About Us | Game Reviews | Feature Articles | Podcast | Best Work | Forums | Shop | Review Game

Defending Guitar Hero and Rock Band: Why there's nothing wrong with being a fake musician

Brandon Erickson's picture

Rock Band

Despite the enormous success and popularity of Guitar Hero and the recently released Rock Band, it seems that there is still a small but vocal group of cynics and naysayers who like to pop up in internet forums and belittle the fans of these games for "wasting" their time on "fake" instruments when they could be learning the real thing. I can see how this might make sense from the perspective of those who have never played these games. They see someone performing music on a quasi-"instrument" that mimics the shape of a guitar and wonder (reasonably it would seem) why the heck these foolish and misguided souls don't just learn how to play a real damn guitar. Well, I'm here to set the record straight. So without further ado, here are the three reasons why the just-learn-a-real-instrument argument against Guitar Hero and Rock Band is completely out of tune with reality.

1) Apples and Oranges

Comparing Guitar Hero to playing the guitar is like comparing apples to oranges. If people want to criticize others for playing Guitar Hero, then they might as well criticize them just for listening to music that they don't know how to play. Are racing game fans losers who don't want to make the effort to learn how to drive an actual racecar? Are SimCity fans idiots who should spend that time studying real-life urban planning? Are Super Mario Bros. fans fools who should just go and jump on real turtles and run through actual sewer pipes? Of course not. Guitar Hero and Rock Band expand on the common experience of listening to recorded music by simulating the feeling of performing it in the same way and with the same sound as the original bands. That's it.

2) A Quick Reality Check

Learning how to perfectly perform every song in Guitar Hero and Rock Band on real instruments would be virtually impossible. A person could spend decades practicing and spend thousands of dollars on equipment and still not be able to recreate the music included in these games. Not to mention that it would certainly be impossible to do it alone. Bands like Van Halen, Boston, and Metallica spent years practicing together to hone their own unique sound. A person could spend one hour playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band and have an absolute blast playing "Sweet Child o' Mine" or "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," and trying to invalidate or dismiss that experience by by telling him or her to just "learn a real instrument" is patently ridiculous.

3) The Musically Un-Gifted

Not everyone is musically talented. Heck, there are a lot of people who can't even carry a tune. But that doesn't mean that these folks don't love listening to music or that they can't tap their fingers to a beat. As my previous point suggests, criticizing even musically gifted people for playing Guitar Hero is absurd to begin with. Criticizing someone who is musically challenged for playing it is doubly absurd. Not everyone can play football or basketball—not just by choice, but due to physical limitations—but that doesn't mean they should be scoffed at for playing a football or basketball videogame. The same applies to Guitar Hero and Rock Band. These games let people enjoy music in ways that would ordinarily be out of reach. Nothing wrong with that.

While the just-learn-a-real-instrument argument might seem logical enough to some people, it is an argument that is borne out of ignorance of what the Guitar Hero and Rock Band experience is about and of what it means to play videogames (or any game) in general. There is a substantial gap in understanding between those who play videogames and those who merely see images or clips of them and this disconnect has been a great source of confusion and conflict. As an interactive medium, games must be played in order to be understood, and that goes not only for non-gamers who would impugn games as a whole, but also for gamers who would impugn games from genres with which they are unfamiliar. The truth is that the cynics who criticize players of Guitar Hero and Rock Band have probably never played either game. I should know because I used to be one of them.

Category Tags
Articles: Editorials  

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

­

I guess it was worth a try, but this is a terrible list of reasons.

1. Full of straw man arguments. Totally irrelevant to compare guitar playing to being a plumber, for one.

2. Virtually impossible? How do you think these songs were originally recorded then? You're willing to call people too lazy to try to learn?

3. Unless you already have some musical talent, you'll never get the hang of Guitar Hero. And if it's within your reach to play some of those songs, it's not much of a stretch to add 6 strings to the equation.

And for the record, I can say all of that with complete conviction, because I'm one of those crazy people that both play guitar (acoustic, no less) AND enjoy playing Guitar Hero a lot.

Ouro wrote: I guess it was

Ouro wrote:

I guess it was worth a try, but this is a terrible list of reasons.

1. Full of straw man arguments. Totally irrelevant to compare guitar playing to being a plumber, for one.

That was actually meant to be kind of a joke. And I was comparing Super Mario Bros. to going through sewer pipes, not guitar playing to being a plumber.

Ouro wrote:

2. Virtually impossible? How do you think these songs were originally recorded then? You're willing to call people too lazy to try to learn?

(Sigh). You're really, really, really missing my point. Certainly the songs could be learned and played, so to speak. But for one person to learn to play EVERY song in these games and reproduce them with a sound that is identical or nearly identical to the sound of the original recordings would be virtually impossible. Could you make your voice sound like David Lee Roth? Could you imitate the unique texture of Eddie Van Halen's guitar? Could you do that while playing all the other instruments at the same time? Could you or anyone perfectly imitate the sound of fifty different bands? Of course not.

