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.

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Kevin Andresen
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Kevin Andresen

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… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

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?

Matt
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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… Read more »

Raven
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Raven

I disagree that the amount of time spent with the game should determine whether someone learns the actual instrument or not. To me, that argument is too narrow and ignores one key point. Often times people who do that aren’t coming from a perspective of being passionate about the instrument or music, they are coming from the perspective of being passionate about the gaming experience. This likely explains why they feel it is an art to them. The gaming experience is different from the actual experience of learning and playing the instruments. Sometimes as musicians we forget that other avid… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

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… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

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?

Robin JJ
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Robin JJ

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… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

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?… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

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… Read more »

Marduk
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Marduk

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… Read more »

Odofakyodo
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Odofakyodo

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.… Read more »

Jak
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Jak

That’s four words.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

[quote=Brandon Erickson] (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… Read more »

DrBrian
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DrBrian

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… Read more »

John
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John

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… Read more »

Brandon Erickson
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Brandon Erickson

[quote=Ouro]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.[/quote] 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. [quote=Ouro]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?[/quote] (Sigh). You’re really, really, really missing my point. Certainly the songs could be learned… Read more »

Ouro
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Ouro

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… Read more »