Last night I ended up going to a semi-small party where the only person I knew was the girl with whom I arrived, Julia. I’m not the biggest fan of this situation*, but sometimes you have to deal with it to hang out with somebody cool. And even a barely socialized curmudgeon like myself can occasionally meet a nice new person or two at a party like this.

When I walked in to the party I knew I was in luck, though, because they were playing Rock Band. I love Rock Band. If you were to go on Xbox Live and see me signed in, it’s 90% certain I’m playing Rock Band.

Things started off well enough. I picked up the guitar and set it to Expert, eliciting comments from a couple of people at the party – most folks were playing Easy, and even the more experienced ones were playing Hard -and I played pretty well on my first couple of songs. I switched around between guitar, vocal and drums, and when I wasn’t playing spent some time getting to know Julia’s friends, a nice group of people.

Then a new group came to the party, a group of very loud girls. They descended on Rock Band immediately and began playing the modern radio rock songs – The Hives, The Killers, OK Go – again and again and again. They would all scream the OK Go song into the mic together, and the game would fail them… so they would restart the song. Like eleven times.

That was cool. I was in the other room, bullshitting with some people, sharing my deep thoughts on why being on Survivor is an inherently win/win situation. Then I ended up back in the living room and started playing again. But something had changed.

Playing Rock Band in a party seems like a great idea, but in reality it’s a pain in the ass. Standing in that living room trying to play guitar made me understand the plight of the Beatles at Shea Stadium – I couldn’t hear anything but the screechy girls. I was playing totally by sight, and what was worse is that I was playing Expert on a song that isn’t one of my stand-bys.

You’re saying, ‘Well, you’re just having fun, relax.’ But that’s just the thing: I found the competition in me provoked. I didn’t want to just play and have fun, I wanted to do well. Julia had never played before, and it turned out she was something of a prodigy on the drums**, and she wanted to check out her score after every song to see how she had done. Her cool friend Rob was singing, and he had been impressed by how I was playing Expert earlier. These two things combined – seeing the scores, the awareness that I was playing Expert – combined to make me really, really want to show off.

Of course I sucked. And suddenly the game just wasn’t fun. It was a task. It was a personal challenge. I realized that a party where most of the people aren’t interested in playing Rock Band could be the worst environment possible for playing Rock Band. I had been considering trying to get my local bar to institute a Rock Band night, but this event gave me serious pause. And I started getting sort of mad at the girls screeching right into my ears as I was doing my damndest to play The Police.

In the end everybody else left and we got another song or two in without all the noise, and it was much more fun. And I know that this is actually not a great story because I didn’t act out like an asshole when I was being annoyed while playing (as opposed to the scene I created while out on Tuesday night, a story far too embarrassing for this blog). But I’d be interested in hearing your Rock Band party stories – anybody else find themselves suddenly taking this game a little too seriously in a social situation?

*I usually like to have backup in this situation, someone who also doesn’t know these people, so that when the group of friends inevitably gets into in-jokes or they fall into their comfortable banter amongst themselves I have somebody else to talk to and not just sort of grin and nod like a dweeb.

** People who play Rock Band with others will know how amazing this is. My experience is that drums is the hardest position to fill in a video game band.