Ouro wrote:

3. Unless you already have some musical talent, you'll never get the hang of Guitar Hero. And if it's within your reach to play some of those songs, it's not much of a stretch to add 6 strings to the equation.

Having some musical talent certainly helps with Guitar Hero, but I don't think it's an absolute requirement. And actually, it is a stretch to think that someone who can play "You Really Got Me" on Guitar Hero could bust out a perfect Eddie Van Halen rendition, which is the point that I'm making. For the record, I used to be able to play most of the songs, including the guitar solos, from both of Van Halen's first two albums. But in no way did I sound just like the original band.

Ouro wrote:

And for the record, I can say all of that with complete conviction, because I'm one of those crazy people that both play guitar (acoustic, no less) AND enjoy playing Guitar Hero a lot.

Well, my argument comes from the position of someone who has both won multiple guitar hero competitions and won an award for playing the real guitar as well.

I see Brandon's already

I see Brandon's already replied in the time it took me to write this, but I might as well just hit the post button :)

Ouro:

1. Those aren't straw men, they're analogies, and you took what was clearly the one example intended to be more humorous than convincing and attacked it (*that's* attacking a straw man). Saying that playing Guitar Hero is to playing the real guitar what playing Forza 2 is to racing real cars makes perfect sense.

2. You're attacking another straw man. The argument isn't that it's impossible for anyone to ever play those songs on guitar; it's that the effort involved in learning to play guitar, putting a band together and getting good enough to play all the songs in GH really well is several orders of magnitude larger than the effort required to get really good at Guitar Hero.

3. Being good at GH is largely about rhythm, reflexes and manual dexterity. Being good at playing an instrument requires those things as well as some sense of pitch, phrasing, dynamics, etc. etc. Being musical helps with playing GH, but being good at GH doesn't necessarily mean you'd be a good musician.

More importantly than all of

More importantly than all of that... the game is just flat out FUN. Who cares how it compares to the real thing?

Although your first point is definitely very strong... I play the game to play a game, not because I wish I was a musician. A person who has never played can pick up the game and be enjoying themselves in minutes, while a person that has never played guitar isn't just going to pick it up and be enjoying not being able to do jack with it in the same time. The point of playing the game is that you don't HAVE to learn or know guitar to enjoy it. Enough said.

Brandon Erickson

Brandon Erickson wrote:

(Sigh). You're really, really, really missing my point. Certainly the songs could be learned and played, so to speak. But for one person to learn to play EVERY song in these games and reproduce them with a sound that is identical or nearly identical to the sound of the original recordings would be virtually impossible. Could you make your voice sound like David Lee Roth? Could you imitate the unique texture of Eddie Van Halen's guitar? Could you do that while playing all the other instruments at the same time? Could you or anyone perfectly imitate the sound of fifty different bands? Of course not.

Two words... Weird Al

That's four words.

That's four words.

Games as Enablers

I agree with Brandon, and John did a good job of responding to the objections that Ouro raised.

What I'd like to add is that all three of Brandon's arguments relate to the fact that videogames allow "amplification of input", whereby relatively easy and simple actions result in relatively large rewards and output. That is one of the biggest strength of videogames. The point of Guitar Hero is not to play a real guitar, it is to experience the fun of playing the guitar and feel like you are really playing the song with relatively little effort and skill involved. Since most people don't know how to play guitar, they can pick the game up, learn how to play, and be jamming on some of their favorite tunes in just a few minutes. This opens the guitar-playing experience to everyone. But whether you are an experienced guitar player or have no musical talent, you still get a lot for a little when you play the game.

Agreed

I totally agree with the poster above. Games are all about mimicking the fun parts of the experience. I play guitar, and it's not glorious... it's hours of hard work day in and day out to get to a level of appreciable skill. So Guitar Hero lets people experience some of the fun with only a trivial fraction of the work.

However, I also think that games like this can be a great way to get people into playing music. The guitars do teach synchronization of the left and right hands, which is important for guitar. The drums in Rock Band are very close to real drums. If you like playing stuff like this in games, maybe you'd enjoy the real thing.

To everyone who may have a

To everyone who may have a problem with GH or RB, I just want to say one thing. REALLY??? I mean... You really have an issue with this? What? Does it THREATEN you or something? Do we look STUPID playing it, is that it? You're probably just trying to save us from ourselves, right? Well you know what, stick it up your a--! Be my guest, go buy a 600 dollar guitar, a 500 dollar amp, bring over all your friends and practice day in and day out sticking it right up your a--. I know a few maestro pukes like you and I can assure you we're all quite finished listening to you blither about how awesome you are. I'm sure very soon most of us will be buying tickets to see you in concert, but between then and now, rest assured that I and many others will be laughing and having a rather excellent time trying to rip a Cult of Personality solo after 5 Jack and Cokes. Guess what? I don't need your approval, I don't need to spell out my list of reasons or debate with you, you're simply irrelevant. The next time you feel the tingling urge to open your ridiculous napoleonic trap, save yourself the dignity and retreat to a basement with your spazcaster.

