Don't call him Hootie, call him a serious Xbox gamer

<b style="color:#900;">q&a</b> Darius Rucker, singer for Hootie &#38; the Blowfish, is a big-time Madden football player, listens to music on an iPod Touch, and says friend Tiger Woods prefers shooter games.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
7 min read
Rucker celebrates while playing Madden football on Xbox. Adam Cohen/Microsoft

Don't deny it, you've derided the band name Hootie &the Blowfish.

Many think the name is silly so the lead singer--the guy everyone thinks is named Hootie--must be silly as well. Darius Rucker is in fact the singer's name and he didn't seem silly when we spoke on the phone last month. He seems friendly and fun-loving and very interested in technology--specifically in video games.

I'll qualify that by noting he's fun up to a point. When he's playing EA Sports' Madden NFL video game, he likes to win and will get nasty if you try to sneak a peek at the plays he's calling. He's also serious when he discusses what EA can do to improve the game.

In a way, video games are helping Rucker as he embarks on a new career as a country-music singer. He's still a member of the Blowfish but his solo album, Learn to Live has sold more than 370,000 copies and the single, "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," has hit No.1 on the country charts. When he's on the road, Rucker unwinds by playing nation-building games on his PC. Last month, Rucker's interest in video games paid off when he was named Microsoft's Xbox Artist of the Month.

Q: What are your favorite consoles and favorite games?
Rucker: PS3 and Xbox are the two I play a lot. I'm a real big sports gamer. I play all the sports games, every new game that comes out. Madden is my big thing. I used to be the greatest Madden player in the world (laughter).

Right now I'm big into the NCAA game, the basketball game. All the EA Sports games are big for me...they should just write me a check for that. On my computer, I love to play the nation-building games: Empire Earth, Empire Earth 3, Civilization...God, so many I played over the last couple of years I can't remember now. I'll play those all the time. I'll play on the hardest level and play the longest game I can play and play it for a couple of weeks if I can...I try to build the biggest city in one game cause I love it. I'm a dork.

" I can't believe technology has come this far. I remember just 10 or 12 years ago getting a 100-disc changer and I thought it was the greatest thing ever invented. Now, I got 4,000 songs on something that I can hold in my hand."
--Darius Rucker, music artist

Do you do most of your playing on the road or home?
Rucker: Both. My wife goes to bed pretty early, around 10 at night. I'll go up and get a game in on Madden if there's one going. On the road, I'm big with my computer. The nation-building games are huge for me on the road.

Who is the most famous person you've ever played and how did you fare?
Rucker: Oh, wow. Back in the early days of the Madden Bowl, I played a bunch of football players that were pretty famous and I lost in the finals the first year I played. The next year there was a big target on my back. All the EA guys told them I was the man to beat. I'll say this about my game and I wish my wife was here so she could back this up...because her favorite thing to do when people will tell us they play Madden and we'll go "Are you good?" She'll say, "I've heard this a million times. I've heard a million guys say to Darius what you're saying and I'm telling you you're not going to beat him."

Good, huh?
Rucker: I'm pretty undefeated. I don't lose a lot of games. I say to guys all the time when they say they win I say, "Anybody can be king of their crew."

It's true.
Rucker: Anybody can be king of their crew. And don't get me wrong. I go online and get my butt handed to me sometimes. This year they got that play-action pass play that if you do it with (Indianapolis Colts players) Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, you're going to complete it 90 percent of the time.

Video games have come a long way but what else can they do improve them? What would you like to see?
Rucker: The kudos I will give to all the sports games, especially to Madden, is for the realism they are bringing to the games every year. I used to stay up to three in the morning playing Madden online. This year I went online and I play the first guy and we have a great game and I score two touchdowns in the last three minutes to win by eight. It was a great game. The next guy I play, I'm on defense first, and he runs it three times in a row. The first two times I stop it and I'm thinking he can't run it on me three times. The third time it's a touchdown, 80 yards. I think he can't do it to me the whole time. The next thing I know it is 41-0 and he's running the same play over and over again. And you go "Man, that's not why I'm here. I'm here to pretend it's Sunday and you and me are trying to make the playoffs." Guys that play like that...

I can't tell (EA) what to do because every year they do something better. Some years they take a little step back. I think this year with that glitch (Harrison and Manning play) was a step back. The games get better and better. You know, when you go online you can't go for it on 4th and 23. That realism is what it's all about.

Any other games you like?
Rucker: I got to give big ups to Tiger's game. Every year it gets better than the year before.

Didn't you sing at his wedding?
Rucker: Yeah, he's my boy. We've known each other for a long time. But his game, I keep telling him, "When am I going to be on the video game?"

You've never played him?
Rucker: I've played golf with Tiger

No. We don't care about that, man.
Rucker: No? (laughter). On his videogame? No, most of the times we get together is at some function or playing a round of golf. We've talked about playing online, but he likes to play those shoot-em-up games. I play those but I'm not very good at those. I love those games and their great games to get into on the bus but on a Tuesday night and I'm sitting around when Boise State is playing on TV...I want to play football.

You should see my set up. My middle TV is a 60 inch. I got two 42-inches at the bottom and two 36-inches at the top. And then on a totally different wall to the left, I got a 60-inch for my gaming. I can use it for regular TV too but I use it almost exclusively for gaming.

You've got the full gaming experience.
Rucker: Oh. When my friends come over, and we want to play Madden,...one of my pet peeves about Madden is when guys try to watch each other call their plays. When we play, we go online and one guy faces one way and the other guy faces the other way and there's no way to watch each other call plays.

I want to shift to music for a second. What do you listen to most of your music on?
Rucker: I have an iTouch.

Darius Rucker is hitting it big in country music. Capitol Records Nashville

What do you think of the quality?
I use those noise-canceling headphones by Sony. It sounds great. It doesn't sound like it does in my house, with all the bottom that I like. You can get bottom but not true bottom like you can feel it in your butt. But it sounds great. I still like the sound of records, you know. But I can't believe technology has come this far. I remember just 10 or 12 years ago getting a 100-disc changer and I thought it was the greatest thing ever invented. Now, I got 4,000 songs on something that I can hold in my hand. They could sound like crap and I'd be OK with it.

So you aren't one of those guys who are afraid of digital music and how it's overtaken the industry?
Rucker: I can't let stuff like that scare me because it's going to happen. I'm not going to stop digital music from happening. I'm not going to stop downloading. I just want to make records. I don't worry about that stuff. As soon as they get it to where it's hard to pirate, it's going to be a great way to deliver music. I can get my music now and you'll send me the cover later. Awesome.

Rucker: How do you like your transition to country music?
I love music. I have always loved country music. I love singing, I love where I am. The band I'm playing with, I don't feel like I'm doing much different. When I was with Hootie & the Blowfish, the crowd wasn't that much different...there's just a few more guys in the crowd wearing cowboy hats.