UPDATE: I arrived home last night to find the latest issue of Newsweek in my mailbox. In it, Steven Levy takes a similarly dim view of Guitar Hero II. He, too, finds it devilish, but not for the same reasons as I.
My friend Matt came up from Boston this weekend for a surprise visit. He’s a swell guy, a bitchin’ bassist and a fellow newspaperman. We used to play in a band together years ago. He’s still rocking out, while I’ve more or less permanently retired from live performance.
Anyway, Matty is one hell of a strong persuader. Over lunch and a few gazillion beers, he convinced me to purchase the shockingly popular Playstation game Guitar Hero II. I was rightfully wary — it’s hardly the first time this silver-tongued bastard has cajoled me into something.
"Dude. You gotta get it. It’s so fun. I’ve got my guitar controller in the car. We can totally play it together. At least we can go to Best Buy and check it out."
So, that’s what we did. I was utterly unimpressed by the display version, which was manned by some Black Sabbath-rockin’ redneck kid. The game itself looked chintzy and more than a little dull. But the next thing I knew, I was dropping 80-odd dollars on a hunk of cheap plastic.
Still, we played the thing all night. I even called my pal Jeb and asked him to come over. I figured if there were more people involved — and if I got a lot drunker — it’d somehow be more fun.
Listen: I’m a guitarist. I’ve been playing since I was 14. My chops, while not exactly up to previous standards, are still pretty good. So why was this game so annoying to me? I was OK at the verses and choruses, and atrocious on the solos. The exact opposite of real life, actually. The reason is that GHII robs songs of anything resembling nuance. I’m used to expressive fingering, and this thing was like a game of Simon. It’s frankly easier for me to play with the sound off. That way, all I have to do is press the appropriately colored pad when the little *note* passes a certain part of the *fretboard.*
Now, I’m admittedly not a fan of games or puzzles. The only reason I bought a PSII in the first place was Grand Theft Auto. But that game is more about satire and hyperviolence and less about high scores.
I sensed something far more sinister in Guitar Hero II. With it, would-be six-stringers can be trained to play exactly like one another. Which is to say, mechanically and without any regard for subtlety. I mean, most "emo" bands could already swap out their guitarists without anyone even catching on. Well, maybe some fans would notice the difference in tattoos or length of bangs. But any distinction sure as shit wouldn’t be musical. This game only cultivates further homogeneity.
It might be worth something as a sight-reading primer, though. Oh, and it does have a few decent songs. But you could always turn to one of our two local rock stations and hear the same tunes. Probably a few times a day, even.
So I’m gonna head back to Best Die sometime this week and dump the thing back on them. I love my bro Matty, but I need to trust my instincts more often. As BW sang, "I guess I just wasn’t made for these times." Or maybe I just suck at fake guitar.