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Music Role-Playing Games OK With Teens, Adults

By Carolee Walker

Music Role-Playing Games Popular Among Teens, Adults

For classical musician Monica Cho, 14, who is preparing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 15 in B flat Major for a piano competition and Mendelssohn's Concerto in E Minor for Violin for a recital, there is little time on school nights to relax.

In addition to taking private music lessons, the teenager practices both piano and violin at least two hours a day and is a member of the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestra. Playing classical music has been an important part of Monica's life for as long as she can remember -- she began playing violin at the age 6 and piano at age 9 -- and her parents have made a significant financial commitment to Monica's passion by paying for costly music lessons and expensive performance-quality musical instruments.

But on the weekends, when Monica has time to unwind, she plays electric guitar in a rock band with her friends. Except they do not actually play any instruments, and they meet in front of the family television set instead of in the family garage.

Monica is among millions of teenagers -- and, increasingly, adults -- around the world who play music on interactive computer game platforms in virtual rock bands.

"Personally, I enjoy playing the guitar," Monica told USINFO. She said she likes its simplicity.

The game controller is shaped like a guitar, and is fitted with five fret buttons and one strum bar. "You just hold the fret button and strum the strum bar at the same time to produce a note," Monica said. The game comes with a drum kit, including drumming pads as well as a pedal, a microphone for the vocalist and a controller for bass guitar.

Depending on the quality of the players' television speakers, even without real instruments, the virtual rockers have the potential to wake up the neighbors.

Rock Band, one of the newest virtual music games, also known as music role-playing games (RPGs), is a collaboration between the companies MTV and Electronic Arts. The guitar-shaped game controller is based on the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar of the 1950s and is made by Contel Corporation, designer and manufacturer of digital media products in China. The game was developed by Harmonix Music Systems for the Playstation 2, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 game platforms.

When another music game, Guitar Hero, was released in 2005, the game appealed to "a mass of people," said Robert Kotick, chief executive of Activision, the game's publisher, in newspaper reports. In the first week of its release in late November, the game's newest version, Guitar Hero III, had sales of $115 million. Like Rock Band, it puts players in the role of rockers. The latest Guitar Hero game is also owned by Harmonix, which was purchased by MTV in 2006.

Although Monica has played the all-vocal RPG Karaoke Revolution with her parents and younger brother, she plays Rock Band and Guitar Hero with her friends. The newest music RPGs can form bands with players around the world using a high-speed Internet connection.

The games allow players to assign such characteristics as hair color and clothing accessories to their game avatars to create a virtual display of the band. They choose a name for the band and create a logo, and when the band is performing in front of a crowd of screaming fans, another player can act as the concert director by using lighting effects and interesting camera shots. For now, the games do not have the capability to allow players to compose music.

The single-player RPG offers the opportunity for musicians to practice on a single instrument, according to Dan Teasdale, senior designer of Rock Band, in a published interview. "You can create your character and go through playing songs ... on a single instrument," Teasdale said, practicing increasingly difficult material and preparing vocal, guitar or drum solos.

Monica said that playing music always will be an important part of her life even though she looks forward to a career in politics or economics. What kind of music, though, is "TBD," [to be determined] she said -- and "how" she will play it might be virtually impossible to guess.

"These games introduced me to new music, and it turned out I really enjoy it," Monica said.


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