GH critics

I don't really see what the problem is...its a game, its supposed to be fun...does this mean that every person out there who plays a PC or console based sports game should be ridiculed for not going out and playing golf/baseball/hockey/football/whatever? Because I can guarantee that there are a lot of armchair sports gamers out there. Does this mean (and this is an extreme example, I admit, and a bit like comparing apples and oranges, but still) that those who play FPS's and other war simulation games should be joining the military to hone some of these skills for real? Come on...there is no need to be insecure about some GH genius putting out the next platinum album. This seems just petty and overcritical in my opinion.

I agree that the

I agree that the accessibility of games like GH is a good thing, and because of this i agree that one shouldn't equate playing GH with actually playing the guitar.

None the less, i still find it very sad that there are people out there who treat playing GH as an art, and spend 100's of hours on it - in such instances i do intuitively feel that these people are wasting their time and should be learning to play a real guitar - subconsciously i must attribute a 'real' value in playing the guitar, and not a game with guitars.

Despite being an avid gamer, maybe the mainstream conception that video games are a waste of time is embedded somewhere in my psyche.

Can anyone relate to this?

How about this for a defense

How about this for a defense for Rock Band/Guitar Hero; It's really fun. It's a game. And it's fun. That's why we play games. To have fun. That's the point of them. How is this not a valid reason?

family fun

Rock Band is a brilliant game, as I can sit with my 11 year old daughter and my 7 year old son and have a blast. Where I live ( northern Canada) it is quite chilly most days and it is hard to get out, so sitting infront of a tv playing with my kids, who in turn are learning the sound and words of some legend songs is not hurting anything. I dont have the money or the time to put both kids, and myself into lessons for all 3, guitar , bass and drums, ( oh i forgot vocals ) Not only that , to have a few friends over on weekends, have a few drinks and "pretend' to play wicked music is just my cup of tea :)

From Both Sides of the Argument

Brandon, your reason are very good and well thought out. I totally agree with you that GH is a cheap and fun substitue for the real thing. Again, it does let people experience the thrill of playing guitar without the hard hours that come with achiving the skills required to play guitar. It also does teach them some of the basics that people may need if they ever decide to go to the real guitar.

You must be somewhat musically talented to play guitar hero I must admit though. That's not a bad thing. I feel strongly that things like keeping a beat or those basic things needed to play GH are needed, and are with us kind of as an instinct. But even if you aren't able to keep a beat, it is very easy to learn.

But someone also said "for those that treat it like an art", I must totally go to the other side of the argument if that is the case, someone who plays Guitar Hero hours on end, skipping meals just to finish Free Bird or something. If people are willing to do that, they may as well go and pick up a regular guitar. It takes a lot to master guitar hero, but for those who have mastered it completely, there is nothing much more to do, where with real guitar, there is always room to improve. If you are already investing the time required to play the real thing, you might as well pick it up, for you get much more of a thrill playing the real thing than playing it virtually playing it.

Of course it cost money, though. Every item does. But again, if you are willing to invest that much time, you could better use that time to say, get a job, and use that money to get the guitar and equipment.

I guess I don't firmly stand on one side of the argument, but I can make some valid points for both sides. Like Brandon, this is coming from a guy who plays Guitar Hero a lot, but is noticed in public for play real guitar.

I am a drummer and have been

I am a drummer and have been for 3 to 4 years and can play quite a few of the songs that are on rb on my real drums. But after having a few goes at playing rb. I was really crap and I can't understand why?

Simple premise, unrelated support

You started with "those who have never played these games" and, for me, that will forever be all that can be said. I will always agree with the detractors that say I could be spending this effort learning to play.

When I first saw the Guitar Hero controller sitting by itself in a Best Buy, I was livid and indignant. What a waste making another dumb rhythm game when someone (e.g. *me*) could be learning to play a guitar! A game on the NES allowed me to finally learn to play the piano. I hated whatever company had made the game that went with this stupid controller.
About 6 months later I got to actually play "More Than a Feeling" on that controller at another Best Buy and I immediately felt, "this is the best game ever".

And as an aside, that's largely because Harmonix designed everything to make it easy for the guitar player. I would not have had such a transformative experience with GH3, where Neversoft made everything but the notes as challenging to read as possible.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Code of Conduct

Comments are subject to approval/deletion based on the following criteria:
1) Treat all users with respect.
2) Post with an open-mind.
3) Do not insult and/or harass users.
4) Do not incite flame wars.
5) Do not troll and/or feed the trolls.
6) No excessive whining and/or complaining.

Please report any offensive posts here.

For more video game discussion with the our online community, become a member of our forum.

Our Game Review Philosophy and Ratings Explanations.

About Us | Privacy Policy | Review Game | Contact Us | Twitter | Facebook |  RSS
Copyright 1999–2010 GameCritics.com. All rights reserved.