On the 14th March 2008, the media and swarms of fans gathered to watch a 16-year-old boy from Minnesota called Chris Chike perform on stage. Although everything was in place for this monumental evening in rock and roll, on closer inspection there was something amiss. Unlike most debauched rock legends Chris had an intense, reserved concentration on his face and as opposed to hurling himself into the frenzied fans, he was staring intently at a large monitor.
The reason for this anomaly was that the young man was in fact not a musical genius but an introverted teenager who spent too much time on his game console; he was not performing music but playing a game called Guitar Hero. Chris was breaking the world record for highest score ever on a single track and the masses of attention illustrate how deeply embedded the game is in global culture. This article examines the cultural phenomenon and compares it to real guitar lessons.
Guitar hero works on the basis of the player using a imitation guitar plugged into a games console which displays images on the screen. The imitation guitar strongly resembles a Fisher Price infants toy and has six different coloured buttons on it. The images displayed on the TV show a representation of the coloured buttons running along a Musical Staff which ignite when they hit a certain point, then the player must hit the colour corresponding button on the control.
Many diehard fans of the game will defend to the death that it takes the musical talent to succeed; to which one might say, why not apply yourself to actual guitar lessons? There is however, something to be said in their defence. As there are similar skills used in musical note reading and transferring those images, be they symbol or colour orientated, into physical movement. The continual movement of the musical staff provides a challenging sight reading exercise.
The bad news for GH junkies is that this is where the thin musical relevance ends. Whatever guitar backing track you are using if you were to make the game accurate to real guitar tuition there would need to be 132 different coloured buttons. You would also have to press the buttons hard enough to make a sound and they would be the size of your fingertips, whilst negotiating your way around six picker knobs. Guitar lessons break this process down into manageable chunks.
So what can you do when looking to make the transition between the two forms? The best way is by guitar lessons or multi-media guitar tuition. These are gradual lessons from the basic chords all the way to advanced solos. It takes time, patience and commitment, which might explain why so many people are taking the easier option of simulation over guitar lessons.
The concern of the musical fraternity when it comes to GH is not so much with adults who play a bit when they get home from work, but with the youth who are satisfying their musical needs by simulating as opposed to creating. Guitar lessons and guitar tuition are so easy to arrange but still youngsters are reverting to their consoles as opposed to bonding with their instrument.
There is no real comparison in the musical value between a game console simulation and a guitar lesson although some skills are transferable. Hand-eye coordination is a feature of many video games however you would never consider a racing game a simulation of driving an F1 car. Guitar tuition is a valuable step in learning how to become a genuine rock legend and it is available in many forms, however Guitar Hero is not one of them.
Shaun Parker is a tutor providing guitar lessons guitar lessons to people of all abilities and experience.