Can Play Guitar
game keeps the dream alive for aspiring—and not-so-aspiring—rockers
editor gave me a “You’re better than this” sort of stare when
I pitched a column on Guitar Hero, the video game that lets
players shred along to rock & roll classics on a simplified
plastic guitar. My editor overestimated me. I’m not better
than this. My dorky, rock-loving, video-game-doting self can’t
resist the childish thrill of faux-rocking. And apparently
neither can a large cross-section of the video-game-system-owning
Clearly, my editor has grown cold in his old age. He no longer
finds joy in the childhood thrill of rock & roll. No.
He digs the “avant garde.” He’s the kind of guy who gets his
kicks from spending time “researching” “virtual worlds” and
hanging out with some guy named “Linux.”
But Guitar Hero is not an exercise in the cutting edge. It
is not the hippest of the hip. No, for Guitar Hero enthusiasts,
the game provides a release, a sort of rock therapy that is
on par with popping sheets of bubble wrap or playing with
The game is fairly straightforward. Presented in a very haphazard,
I-made-this-in-my-basement fashion, it offers several levels
of difficulty and a few choices of guitars, outfits and venues.
You get to name your band (a popular choice seems to be to
riff off Black Sabbath—Sax Sabbath or Black Cabbage, for instance)
and then it is off to the gig. When a song starts to play,
a fretboard appears, and notes begin to cascade towards you
on the screen. You then attempt to press one of the five corresponding
buttons on your faketar. You also get some helpful info in
between jam sessions—tips like, “If the drummer is too tired
for an encore, he is too tired for the after party.”
It’s not that I don’t know how to rock in real life. I have
guitars, lots and lots of guitars. Fenders, Gibsons, even
an unfortunate Ibanez, but none of them get much play anymore.
But my love for plugging in and ripping away has been undone
by a move into an apartment in the city, away from the open
fields of southern Albany county where an impromptu jam session
with two stacks and a drum kit at 3 AM could only bother a
couple of cows, and maybe that prowling black bear. Guitar
Hero keeps my love for the power chord alive. Instead of dealing
with god-awful, you know . . . people, god forbid musicians,
I plug in my faketar, turn up the skill level on Guitar Hero
to “hard” and try to keep up on “Free Bird” or Megadeth’s
In fact, many actual rock stars, who have the chance to hold
arenas full of spectators in the sway of their guitar-manipulating
prowess, have taken to jamming out to Guitar Hero before their
gigs. Trent Reznor is an avid fan, as are Jack Black of Tenacious
D and Jonathan Davis from Korn (but don’t hold that against
If you want to talk about virtual worlds that contain the
future of virtual interactivity, Guitar Hero is not the place
to look. However, many actual communities have come about
thanks to the game. Check out the bulletin board on a college
campus and you will likely find postings for Guitar Hero tournaments.
Clubs from Albany to Boston to New York host Guitar Hero nights,
which generally draw big crowds on off nights.
And let me tell you, there is nothing quite like a room full
of dorks standing in front of a row of televisions, straining
to press the correct bright-colored button more times than
their opponents while Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” kicks
into high gear.
Unfortunately, while Guitar Hero currently provides pure,
unadulterated fun for kids aged 5 to 99, it seems unavoidable
that the game will be abused, dragged over the coals by corporations,
stuffed down our throats until it just isn’t any fun anymore.
In 2006, video-game giant Activision purchased RedOctane,
the publisher of Guitar Hero, along with the rights to the
game. It is expected that the company will now churn out slight
variations on the game quickly, to cash in. The first expected
release is due this summer, in the form of Guitar Hero Encore:
Rocks the 80s. Meanwhile, MTV (yes, that MTV, the one nobody
watches anymore) purchased Harmonix, Guitar Hero’s developer,
and has every intention of flooding the market with a Guitar
Hero clone called Rock Band.
The golden age of Guitar Hero may be coming to an end. But
for now, I will cherish my time with my fake rock machine.
I will tell the critics of the game to talk to my hand, and
I’ll look forward to those times when I can sneak my PlayStation
and guitar into uncomfortable family gatherings, or introduce
cubicle-drunk friends to the joy of the rock. And hope that
one day, Guitar Hero might even melt the icy cold heart of
my tech-savvy editor.