’t taken away the box when we did, there were two other customers waiting to fight over it if we’d passed. Because of that, we actually did what you should never do — bought the first set we saw — so we kept the receipt, dropped the TV at home, and immediately went to a few other stores to see what they had. Nobody had a better price on a Bravia and all the sets that were comparable were sold out as part of the crazy sales. When we got it home, Kat said any larger than 40″ would have been “imposing” in the living room anyway.

My only complaint: Three feet of HDMI cable for $50? Really, Best Buy? Six feet for $50, Microsoft? Twelve feet for $50, Belkin? Eat shit, all of you. The markup on this technology — considering it’s a combination of two mature standards, DVI + coax surround — is nothing short of criminal. It’s in the TV and DVD manufacturers’ best interest to phase out the old tech (seriously, my HDTV has composite and component and S-video and VGA and HDMI) and make all AV devices HDMI compliant — so where’s the free cable with purchase of an HDMI device (which, I should note, Microsoft did with the 360 Elite)? That will drive the third-party vendors down. Overpricing is no way to establish a standard. If my cheapie cables turn out to be crap, it will have been worth the $3 to find out…and I will replace them with $12 ones.

Everything is true on the internet

You know why cousins don’t marry, right? Here’s a fantastic story of new media inbreeding and feeding on itself.

Naturally if something like this had appeared in a magazine, the verdict from online “journalists” would likely be that print is dead and old media doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing any more. Meanwhile, I’m just going to learn from the example, especially as OXM gets more involved online. As the old saying goes, you can have something fast, cheap, or good — pick two. Most information online is fast and cheap, so caveat emptor.

This blog’s author Darius puts it best:

Bloggers and readers should do more to research the facts and original sources before jumping to the publish button. How else will we establish blogging as a credible, journalistic endeavor?

I admit that I did not contact Nissan to see if this “Darius” really contacted them…but I thought his detective work made a fascinating story anyway. If you believe what you read, of course.

Rock Band shenanigans

I admit it. I’ve had more time with Rock Band than most people, thanks to the review. But I couldn’t help myself from going on Live, going into Ranked guitar matches on Expert, and blowing people to smithereens. In consolation, everybody gets a 5-point Achievement (the last one on this list) because of my head start. But still. Fun, if not nice. But I can’t figure out if this blog post is boasting or apologizing.

My minor domination definitely won’t last; I’m not that good and everybody else has more time to become so much better. If anybody wants said 5-point Achievement, just let me know and we’ll arrange a time. It can be co-op quickplay, too. The game came out yesterday, so I’ll be one of the only sources for it for at least another two hours.

My bands, for the record, are Dogs of the A.M.S. (with Fran), The Band of Make-Believe (with Kat) and another TBA. It’s fun to be a fake-musical slut. I feel like Paul Carrack. (Only Andy will get that joke.)

We’ve hit a new low

Look! We’ve taken every negative thing said about a game and woven it into one review! It’s the nega-review.

I know it’s supposed to be cheeky and funny — I get the joke, honest — but I truly don’t find it funny to intentionally take the words out of context. When I say the Rock Band drums are “not indestructible,” that’s a fact. No game controller is indestructible; you’re still going to have to approach it with respect, and treat it like the piece of consumer electronics it is. But the review’s original line is “They’re not indestructible, but they were built with abuse in mind.” That’s consumer advice — don’t boil it down to hate when it’s not intended as such.

This kind of remixed review also assumes that the reader cannot comprehend the original article. I don’t need you to edit down the words to bite-sized chunks; I believe the audience is smarter than that. I didn’t call for an interpreter, nor did the reader. So, you know, fuck off.

Sure enough, this edit of just the bad bits has created confusion and — exactly what our industry needs — more mocking. Please note the reader comments where people take issue with some of the OXM comments, as if that’s all we said.

I’m tired of all the negativity in this industry. The web breeds it like cancer — comedy cancer. I left GamesRadar partially because I didn’t agree with the negative editorial vision — they seemed more interested in shooting down good things than celebrating them. I knew I couldn’t do that on a daily basis. So I’m not thrilled to see my words showing up in someone else’s project about how everything sucks when you look close enough.

If you disagree with my reviews, that’s fine — we can always disagree and we can even discuss it. But I take immense pride in choosing the right words and putting them in the “right” order. I sweat over the flow of my articles; I want them to be entertaining and informative and above all clear. I don’t give you permission to destroy their very specific and carefully considered meanings for your joke.

Leave my words out of your cynical hack job next time.

New blog vs old blog

If you are mostly interested in my random thoughts about games, then you will probably want to check out the Xbox Soapbox at oxmonline.com, where I will be blogging at least twice a week. Last week, due to the launch and some interesting news, it was almost daily. I suppose you’ll still find downright personal rants here.

I like the site. Traffic is still pretty light, as many people have so long ago given up on OXM even having a site that they no longer check. Fran mentioned it in her editor’s letter this month, and next issue we’ll have a big plug page for it. It will be interesting to see what hits and what doesn’t. So far, the GTA stuff is bigger than the Rock Band stuff, which surprised me, only because Rock Band is right now (and we have tons of content for it) and GTA is whenever they release it, and our online content is the same stuff we had in print.

I thought it was interesting that we got nitpicked for having “not the freshest content” on our site. That is, we archived our top-scoring reviews from the last year or so, we put up some of the best features that didn’t seem like they had expiration dates, and we did a handful of recent previews. Of course, had we not done that much, it would have been “there’s nothing at the site yet.” So it’s the classic internet “I want more and I want it free and I want to make fun of it because it’s not what I personally would have done and also I want more” mentality. That’s the hardest part for me — dealing with the cynics.

Beyond that, any weird thoughts on guitars will still appear here, and you still won’t care. But I like talking about that stuff, if only to myself.  🙂