Guitar Hero

I’ve recently been introduced to the world of Guitar Hero, a video game where your controller is shaped like a half-sized guitar and all of the strings/frets have been reduce to five colored buttons. The game plays a song, and you are supposed to play the guitar line along to the vocals and other instrumentation. It’s a lot of fun. I wasted countless hours on this game on my recent vacation to visit some old roommates in San Diego. In general, I do not like video games. In fact, this is the first video game to hold my attention since The Secret of Mana on Super Nintendo. My friends were surprised that I actually enjoyed playing a video game, and one of them asked me “So you approve of this video game?”

At that point I had to stop and think. It IS fun, but it kept reminding me of an NPR program I heard where some guy wrote a book about the role music plays in various societies. He talked about how traditionally, music was something all members of a community shared. Almost all members of a community were able to play instruments, sing, and participate in music performance in informal group settings. He argued that this was a good thing – a way to bring communities together with a common interest. He then argued that American society has only recently abandoned this traditional role of music. These days, we have reduced playing music to something that only professionals do. The rest of us are spectators. Those that play music are elevated to rockstar status while the rest of us are seldom comfortable even singing a simple song in front of a group of friends. So what role does Guitar Hero play in our society? Here’s my list of pro’s and con’s about the video game.

It IS fun. It makes me dance while I play and I greatly enjoyed it. It cleverly makes a lot of jokes and uses words that make me laugh (i.e. the knobs on the pictures of amps go up to 11 – a joke lost on probably 75% of the kids who will play this game, and they use the word “wankery”).

It will expose kids to music that otherwise they wouldn’t know existed. Since half the kids playing this game are ages 15 and under, they weren’t around when most of the songs were released (i.e. how many 15 year olds today know the band KANSAS?) Although most of the music on the game can be classified as “rock,” it still has a relatively diverse selection of songs.

It improves hand-eye coordination – maybe. I’m not sure this is the case, but this argument has been used to promote every video game since The Legend of Zelda, so I guess I’ll keep the trend going.

At least it gives kids SOME idea about music and rhythm.

The music on the game isn’t the original versions of the songs, but shitty knock-off versions of classic songs. Some of the renditions are better than others (whoever is attempting the Axl Rose impersenation is lame).

The game falls short of actually teaching how to read music or understand notes. The game uses a pretty half-assed method of representing rhythms (It’s a visual method, not a mathematical method).

While I play, I wonder, “If playing the guitar is so kewl, why can’t we get kids to play REAL guitars, instead?” The answer, of course, is that guitar hero is so much easier. It’s instant gratification. A kid can play Bark at the Moon within an hour of picking up the half-sized plastic guitar, a feat hardly possible with a real guitar. The game may be unintentionally reinforcing to kids that the easiest route is the best route. A friend raised the idea that perhaps the game would encourage kids to pick up real guitars. I only hope this is the case – but have little hope that it is. How many kids, after playing a soccer video game, decide that they would rather be outside playing REAL soccer? I’m sure there are some…. but most just keep playing the game because it’s so much easier.

Overall, if we accept it for what it is – a stupid video game used in moderation – then it’s a great thing. It’s mindless fun, and I’d rather have kids playing this game than watching stupid tv shows all day. But it’s still a little depressing that most people (including myself) will spend HOURS playing this lame video game, but won’t devote 10 minutes to a REAL guitar that would teach me ACTUAL music. Who knows… I’m sure “Drummer Hero” or something will be produced before long – maybe I’ll feel entirely different about it then.

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