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Law-Yone has another theory. "I know a lot of my female friends don't like holding a regular controller," she says. "But since this is shaped like a guitar, it doesn't feel so intense, and they can relax and lean back. When I play a game like Halo, I'm like leaning forward, and it's a lot more intense. With Guitar Hero, I can lean back, talk to my friends while I'm playing. It seems more like a party-type game."
Another female Guitar Hero fan is Magda Sayeg, the owner of Montrose boutique Raye, a co-owner of coffeeshop Brasil and Domy gifts, and the founder of the street stitchwear clique the Knittas. After playing it at a party, she bought a copy of Guitar Hero III earlier this month. "I haven't played any games since I was a little kid," she says. "Now I hear a piece of music and I see it in terms of blue, red and green dots, like in the game."
Video games, especially violent ones, are often a point of contention between parents and children, especially mothers and sons. The music games are both nonviolent and easy for the whole family to enjoy — better yet, enjoy together. Sayeg and her fifth-grade son Isaac play Guitar Hero together all the time. "He was so excited when I told him I was going to buy Guitar Hero and play it with him," she says. "He reminded me about it every day for a week until I went and got it. In a weird way, it has bonded us closer together."
Not only do these games shatter the idea of gaming today, they also challenge preconceived notions of today's society.
In a time when all of the news from the music industry seems to be bad, Guitar Hero and Rock Band have spurred interest in old bands and songs, revitalized the careers of some musicians and refocused a generation of kids on rock and roll. In an era when people seem more and more isolated, alone in front of their screens and walled off from the world by the sounds blasting from their ear buds, these games have brought men and women and young and old together around the gaming console.
But are these games breeding a generation of young musicians? Is there any educational value to these games at all?
Not much, says Ken Arnold, an employee at Houston guitar shop Rockin' Robin. "It's basically a glorified game of Simon," he says, referring to the primitive handheld pattern-matching electronic game from the 1980s. "Everybody that I've talked to that has played has said that it has nothing to do with playing real guitar. It might help you hear different pitches, but it has nothing to do with playing guitar at all."
Evans Music City guitar salesman (and cover band guitarist) Michael J. Juarez, who unlike Arnold had played Rock Band, gives the games a bit more credit. "I think it will teach people to learn rhythm, to be able to coordinate their left and right hands," he says. "A lot of times people will play and just watch either their picking hand or their fretting hand. They can't do both without looking down. But once you play the game enough, it becomes an automatic motion."
As for the more lifelike drums on Rock Band, Alex Rigopulos, a co-founder of game studio Harmonix, contends that his game's version of drumming qualifies as actual musical instruction. "After you've been playing the game for a while, working your way up to the highest difficulty, you're playing the actual drum patterns," he told the New York Daily News. "We've had 30 or so people playing the game in our testing department for a matter of months, and now they're all drummers. You can sit these people down in front of real drum sets, and they can play drums."
Though Brian Bell, an instructor at Houston drum shop Percussion Center, hasn't played Rock Band, he disagrees with Rigopulos. "I can tell from my students that that's not true," he says. "They tell me that the foot pedal is different, and that three-pad setup doesn't sound like a real drum set to me. Also, the mother of one of my students tells me that her son plays wild and out of control on Rock Band, so I think it could be teaching some bad habits."
For Law-Yone, a pianist in real life, the process has worked in reverse. She cross-trains, using her real music piano background to enhance her virtual guitar playing. "If I have a hard time picking up the rhythm of a song on Guitar Hero, I'll go over to the piano and try to figure it on the keyboard," she says. "Of course, you have to hit a piano harder than a controller, so I know if I can do it on the piano, it will be easier on the game."
"Real guitars are for old people."
— Eric Cartman of South Park
Or are they?
Rockin' Robin's Arnold is not as opposed to these games as he might sound. Guitar Hero specifically has sparked a sales boom at his shop. "They wanna graduate out of the game and get a real guitar, so it is kind of helpful for us. We get kids in here all the time wanting Gibson Les Paul Sunbursts, because that's the guitar in the game." (Actually, there are numerous Gibson models in the game, thanks to their canny endorsement deal. Wisely, Gibson's rival guitar-maker Fender inked a similar deal with Rock Band.) "I also had some of the [Guitar Hero] songbooks in here, and they flew out of here."
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