Susan's Musings: I want to be a guitar hero

By Susan Bonicillo
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 19, 2006

I'm not a gamer.

There was a time when you had to fight to pry the original Nintendo Entertainment System controller from my grubby little hands.

And yes, I'll admit to dropping a fair number of coins into a "Dance Dance Revolution" machine during my misspent youth.

Now, video games and I are living two separate lives.

Unlike the original NES controller with the now primitive arrangement consisting of a two-button configuration plus direction-arrow pad controllers, today's controllers are looking more and more complicated. Maybe I'm lacking in the hand-eye coordination department, but trying to figure out what sequence of buttons to press while watching a series of moving images isn't as easy as when I was playing "Mega Man" in the early '90s.

With numerous buttons and switches to search for, it's like trying to locate the much-fabled G-spot when all you want to do is turn left. I'll just give up now and stick to board games.

However, marathon rounds of Clue and Monopoly can only hold my reduced attention span for so long before I need something more visually dynamic and stimulating.

Enter "Guitar Hero" to the fray. A new game designed for PlayStation 2, "Guitar Hero" was officially released this fall.

After some friends who got it for Christmas invited me to play, I got hooked. It's an addictive game and my first hit was off of Audioslave's "Cochise." I've been chasing the dragon ever since.

Instead of a controller, the game uses a mini guitar with six different colored buttons to act as strings and a switch used to strum the non-existent strings. Complete with a whammy bar and strap, the guitar can seem a little childish, as it seems like a cheap, plastic toy.

I'll admit to feeling a little awkward while trying to go along with the music. As much as people want to help, listening to everyone barking orders at you while trying to follow the flashes on the screen is sensory overload. It's all about keeping your cool and continuing to play, as there are few things more awkward than flipping out on people when you've got a fake plastic guitar hanging around your neck.

Working on the same principle as "DDR," you're supposed to hit and strum the "strings" as they show up on the screen. Sounds easy enough, and even the most raw beginner can have a decent showing. If you do it just right, you'll hear the guitar part to some of your favorite rock songs. Do it wrong, and you'll hear a dissonant honk as well as grimaces from the audience, both computer-generated and the real kind.

Unlike "DDR," no stomping is involved, unless you really want to do that just for showmanship's sake.

At the end of the run, I got a score in the form of a fake concert review that judges on both accuracy and style. I scored 87 out of a possible 100, which I thought wasn't bad for a beginner.

Sometimes it did feel like all I had were sausages attached to my hands, and the overload of commands to execute can get a little much, but there's always the pause button so I could compose myself.

"Guitar Hero" takes out the tedious parts, like practicing and learning musical theory, and gives you the impression that you are, in fact, responsible for making music.

And, for a minute, with the computer-generated crowd and fake, pre-recorded applause I actually felt like the ghost of Hendrix.

As you grow older, you don't stop playing with toys, the toys just get more expensive and complicated.