An invariant in my personality is an obsession with precision, pedantry, and pedagogy. This perfect storm is responsible for my unusual interest and aptitude for math and computers. But this was not a conscious choice, and with the good fortune of being able to breeze through math course came the curse of nerd-dom ostricization. My tendencies in this direction are too strong to ever hope to not be a nerd. I’ve always refused to “celebrate” the nerd way. Some of it is overcompensation, some of it surprising. For example, I’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek. As I like to say, I don’t trust anyone too much into anything. I’m a nerd, but I’m not a geek. (OK, I have a blog. Sue me.)
This repudiation of the geek lifestyle has caused me to drift away from video games that interested me when I was younger. My current job has brought me back into that world though, because… well, it’s that industry. So the office has XBOX 360, Wii, a giant TV. We got the game “Rock Band” pretty much as soon as it was available.
“Rock Band” comes with a guitar controller (with buttons instead of frets), a microphone, and a drum kit. You play and sing along with real songs that you’ve probably heard on the radio, like Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So”, and it scores you based on how accurately you follow along to the score that scrolls by. If a tone is assigned to you and you botch it, that note doesn’t play in the song, and the discordance socks a body blow to your musical memory (and makes the virtual crowd more likely to start booing).
It doesn’t take long before you actually start to get the hang of it, and surprisingly, feel like you are contributing to the songs. You really do learn certain musical skills, especially timing.
If the difficulty level is appropriate — not too easy that you get bored, but not too hard that you get frustrated (see also this Wikipedia article) — you really start to get into it, and become one with the music. You begin to understand what it might be like to be a real rock star. It’s a coolness simulator.
These effects are real. After I’ve played the game for a while, I really do feel more at ease. I feel more confident. I am more chatty with strangers.
Of course, the irony is that playing video games is kind of dorky. One might claim this it’s just a fantasy world, where people pretend to be something they’re not. But there’s no denying that it does have an immersive coolness effect on its participants’ mood. So how to reconcile this apparent contradiction?
Who cares? Cool people don’t care what other people think.