No. 4: “Guitar Hero” And “Rock Band” Prove That Anyone Can Play (Plastic) Guitar

They may not save the music industry, but this year rhythm games opened up new possibilities for how people interact with music. As game designer Jesse Fuchs has pointed out, Harmonix (which originally developed Guitar Hero, and created Rock Band) put out far more inventive games earlier. But since the GH/RB model has proven to be a hit, it appeared that we were stuck with a simple six-button interface that didn’t allow players to fiddle with the music itself awfully much.



Rock Band‘s interface much more closely resembled the actual physical experience of playing music than the other two games, and its ability to download new songs (for a price) both opened up a new revenue stream and made the games almost infinitely extendable. Moreover, they encouraged listeners to appreciate music as both ear candy and technical achievement, giving access to the pleasure of virtuosity for those without any particular musical training. You could even hear Metallica songs in a more audiophile-friendly version!

With Rock Band 2 and Wii Music, as well as Guitar Hero: World Tour, the games have moved even closer to resembling real music-making apparatuses, allowing people to free-play instruments and even record their own songs. It remains to be seen if any “Love In The Club”-level hits will result, but the games remain a fascinating example of entertainment technology accidentally opening up new means of artistic expression and appreciation.

Guitar Hero [official site]
Rock Band [official site]
80 ’08 (and heartbreak)

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  • kicking222

    Uh, “PaRappa” wasn’t Harmonix. Sorry, Mike- that was Matsuura’s work, not HMX’s.

  • kicking222

    Also, “GuitarFreaks” came out before even Harmonix’s “FreQuency”, so saying that “Karaoke Revolution” came out before plastic guitars isn’t really correct, either… but that’s a much less egregious error than the “PaRappa” thing.

  • Maura Johnston

    @kicking222: whoops, i’m fixing that. that was me.

  • Maura Johnston

    @kicking222: haha i guess 2008 wouldn’t be complete without me making one egregious error

  • kicking222

    Don’t worry, I made many scores of them this year. Here’s to a much better ’09!

  • Signal to Noise

    And I still can’t play the thing worth a damn. It’s tough to get used to playing a plastic guitar with only a few buttons at the end of the fretboard when you’ve actually played the real thing. I usually stick to drums or vocals when I’m playing it at a friend’s place.

    The verdict on whether Rock Band obsessives will take that impetus into creativity with, say, actual instruments, is still out. Still: best party game that I can remember in the past few years.

  • MayhemintheHood

    “Rock Band’s interface much more closely resembled the actual physical experience of playing music than the other two games, and its ability to download new songs (for a price) both opened up a new revenue stream and made the games almost infinitely extendable.”

    So you like RB better than World Tour? I personally think World Tour is better and is more realistic.. The new GH guitar is pretty sweet once you get good at using the new sensor pads. And the drums are wayyyyy cooler because the high hat/crash pads make it that much more authentic(and challenging). Oh, and you can download all the songs you want as well as make your own original music to share with other users. I’m not sure what you’re saying above, but it seems as if you think those Rock Band capabilities mentioned are exclusive to RB only.