The introduction of Guitar Hero in 2005 gave millions of bums like me a chance to pretend we were skilled, crowd-pleasing rock stars. The multi-colored buttons on the plastic guitar neck were easy to navigate, and I don’t know about you guys, but when I would slide my hand down to the orange button – fret, to the more musically inclined – I felt some sense of accomplishment. Little old me was sliding and jamming like a real guitar player! To be fair, this was the mid-2000s, my middle school days during which I shouldn’t have been taken seriously. But I’m willing to bet that I wasn’t the only one that felt a sense of euphoria after nailing the solo in “Welcome to the Jungle”. After all, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (the orange-boxed Christmas present we all hoped to see under the tree in 2007) sold over eight million copies in only nine months. People didn’t just buy the game because Slash was on the cover, but because it was popular and fun.
But we couldn’t explain why it was fun. Those that actually had guitars in hand were entertained, but anyone else that happened to be in the room was completely excluded – and had to suffer through the annoying click of the frets and the often-obnoxious sound effects from the game itself. The players went into unbreakable trances; I was a pretty regular video game player, but I didn’t stare at any screen quite like a Guitar Hero screen. To this day, my neighbor goes into this odd, hypnotic state in which he rocks back and forth while he plays. Guitar Hero is advertised as a party game, and to come extent it is, as long as the players are extremely patient.
I had this theory that anyone that played guitar in real life was automatically a master at Guitar Hero. I also thought that playing with a toy would turn someone into a better guitar player in reality. If only that were true. I know a lot of guitar players – some better than others – and for the most part they all love what they do. Many of them are currently taking lessons, have in the past, or teach younger musicians. Some learn guitar to sharpen their theory and music-writing skills. Some just diddle around in their basements. The music industry has always been kind to guitar players in terms of available material, boosting the interest and confidence of even the youngest, least-talented players.
But I’ll tell you one thing: they didn’t learn on plastic frets. The game was designed to tutor anyone, but idiot kids like me actually believed that it was. I’m not trying to write a negative, down-with-computers commentary. I’m not trying to discredit genuine simulators. I am trying to say that kids have a hard time distinguishing between real skill and Guitar Hero skill. Remember that Flappy Bird game that everyone on Earth played for all of three days? It entirely consumed social media and our everyday conversation for a brief period. Our children noticed. That’s a dangerous trend to start. I don’t want my future kids to judge themselves on their Flappy Bird scores. I’m sure this has been a problem before – I wasn’t around for the era of Pac-Man, but I’m willing to bet that had a similar effect – but this is the first time we’re facing this problem under the influence of Facebook and other world-shrinking social media.
Don’t get me wrong: watching my friends sweat while playing “Through the Fire and Flames” was and will continue to be hilarious. I’m just saying we need to watch how seriously we take these simulator games. I’d rather my kid squawk and curse his way through a real jam session than do the same thing on plastic frets.
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