They may not save the music industry, but this year rhythm games opened up new possibilities for how people interact with music. As game designer Jesse Fuchs has pointed out, Harmonix (which originally developed Guitar Hero, and created Rock Band) put out far more inventive games earlier. But since the GH/RB model has proven to be a hit, it appeared that we were stuck with a simple six-button interface that didn’t allow players to fiddle with the music itself awfully much.
Rock Band‘s interface much more closely resembled the actual physical experience of playing music than the other two games, and its ability to download new songs (for a price) both opened up a new revenue stream and made the games almost infinitely extendable. Moreover, they encouraged listeners to appreciate music as both ear candy and technical achievement, giving access to the pleasure of virtuosity for those without any particular musical training. You could even hear Metallica songs in a more audiophile-friendly version!
With Rock Band 2 and Wii Music, as well as Guitar Hero: World Tour, the games have moved even closer to resembling real music-making apparatuses, allowing people to free-play instruments and even record their own songs. It remains to be seen if any “Love In The Club”-level hits will result, but the games remain a fascinating example of entertainment technology accidentally opening up new means of artistic expression and appreciation.