Friday, July 13, 2007

COLUMN: Guitar Hero

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about deflated dreams. Remember when you were a kid and wanted to grow up and play in the NBA or fly to the moon or be a Calvin Klein model? Then you grew up and realized that (a) you're uncoordinated, short, and chubby, (b) you get queasy on the Tilt-A-Whirl, let alone a lunar module, and (c) you're SO good-looking that the sight of you in a Calvin Klein ad could cause pandemonium among the female ranks, the likes of which could tilt the balance of life on Earth forever all because you're just TOO doggone sexy? Or is that just me?

Well, now I can add one OTHER occupation that's officially NOT happening for me: guitar hero.

If you have kids, you're probably well-acquainted with Guitar Hero. It's one of the most popular games out right now for the Playstation and X-Box. As opposed to your standard video games that have complex plots -- you know, save the princess, slay the dragon, whip the Thuggee guards, stop the space invaders, make whoopee with a prostitute to regain your health (you've gotta love Grand Theft Auto) -- Guitar Hero's plot is simple: hit buttons.

As musical notes fly by on the screen, you have to hit the correct color-coded button in order to make your little on-screen dude jam out to a soundtrack of heavy metal and arena rock classics. If that's not dorky enough for you, you have to buy the custom Guitar Hero game controller, which is, of course, a guitar. A cheap, undersized plastic replica of a guitar, that is.

Actually, it's probably not undersized -- if you're 9, which is how old you SHOULD be when you play Guitar Hero. The thing is, though, every time I walk into Best Buy, where they've got a demo of the game set up, it's always some middle-aged dork wailing away on the plastic guitar like they're auditioning for Rush or something. This game aspires to unforeseen new and exciting levels of nerd-dom, and chuckling at the karaoke nightmare every time I walk past it is a newfound favorite hobby of mine.

Until. (You already know what's coming, don't you? All I had to say was "until.") Until my friend Chris showed up. My buddy Chris is a great friend, especially for a time-constrained video gamer such as myself. Chris is a video game junkie -- not only does he play all the X-Box and Playstation games, he's also into MMORPG's. These are the vast online games like World of Warcraft and Everquest where you play online with 1,000 of your closest cyberfriends while the games suck your soul away on a daily basis. The games that require you to play for HOURS every day to get anywhere. The games that have support groups for addicts.

My friend Chris, though, is fairly well-adjusted and not nearly as nerdy as most gamers -- which is why I sat open-mouthed when he showed up the other day and announced, "I bought Guitar Hero 2!"

"Are you KIDDING me?" I respond. "That game is the downfall of humanity! Nothing on Earth looks dorkier."

That's when he said the magic words:

"Duuuuuuude. It's awesome."

Now, I trust my buddy's opinion on all things video game related, and he doesn't issue "duuuuuude"'s too often. Still, I found this particular review hard to swallow. I shrugged it off. I'd still wander through Best Buy, and I'd still stop and grin at the dorks playing the game. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I could still hear those words. "Duuuuuude." "Awesome." You know, what if he was right? I mean, maybe I'm missing out on the most fun video game ever. And sure, the guitar looks utterly lame, but who's gonna see me? My cats?

So I did it. I bought the ridiculous game and the ridiculous fake guitar. On my way home, I stopped to get food and a kid in the drive-thru window saw the box and went, "Duuuuude. That game is so awesome." I made a wise decision.

There's just one tiny problem, though: I SUCK AT IT. I brought the game home, took out my little plastic guitar, tied on the strap, applied the super-cool stickers to personalize my axe, turned it on, and proceeded to suck the night away.

This game isn't fun. It's guitar-shaped torture. The notes whizz by at the speed of sound and I'm supposed to make my fingers play the chords AND strum at the same time? And when you mess up, your guitar makes a wonky noise while the fake audience hurls boo's and catcalls. Swell, I can now reach the pinnacle of embarassment from the comfort of my own home. What's next? A video game where you have to go to the front of the class and read a book report?

When I've watched kids at the store play Guitar Hero, they really get into it and start rocking out. I, meanwhile, sit stoically with a nervously focused look of sheer concentration, which is exactly how you're NOT supposed to look when you're playing along to Kiss. I can't believe Ace Frehley remembers to BREATHE, let alone shoot fire out of his guitar neck.

If this is even remotely what it's like to play a REAL guitar, count me out. Still, though, my buddy was right -- it is pretty awesome, in one of those must-find-a-hiding-place-so-none-of-my-other-friends-can-ever-see-my-secret-shame sorta ways. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some rockin' to do.

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