Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Guitar Hero: Savior of Classic Rock?

Guitar Hero, the video game raved by the mainstream media that lets everyone – even musical dimwits – revive their long-dead ambitions of becoming a “Rock Star” has been secretly saving the now-ailing music industry. Should we be thankful?

By: Vanessa Uy

Now on its third edition – as far as I know, with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of 90 US dollars a pop, the video game Guitar Hero has been – believe it or not – been secretly saving the music industry in the past few years of its existence. I wouldn’t have believed it, except it’s the long-established rock acts like Aerosmith and Metallica who praised the somewhat simplistic-to-the-genuinely-skilled-guitarist-ergonomically-speaking video game of single-handedly saving the music industry. Especially the Hard Rock / Heavy Metal branch of the industry devastated by the proliferation of illegal peer-to-peer music file sharing which began near the very end of the 20th Century. The question now is to what degree of gratefulness should we be – especially us true blue rock enthusiast – to Guitar Hero, the video game?

Back around May 2001, I manage to wow my guitar teacher with my virtuosity when I accident discovered his “secret magazine stash” and Horror of horrors it’s the September 1997 edition of Guitar Player magazine with it’s then very depressing headline – “Who Killed Rock Guitar”. To me, it’s about as shocking when a kid finally learns that there is no Santa Claus (the truth is there is, but not like “The Man” portrayed him to be). Ever since then, the contents of that particular edition of Guitar Player magazine only shattered by delusions, but not my love of guitar-based music, especially Heavy Metal music.

Fast forward to 2008 and the runaway success of Guitar Hero in it’s “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock” incarnation not only revived the record sales “museum-bound” Classic Rock artists like Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, and Aerosmith. The video game almost single-handedly made an ever-increasing majority of the under-18 s to become rock stars again - make that: Guitar Heroes or is it Guitar Gods. Not only that, sales of real electric guitars are actually up since “Boy Bands” and their ilk made us forget how truly evil US vice president Dick Cheney and Karl Rove really are. So the guitar maker Gibson should probably go easy on that copyright infringement lawsuit they are filing against the video game maker that created Guitar Hero. Also, increasing number of the under-18 s are enrolling in guitar classes and the last time my older acquaintances has seen such musical enthusiasm was way back during when the Seattle Music Scene were earning ungodly amounts of money – i.e. 1992. But the question still remains is that whether this upstart variant of the Karaoke is actually a marriage made in heaven between the rock music and the video gaming industry it was touted to be?

In my opinion, anything that would stop a beautiful and established art form – whether Classic Rock or European Classical Music – from dying out should be embraced with open arms. Despite the video games faults – which there are lots of them from a real electric guitar virtuoso’s perspective. Guitar Hero will undoubtedly be one of the unlikeliest heroes that will save the rock music industry from the damages brought about by the illegal peer-to-peer file sharing of few years past.

On my views and playing experiences on Guitar Hero the video game. When I first played it about two years ago. I was expecting the guitar that came with the game as similar to the one marketed by Optek Music Systems back in 1998 called Smartlight Guitar. You know the guitar with those LED s / sensors on the frets serving as inputs which more or less mimics the ergonomics of a real guitar. But NOOO! It was just these five buttons located on the first five frets. If the gaming industry can manage to replicate the ergonomics of an FN FAL assault rifle using just a polystyrene and polypropylene simulacra of the “shoot ‘em up games” that they offer. Video game makers can even do this without the inevitable visceral recoil of the 7.62mm NATO round. On Guitar Hero’s sound quality, despite being played at volumes at under-96 to 97 decibels sound pressure levels. Its relatively poor digital sound quality – compared to a 1950’s era Fender Champ – can get on your nerves as time wears on (three hours or so). It feels as if after three hours of exposure to the video games sound, I feel as if I’m just 70 feet away from a Pratt & Whitney F100 After-burning Turbofan jet engine undergoing a compliance test burn without hearing protection. And believe me, the sound pressure levels 70 feet away from such a test often reach near - or a bit above - 140 decibels. As loud as firing a .50 caliber Browning M2 machine gun without hearing protection. One redeeming factor of the Guitar Hero video game is that when your playing is really good, it is not miserly of praise. It motivates you like some Playboy or Penthouse magazine photographer. Maybe the makers of Guitar Hero should make something incorporating a guitar similar to Optek Music Systems’ Smartlight Guitar – i.e. a virtuoso version of the existing Guitar Hero incorporating MIDI-based technology. I’ll bet there would probably still be buyers even if they sell one for 500 dollars a pop. Hell, if it’s ergonomically good as a real thing, I’ll even buy one if they priced it just a bit under-1000 US dollars a pop. Also the makers of Guitar Hero should branch out into the classical music realm for us “elitists” straddling between two musical worlds. Maybe a Violin Hero for those willing to nurture their inner Itzhak Perlman or a Cello Hero for Yo Yo Ma fans. Or a “Classical Mode / Version” of Guitar Hero for Andres Segovia fans.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

Do they still manufacture Optek Music Systems Smartlight Guitar? My dad bought me one back in 1998 and I did manage to make my "garage band" earn over 50,000 US dollars worth of funds before NAPSTER and Boy Bands drove our music careers into extinction.
I do hope that Guitar Hero will someday make a "realistic" guitar interface similar to the Optek Music Systems idea that you cited. Or maybe an Optek-based violin so I can (hopefully) play like Itzhak Perlman someday.
P.S. Do you think Itzhak Perlman is cool during his Pres. Obama Inauguration performance last January 20, 2009?