Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle: #19 Rockstar

In my 8th grade math and language arts classes, I stood on top of chairs and sang silly songs about imitation mayonnaise and Inky the Cat. One day in social studies we watched a video about Africa in which, for some reason, they played the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” My friends Ben and Danny were amused at the long and high part of the song and we starting singing it for the rest of the period. On my turns, I decided to go all out and sung with a squealing, high pitched voice, holding out all the notes for as long as possible for dramatic effect (aweeeeeaeeeeeeeeuu!). My friends found my rendition hilarious and encouraged me to sing it repeatedly throughout the rest of the week.

With my new found stardom, the next logical step was to go to the recording studio and lay down a full length album. So, I spent the night at Ben’s house, he left me listen to his Green Day cassette, we played NBA Jam on Sega Genesis in his basement, we wrote out a track list and recorded every goofy 20 second song in one sitting. By the next week at school, with the help of Ben’s promotional skills, I handed out printed and autographed tracklists to my classmates and my teachers. That week I started taking requests to sing songs from the album on the bus and on the playground. Even my teachers got into it and let me stand up on chairs and sing at the end of class.

While I was reluctant to thrust myself into the limelight, my friends found my songs an amusement that broken up the monotony of school and my teachers seemed surprised to see this showmanship coming out of a reserved student. It became an integral part of my identity the rest of my 8th grade year to the point where other students wanted to be part of it, taking on roles as my bodyguards, my manager and my accountant.
This middle school experience served as the inspiration for Shadow Puppet Disco when I started having goofy songs about Lewis and Clark and Kung Pow Chicken pop into my head as I was playing basketball. Knowing that my friend Matt McReynolds (or as Kyle Blair called him “old Irish Matt”) was a serious rock musician, I decided he needed to hear the songs. So one day I sung them to him during lunch in the cafeteria loud enough so that all the other tables around us glared at me. Matt found the songs amusing and said I had a decent nasal rock and roll voice kind of like Tom Petty. I wrote more songs, Justin, Joey, Martin and Alex got involved and SPD blew up from there.

As goofy as the songs were, I loved the rush of all the eyes in the class being on me, each person listening to something I had written. Performing for my classmates made me feel like I was making school a little more fun for everyone, like I was making everyone’s life a little better. Playing the text-based DOS shareware game Rockstar from 1989, always ignites a nostalgia in me for this mix of adrenaline and joy.

Like Oregon Trail, Rockstar is another game where it is more about immersing you in the decisions and lifestyle of being a rockstar than about compelling game mechanics and solving strategic puzzles. With a little trial and error and a pinch of common sense, it is easy to figure out that you need to balance touring to promote your band, writing songs to make good albums and relaxing to not get worn out while avoiding taking any hard drugs that destroy your alertness in turn ruining your live shows. You slowly build up your popularity by touring, releasing singles and albums, and doing every radio and television spot you get offered. This simple strategy is all you need to win the game even on the hardest setting, but true elegance of this game isn't so much in trying to win but rather in exploring the world of the game and vicariously living out the life of a rockstar. For example, taking drugs that you are offered by groupies or other bands can do nothing at all or it can induce a psychedelic and seizure-inducing multi-colored explosion of different characters on the screen. Likewise getting into fights with your bandmates might cause your tour to get cancelled or touring too relentlessly might make you depressed and your manager will force you to go to therapy or doing too many drugs and your label will force you to go to a sanitarium and eat nothing but vegetables. All the sexiest and the most rock-bottom parts from those behind the music specials are all captured with flair in Rockstar.

The first of four text-only games on this list, one of the most remarkable elements of Rockstar is that it is able to create such a rich world and strong level of immersive progression with nothing but PC speaker beeps and ASCII characters. It is cliché and overly simplistic to say that books allow you to fill in all the details with your imagination and that doesn't seem to quite encapsulate the majesty of this game. However, I do not believe Rockstar would be a better with graphics no matter how good. The game’s wacky drug trips masterfully done with nothing but ASCII characters would not have the same effect any other way and the game simply does not need them to spark your imagination into images of being on stage in front of thousands of adoring fans all singing along to your number one hit.

Rockstar can be downloaded here:

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