For Real?

Guitar Hero 3 changed me. It wasn’t so long ago that I was a sceptic, a plastic peripheral-fearing killjoy with nothing but disdain for the pretend rock star antics of my peers. Yet now I stand before you, courting the whoops and cheers of a thousand polygonal fans, shamelessly paddle-shredding my way through Cliffs of Dover on a Fisher Price Les Paul copy that even my six year old nephew would be embarrassed to have around his neck.

Being a fretboard-worrier in real life I had dismissed the very notion of Guitar Hero as self-defeating. Why invest time learning to play a toy imitation of an instrument when I could spend those same hours perfecting the instrument itself? It’s a curiosity I’ve felt for all simulation games, particularly ones that emulate popular sports. When I see large groups gather to play the most recent of EA’s arbitrary annual updates I can’t help but wonder if they would all be better off looking out the window, dropping their joypads, grabbing the appropriate bat and / or ball and just playing the wretched sport for real.

"Muuuuum, the tennis racquet won't play with me!"
"Muuuuuuum, the tennis racquet won't play with me!"

I’ve always looked to gaming to provide me with experiences that I would be unable to indulge in through any other medium. I can grab a few friends and go to the park for a kick about. I can pick up a golf club and play a few holes. I cannot, however, pilot a fully-armed anti-gravity race-craft around a geometrically impossible racetrack in the year 2097. The wonder of videogames, the aspect that drew me to them in the first place, is their ability to transport, to take you places you could never be and allow you to do things you could never do. This way of thinking had rendered me instinctively hostile towards games which replicated activities I could easily perform in real-life. The Sims franchise was probably the biggest agitator of my bemusement gland – the Big Brother of the videogame world. Running a pretend household to ensure pretend people perform menial chores and duties for entertainment? I’ll wait for my copy of Super Dish-Washer II Turbo-Cycle thanks.

Time makes fools of us all, however, and I was forced to swallow my bile and cough up some serious love when I finally locked limbs with Guitar Hero 3. In its own stubby, clicky way the whole concept made immediate physical sense. I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that it compares to playing a proper instrument, but the mechanics shared enough with the fundamentals of guitar-playing to strum the pleasure centre of my brain. Before I knew what was happening I had cranked my sound system to 11 and was standing on my bed throwing shapes like the ghost of Hendrix. Succumbing to the game’s charms also meant I could assume axe duties for Rage Against The Machine, Guns and Roses and Metallica, something which is unlikely to happen to me in reality any time soon.

Guitar Hero
I do all the work and she gets all the credit. I don't know why I bother…

The ensuing love affair helped to dispel some of the cynicism I felt towards simulations. It convinced me that doing a loose impression of something you enjoy, while not a substitute, can be legitimately enjoyable in its own right. I can better appreciate why Fifa addicts spend months building their dream teams in slippers instead of studs, why Tony Hawk lures skaters away from their decks and onto their armchairs, why the Madden series is one of the biggest selling franchises of all time. That said, if I saw someone pouring weeks into a guitar sim only to discover they had never fondled the real deal, I would still be inclined to nudge them in the direction of the controller that had actual strings.







3 responses to “For Real?”

  1. Celeste avatar

    I thought Super Dish-Washer II Turbo-Cycle was just a rumour!!

  2. MarkuzR avatar

    See… I’m the opposite really! I got one of the Guitar Hero games (can’t remember which one it was) and was quite excited at the prospect of being able to jam along with some of my favourite songs (ok… pretty much NONE of my favourite songs!) without the hassle of actually being in a band. I hated being in a band, but I love making music. I hated that there were either lazy people who wouldn’t lift a finger and expected you to write all the songs, or there were dictators who wouldn’t allow even the slightest change in their songs… yet I loved performing in front of adoring crowds.

    Guitar Hero was, therefore, a journey back to my bygone days of being in a band but with very little effort and no financial outlay.

    Imagine my horror when, during that first play through, I realised it was NOTHING like playing a guitar!? How dare they call this “Guitar Hero”! It was really just “Air Guitar Hero” but with a plastic prop. I completed the game (on easy) in a few hours, but haven’t played it at all since… except for when the No Doubt and Muse packs came out.

    At the recent Ready Up meet in Glasgow, I watched folk bang out a beat on the plastic drums and thought that it could be interesting to get into Rock Band and enjoy playing drums. Then I realised something very quickly… I HAVE drums… they’re sitting around 3ft away from me, and I play them once a week if I’m lucky… so why enthuse over a plastic set that plugs into an XBox?

    It WILL happen… we WILL end up buying it, but for social gaming reasons. I can guarantee, however, that I’ll be sitting there banging away (ooer missus) and thinking about my real kit the whole time 🙂

    Great blog, as always

  3. Duncan avatar

    Great blog James.

    I have already attempted the real guitar, I sucked out loud, so I turned to being a Expert master. So far… it’s going, really well. ;P

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