Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Stupid complaints about video games

The estimable Andrew Sullivan flags on his blog a complaint by a man named Horning about Guitar Hero and its video game ilk. This piece deserves Fisking, tout de suite! I'm all too happy to oblige.

If you want a more interactive way to enjoy music, why not dance, or play air guitar?

Because neither of these activities involve a feedback loop. You're not getting any response back FROM the music as to whether what you're doing works, let alone in such an aural/tactile combination. Guitar Hero and its successor, Rock Band, let you pick apart a piece of rock music in a way that you can't, short of learning it in a band or having the master tapes and a mixing board to play with.

Or better yet, if holding a guitar appeals to you, why not try actually learning how to play?

Some players do. Alex Rigopulous, co-creator of both games (pictured far right in the photo above), recently explained in an interview on the Freakonomics blog that while the singing and drumming portions of the games are decent simulations of the respective "instruments," and therefore are somewhat direct training in and of them selves, even the simplified guitar parts have inspired some kids and adults to become more serious about learning to play guitar.

For the cost of an Xbox and the Guitar Hero game, you can get yourself a pretty good guitar.

And an amp? And lessons? And the significantly larger amount of time it takes to learn real guitar vs. the game? Of course, by saying this, I play into this last bit of the intro:

I can't help but feel that Guitar Hero (much like Twitter) would have been utterly incomprehensible to earlier generations, that it is a symptom of some larger social refusal to embrace difficulty.

and later, finally,

The next thing you know, everyone touts Guitar Hero as a reasonable substitute for guitar playing and mocks the fuddy-duddy nabobs of negativism who are still hung up on the difference.

No! This whole piece is written like someone who has neither been a serious ensemble musician nor has played the game at any length. Many of the game's enthusiasts, including nearly everybody involved in its creation, are musicians. While there may be some subgroup that plays Guitar Hero and says "good enough. I don't need to learn how to play guitar." Honestly, I don't believe that many of these would have been serious about learning the instrument in the first place. But others use it as a bridge into playing actual music. And even for those who don't, part of the fun is in experiencing music in a way formerly accessible only to those who had the passion to play an instrument. Check out Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, getting his butt kicked by the bass part in his own song, and celebrating how the game can train a non-musician how to pick out a specific instrumental line from the music.

Mr. Horning, the major proponents of these games are not suggesting that Guitar Hero is anything approaching a substitute for real musicianship. They're saying it helps broaden musicianship to a wider audience. But they are, indeed, also saying you're a "fuddy-duddy nabob of negativism." But you're wrong on the merits, besides.


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