Guitar Heroics

Having written almost 5,000 words this weekend, I finally cracked, went mildly insane and bought a copy of Guitar Hero III. I’m not proud, but it turns out that mashing the fretboard on a small plastic guitar in time with songs that you’d (mostly) never normally listen to is almost indecently amusing.

On mentioning my latest obsession this morning, Anthony pointed me towards this discussion, which is mainly concerned with the two different ways that people play video games. Essentially, you either:

  1. Play the game on its own terms (in GH3 – start a song, hold fret buttons according to the marks shown on screen, then hit the strum bar in time with the music). Or:
  2. Play the game as just another game (in GH3 – watch the bottom of the screen, then push the five coloured buttons and the black button when appropriate markers appear)

The idea is that once you’ve learned method #2 you can excel at any game, because all you see are the mechanics – a tough song on GH3 wouldn’t be a confusing blizzard of notes to hit, but in fact just a very simple task of pushing six buttons on demand. Of course, that doesn’t mean that playing will actually be any fun, but that’s another issue entirely.

The metafilter discussion also brings up the old “why don’t you just learn to play a proper guitar” criticism. My gut reaction to this is that the two are entirely different things, with neither inherently more useful than the other. But, to be honest, that’s not quite true. As a lapsed guitar player myself, I found Guitar Hero far more similar to real guitar playing than I expected.

For example: I assumed (stupidly) that you just had to push buttons on the fretboard to hit each note. This isn’t true – you have to hit a black plastic strum thingy in the middle of the guitar body at the same time, thus making it somewhat trickier. What’s more, after ten minutes or so I realised that you don’t have to hit the strum thing each time – I’d automatically started hammering-on certain notes, just as you would on a real guitar, and the game was perfectly happy with that. You can do pull-offs, too. Of course, this realism only goes so far. I also found myself automatically attempting to add vibrato to long notes – but sadly this had no effect other than making me look really, really stupid and amusing the cats.

All in all, I’m not sure if a lifetime practicing Guitar Hero would make you an instant expert on the real thing, but playing a bit in real life certainly doesn’t hurt your high score. In any case, maybe the kids from South Park are right, and “real guitars are for old people“.

All © 2020 Tom Royal