By Neil Merrett
For some, stepping into a karaoke bar might seem as exotic or hostile an experience as entering some terrifying dystopian future or mysterious alien world. Surely then, the medium was always perfectly suited to videogame adaptation.
Lips: Party Classics, released on Xbox 360 in 2010, developed by iNiS
If we accept that the broadest definition of a videogame is some form of interactive, electronic entertainment, than karaoke titles such as Lips – or Sony’s more arguably well-known Singstar series – are as valid examples of the medium as a Mario or Call of Duty title.
Over the course of the generation of games consoles dominated by the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii in the mid and late 2000s, the USB microphone and then wireless Microphone became a fairly common fixture for many gamers alongside their controllers and Wiimotes.
These were compatible games where the simple objective was to belt out some popular and lesser known songs from the last few decades of music on time, rather than in tune.
If the player can deliver the lyrics of their chosen song in line with the original music video, helped by handy onscreen lyrics, they can fill up a handy progress bar that shows how on target they are.
A common perception of the archetypal gamer, at least in the world of 2010, wasn’t supposed to be the type of person that enjoys unapologetically belting out rock anthems, showtunes and Dr Jones by Aqua in a bedroom.
Yet titles like Lips offer a validation of the core gaming appeal of throwing oneself into new experiences and strange worlds, as someone other than your everyday self. Games have meant all this is possible from the comfort of your own home, shared with your loved and not so loved ones.
In this way, a karaoke bar – for some – may be as daunting and foreign a concept as entering a warzone or some terrifying future dystopia. In this sense, the Xbox 360 could take you to another world.
So accessible did the game make the concept of karaoke, that even two colleagues, stuck with each other with two USB microphones over the course of a single lunch break, might one afternoon find themselves living out long harboured, yet deeply repressed dreams of blasting out an Ultravox song together.
In the heady world of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and continuing into their present day successors, every game title that has come to be released has awarded the player for a range of achievements, both big and small.
From basic completion of a game, to eliminating an opponent in some obscure or obtuse way, these achievements serve to give the gamer something else, or odd to strive for.
To this end, belting out pop tunes and meeting certain point scores in Lips was classified in the same way as beating a specific course in a racing game, or performing some crack feat of marksmanship in a shooter such as Halo.
So it came to be that two colleagues with no previous bond beyond work itself, found themselves forming a short lived musical duo so that one of them could unlock a host of melodic achievements on Lips. This was all done in the name of meeting one man’s quest to get as many as these console-specific achievements as possible.
The game’s official promotional material paints Lips as a game that facilitates a group of beautiful and well adjusted performers to jam and share sweet soul sounds and Abba tunes together in perfect harmony.
But the real scope of these type of games is much greater and unpredictable than that. These karaoke titles pointed to a world where singing, regardless of proficiency was an achievement in its own right.
There is no judgement per say for being in tune, or overworking dramatic theatricality, the player is just charged with getting the lyrics out vaguely to the rhythm. How they deliver a song; whether through earnest belting, a heartfelt love for a particular tune, or an attempt to save face by singing in a heightened register of a Northern club singer, is up to the individual. Everyone can technically sing in these games.
It is an oddly joyous experience, stripping away some of the social capital and peril of real-world karaoke, and replacing it with a simple progress bar and a vague score when ‘competing’ against others.
In the world of Lips on the 360, a makeshift singing/gaming duo didn’t need a charismatic frontman, or even a vaguely competent Alto. They needed just two voices to unlock some multiplayer awards.
What better song then, than the romantic rock ballad ‘Is This Love’ by Whitesnake? Here was a popular tune about the deeply intimate connection between two people – with arguably contrasting visual appeal. But this one lunchtime, the song was re-purposed into something platonic, yet no less powerful about two people finding deep connection over sandwiches and some personal time.
What went down in that hour may not be a significant moment for the art-form. The UK population will not carry a shared collective memory of the event such as it has with Queen at Live Aid, or 80s crooner Chris de Burgh performing at a society facing a slow, painful slide into autocracy.
But, in that deeply personal way that music often works, for at least one person, there was unspecified, unspoken magic there in a dimly lit staffroom.
Lips, for one single, solitary afternoon playthrough, provided what may be the greatest lunchtime in history. It is simply therefore a brilliant game.