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.