My beginner’s guide to Guitar Hero: Green. Red. Blue, Blue, Yellow. Blue & Red. Blue & Yellow. Green, Green, Green. That’s it: you have passed level one. Guitar Hero is the game in which plastic people use real guitars to strum along to music and compete against a machine or friends. Or maybe it’s the other way round.
Either way, the cosmic colour-crunching simulation has exploded in popularity this decade, perhaps reaching its pinnacle in the Fab Four version, in which The Beatle’s classics are rendered musically unreconstructed by a corridor of approaching colours demanding you press a button and move your finger simultaneously. Additions like drums and a microphone can contribute to the band experience, but try combination them and you feel appallingly untalented, especially when proper musicians can mix guitars and vocals with ease. Such multi-tasking must seem a mystery to the cack-handed, robo-guitar wannabes of my generation.
First, a little admission. I love it. I may not be very good (in fact a faulty toaster could make a better stab at When You Were Young by The Killers than my thumb-twiddling antics) but Guitar Hero is addictive. Unusually for a computer game, however, the game is enjoyably addictive. The game asks for the player to become obsessive and the player doesn’t put up resistance. If there is some kind of message hidden in the game, subliminally added by MI5 or the CIA, we’re buggered.
To let you know how the fictional audience are enjoying your song, a bar at the side of the screen rises and drops, and the red area is the most terrifying aspect of the game. Stay in the red too long and you’ll be off stage, chastened and ashamed.
I never surfed the wave of gaming popularity, which is odd as they have become exponentially better every year, with the graphics in 2010 scarcely discernable from real life (which worries the shit out of people who believe young kids will murder pedestrians because they did the same thing in Grand Theft Auto) and new technology making games even more realistic, 3-dimensional and interactive.
One includes real skateboards which connect to a Tony Hawks game and allow you to interact by skating yourself, performing tricks and using your balance to steer. Regrettably, this means no-one goes outside and plays with their actual skateboard in the actual world, but I suppose this has something to do with the fact that on an Xbox you can restart the game if you jump off a ledge and break your neck.
Gone are the days when playing a sport on a console meant pressing X and R2 in tandem. With inventions like the Nintendo Wii, sports like tennis and golf now require you to swing your club/bat in your living room.
The one hugely popular area of games I’ve never digged is shoot ‘em ups. How fun can it really be to point at heavily uniformed make-believe soldiers and pull a pretend trigger? Where is the satisfaction in watching scores of android characters snuff it?
Should someone complete the game, how can you justify the length of time you spent killing automatons to normal people? You can win a game of sport by being more skilled than your opponent. You can complete a puzzle by being clever. But a shooting game just seems like a slog of death with victory at the end culminating in an empty nothingness, punctuated only by the sound of anguished sobs from friends desperate for you to step away from the console and get a life.
My neurotic tendencies as a fully formed adolescent may stem from the repetitive nature of Playstation’s Nigel Mansell’s F1. I played it repeatedly, often ignoring occasions like my birthday, preferring to do one more Grand Prix around Silverstone to beat my fastest lap than opening another present. It was highly monotonous and the graphics were rubbish. But in the end, that might be what gaming comes down to; the pursuit of escape, even if escape means beating a hooker to death and running over her dead body for good measure.
Thankfully, I’m far outside the ‘Gamer’s Loop’. These are people who can talk for an eternity about games, saying things like “The sniper on the Katuro Lake level wasn’t any good, but I know a good cheat if you send me your email address”. They huddle together in sheltered accommodation like Gamestation, asking whether Assassin’s Creed 4 is better than its predecessor and offering to insulate each other’s digs.
Unfortunately, this stereotype is wide of the mark, as my two best friends are avid gamers and they seem fairly normal, or at least as normal as you can be when you give a toss about the Halo 3 graphics card.