Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Guitar Zero

Stop being a dick and pick up a real guitar


Why are so many computer games violent? I always thought the answer was obvious: because they allow you to do things with impunity you can't do in the real world. And violence is one of those things. If you could drive through a city the way you can in GTA3, why would you play that game?

If you could build cities, raise armies, and attack neighboring states in the world you actually lived in I daresay that Civilization 5 wouldn't enjoy the success it currently does.

Fake

If one could easily swing from vines through Mayan ruins, shooting giant spiders and sporting fake breasts it's most likely the case that people wouldn't play quite as much Tomb Raider as they do.

If it was quite easy to lead a quarrelsome troupe on a series of near-suicidal missions through exotic locales bristling with tooled-up and trigger-happy mercenaries, then I expect that sales of 'Battlefield 2: Bad Company' would suffer as a result.

Flickr photo
FlickrGuitar Hero, by cantsaynotohope. Yeah! Rockin' HARD!

Laid

But last time I checked you can pick up a guitar and play it. So what's the point of Guitar Hero? Seriously - pick up a guitar. No-one is stopping you. You might even get laid. I met my wife playing the guitar in the back of a pub in Clifden, on the west coast of Ireland, so I know what I'm talking about because I subsequently got laid.

Imagine the same company that made 'Guitar Hero' made 'Artist Hero' where you had to pretend to paint an Andy Warhol, or Piet Mondrian, filling in templates with a fake paintbrush. Why wouldn't you use that? Ok, it wouldn't be much fun. But there's something more: you'd feel like a child, right? But why don't people feel really stupid playing a fake guitar? My kids have a Wiggles guitar. They played it for a while and got bored of it. Why don't people who play Guitar Hero feel really childish? In the bad sense of the word, that is.

I recently argued with my developer friend Brad about Guitar Hero, and was surprised at how strongly I felt about it. In fact I think I pissed him off. We were all just talking about what games we were playing. Brad comes out with something like "I just got to level 6 on Hard on Guitar Hero", and I immediately thought: "That's great. What a waste of either good videogame time, or good guitar-playing time."

What about the wretched argument that playing Guitar Hero encourages people to pick up and learn a real guitar? Does anyone other than the makers of this game believe this for a second? Listening to Jimi Hendrix will make you pick up and learn a guitar. Wanting to impress girls (and other guys, it has to be said) will make you pick up a guitar. Those are excellent motivations. But why would pressing buttons on a bit of plastic in time to an Aerosmith riff as the screen lights up with all sorts of eye-candy make you want to pick up a guitar, which is a piece of wood with a hole in it? Learning a guitar is hard, and it takes a while to persuade any sort of a decent sound out to come of one, so it strikes me that the instant gratification of Guitar Hero definitely would have a powerful effect on people in terms of learning the guitar, but it'd be an inhibiting, discouraging, and ultimately disappointing one.

Cliche

Ages ago I got guitar lessons once a week from John, a gigging musician and alcoholic. He must have been. He would light a cigarette, put it on its end, and have me transcribe 'Lullaby of Birdland' into my songbook while he swiftly repaired to McDonagh's Public Bar for a stiff one, leaving me to my work. He taught me plenty, old John of Dalkey, and he had plenty of hard-won, practical advice that I sucked up eagerly.

Flickr photo
FlickrMcDonaghs Pub - Dalkey, by PhilPankov.com. Where John, my guitar teacher, used to nip off to for a swift one

Years later, I'd find myself wandering home from the pub under a clear western sky with Finke and Mannion, back to the kitchen in the gallery in Clifden. We'd put on the kettle, pick up a couple of guitars and make a half-cut stab at 'Paranoid Android' or '1979'. There's simply no way that if we had something like Guitar Hero within arms reach that we wouldn't have wasted at least some of that time in playing it.

Women

Here are some things that will never happen to you if you play a computer game about playing a guitar instead of playing a guitar:
  1. You will write a song, play it with all your heart, and your friends will be so touched they will immediately want to know what type of strings you use.
  2. You will walk along the streets of a small town, carrying your guitar to a gig, and feel as if you have crossed oceans of time to become a wandering minstrel in France or somewhere medieval.
  3. Women will come up and talk to you in a bar despite, or perhaps because of - no actually, despite the fact that you just pantsed Pulp's 'Common People'.
  4. That period of time between going to bed and falling asleep at long last becomes a productive one, as you compose lyrics to accompany your music.

Conclusion

You don't read pretend books, with made-up words inside, so stop playing a pretend guitar. You don't watch fake porn, with people pretending to have sex, so stop playing a pretend guitar. And you don't inhabit a fake galactic supercluster, you live in a real one, so stop dicking around with a fake guitar and pick up a real one.