This morning, while driving around town, Anne and I heard Green Grass and High Tides on the radio. It was part of a set of songs with "green" in the title, on account of it being St. Patrick's Day. It's a stretch, but any excuse to play a great song on the radio — especially a song that's nearly 10 minutes long — is fine with me.
After a minute or two, I said, "it feels kind of weird to just listen to this song, and not feel worried about failing out of it before it's over."
"Is this that song from Rock Band?" She asked.
"I totally remember you and Ryan playing it over and over a couple years ago."
"Well, it's –"
"and over and over"
"I know. It's a really great song," I said, "it's just so … evil … at the end."
We drove on and just listened to it, until there were about three minutes left in the song.
"This is where it gets brutal," I said. In my mind, I could see the bar on the left side of the screen turning yellow, then red. I kept my hands on the wheel and resisted the urge to reflexively activate Overdrive, which we will always call Star Power, no matter what music game we're playing (even DJ Hero, which doesn't make any sense at all.)
I realized that my heart was beating harder than it should have, and I felt flush.
"Oh my god," I said, "I'm getting stressed out! It's like I have Rock Band PTSD!"
"Nice," she said. "You want to slow down?"
I looked at the speedometer and realized I was going … a little too fast for the street we were on. I took my foot off the gas and gently applied the brake.
Speaking of Rock Band and Green Grass and High Tides, here's a story I originally wrote about it in 2008, which is included in the Chapbook I did for GenCon last year, called Games Matter.
Ryan goes back to school in just under 2 weeks, and I've been bugging him to play the Endless Setlist with me on Rock Band before he leaves.
If you're unfamiliar with Rock Band's multiplayer thing, the Endless Setlist is the last thing you unlock in the game when you're playing as a band. It is exactly what it sounds like: a concert featuring all 58 songs that come with the game. It takes about six hours to play if you don't take any extended breaks.
Today, Ryan and I tackled it on expert. He played guitar, and I played bass. It was awesome. We got five stars on pretty much everything for the first 20 or so songs, including three gold stars. I got the authentic strummer thing and 99% on about half of them.
We were seriously having a good time, striking the rock pose, putting our backs together while we jammed through epic songs, bonding through the power of rock.
Then, with five songs left to go, we got to Green Grass and High Tides.
For those of you unfamiliar with Rock Band, this is a fantastic southern rock song by the Outlaws. It's also one of the hardest in the game, and the longest, weighing in at around 10 minutes. It's a song that you don't play as much as survive, and it does its best to really beat you down. If a song could kick you in the junk, this would be it. If this song were a poker game, it would be Razz.
So, after already playing for 5 hours, (and not exactly conserving our energy) we started to play this rock epic, knowing it would be the greatest challenge we'd faced yet.
Our first time through, we failed at 84%. It was entirely my fault for holding my guitar too high and deploying our emergency overdrive when we didn't need it.
"Sorry about that," I said as we lost 360,000 fans. "I blame my guitar."
Ryan looked at me.
"Okay, I blame myself."
Ryan laughed and said it was no big deal. He was confident we'd get it on the next try, and when we started the song, I could see why. He was in the zone, nailing 97% of the first solo. I wanted to holler about how awesome he was, but I felt like it would have been the same as talking to my pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter, so I stayed quiet and did my best not to screw things up.
I screwed things up, and we failed the song at 96%. We lost another 360,000 fans, almost wiping out the million we'd picked up when we did the Southern Rock Marathon last week. Compared to the nearly 5 and a half hours we'd spent playing, that 18 minutes wasn't that long, but it sure felt demoralizing, especially because it was, again, entirely my fault we'd failed. See, there's this bass phrase that's repeated over and over and over, and if you're just a tiny bit off (like I was) you're screwed, and . . . well, you get the point.
I dropped my hands to my side and let the guitar hand around my neck. My arms were tired, my legs hurt, and my vision was getting blurry.
"I think I've identified the weak link in our band, and it's me," I said. "I'm really sorry."
"It's okay," Ryan said, "but I think I want to take a break."
"Good idea," I said. "Let's pause this, go out for something to eat, and come back later."
Ryan walked into his room and turned on his shower. I unplugged my guitar so we didn't have to worry about our dogs knocking it down and starting the game again while we were gone.
In my memory, the next few moments happen in slow motion:
- I pick up Ryan's guitar, the wireless PS2 guitar from GHIII.
- I hold down the button to get the control screen.
- The dashboard comes up, and it gives me the option to cancel, turn off the controller, or turn off the system.
- I click the strum bar to select "turn off the controller."
- I set the guitar on the ground — carefully — and reach up to click the green fret button.
- I hear the Xbox beep.
- I push the button.
- I realize that the beep was the strum bar clicking one more time when I set the guitar down, selecting "Shutdown the System."
- The system shuts down, taking all of our progress with it.
- Time resumes to normal. For the next 120 seconds, I use every curse word I know, until my throat is raw. It takes everything I have not to grab the guitar and get all Pete Townshend on it.
Ryan came out of his room.
"What happened?" He said.
I told him.
What happened next was astonishing to me: Ryan didn't freak out. He didn't get upset. Instead, he told me, "Calm down, Wil. It's just a game. We can do it again."
I was still really upset. It was an accident, yes, but it was my fault. In my head, I kept replaying all the different ways I could have powered down his guitar that were more careful. I really felt like an asshole, because I screwed up twice and caused us to fail both times. I felt like an asshole, because I screwed up and lost all the progress we'd made. Mostly, though, I felt like an asshole because I really wanted to accomplish this feat with my son. I really wanted to have that memory.
What I got, though, was better than what I'd hoped for. I got to see Ryan exhibit one of the key values I'd raised him with: he kept everything in perspective, and found all the good things in the experience, like the gold stars we scored, the fun we had playing all the other songs, and the time we spent together. He reminded me that it's not about winning, it's about playing the game.
If you've read my blog for any amount of time, I'm sure you can appreciate how great it felt to hear my words and my values come out of my son's mouth.
I don't write about my boys very often these days. Their friends read my blog, and they sometimes read my blog. They're not little kids any more and I feel like it's not cool to talk about everything we do together with the Internet . . .
. . . but in this case, I'm making an exception.
You can hear me read this story on Radio Free Burrito Episode 20, if you're into that sort of thing.