Oh, bah. BAH.
Normally, I like Steven Levy's entertainment articles (granted, I don't think I've picked up a Newsweek regularly in a few years, but I recognize the name on articles I'd read frequently), but this one gets me, right here.
A few points to take down on this one. Firstly, as one poster at Kotaku
mentioned, "So playing guitar games makes people not want to play real guitars, but playing shooting games makes people want to shoot real guns. Makes sense to me."
Granted, Steven Levy isn't exactly one of those video game alarmists in general, so he might not stand with that logic. It was just a funny remark that I enjoyed reading.
The real point I'm looking at is the following point of dispute, which does kind of play along the lines of the initial GTA-style argument: "But by bestowing the rewards of virtuosity to those who haven't spent years to earn it, is it dumbing down musicianship? If a teenager can easily become a make-believe guitar hero, does that mean he won't ever bother to master the real thing?"
Say it with me now: OH FOR CHRIST'S SAKE IT'S A GAME. PEOPLE KNOW WHEN THEY'RE PLAYING A GAME.
For the love of God, I've played Guitar Hero, DDR, Donkey Konga, Beatmania IIDX, and lord knows how many of those Time Crisis and Ridge Racer games, all of which provide some sort of instrument to "immerse" you, draw you a degree closer into the game. I've done pretty okay-ish on most of them--lots better on some, actually pretty crappily on others. But I don't use those as an evaluation of how I'd perform equivalent tasks in real life. Sure, I can't Max anymore, but I can still play my share of catas; that doesn't mean I don't realize I look like an idiot on the real dance floor. That's why I go out on the dance floor in the first place: now that I've got my basic sense of rhythm down, I'm going out there to work on actual dance moves. Hell, if DDR WERE just like dancing, we wouldn't have separate competitions for technical and freestyle.
As for Guitar Hero, despite being pretty good at the game, I am well-aware that I'm never going to play at Nassau or the Arena, or even the fucking Usine by five-starring Hangar 18 or Free Bird, even at Expert.
For that, I'm aware that I need real guitar practice.
Sure, I'm probably not going to go through with it, but you know what? Odds are that the people who aren't willing to go on with it are the people who were gonna drop playing guitar within a couple of months of lessons in the first place. You know, the kind of lads whose only endgoal for picking up the guitar is to play Phish, DMB, and Stairway to lure (insert sex-oriented slang term of preference) into their dorm rooms and get the other kind of play. (Guilty as charged, I guess.)
Just as easily, Guitar Hero just might inspire someone to go check out the real thing. And with Guitar Hero, while they may not be able to shred as soon as they pick up, at least they're given some of the basic concepts at work, like hammer-ons/pull-offs and the understanding that the note is determined by the highest fret held down.
The article even kind of collapses on itself with the following sentence: "it's no different from other experiences made virtually accessible by the computer, from being a World War II sniper to playing golf like Tiger Woods."
Because again, those are games. Nobody, not even the author, expects to be able to pick up a mouse, go "BOOM! HEADSHOT! BOOM! HEADSHOT! BOOM! HEADSHOT! BOOM! HEADSHOT!" and then replicate exactly that in real life the first time they wrap thier hands around a rifle; nor does he make any suggestion of lament that there are fewer snipers or Tiger Woods in this world.
All the people at Harmonix (and Konami, and Namco, and Sega, and all those other people who've made arcade cabinets/custom home controllers that simulate actual devices) are doing are optimizing the work/fun ratio so that you can feel like you're doing something that's producing results. And you are--but you don't feel like you're playing the guitar
, no more than you would playing air guitar (uh, also guilty as charged).
And despite the fact that, yes, it feels awesome to hit 97% on Bark at the Moon Expert and watch your friends' jaws drop (alas, not guilty as charged), I have this sneaking feeling that it feels nothing like the high you'd get playing to a rousing ovation from your first sold-out audience of 200 (or 200,000--also, unfortunately, not guilty).
But we GH players are well aware of that.
And if we're ambitious enough to go for that kind of high, you bet your ass we'll pick up a real guitar for it.
There are other parts of that article that annoy me, but that's the bulk of the main argument, so I'll leave it there for now.