Archive - Jan 2007

January 26th

Rock Out With Your Brain Out

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Memo to Steven Levy: YOU ARE DUMB.

But it's OK. I know why you're dumb. I understand. I commiserate. I even, to the extent such a thing is possible, empathize.

You see, Steven Levy is a columnist for Newsweek. He's "The Technologist", a title I'm sure sounded cool when he thought of it. Similarly, I am a columnist. Maybe not a paid columnist. Maybe not a paid columnist for a national magazine. Maybe not a paid columnist for a national magazine with a nifty handle like "The Technologist". But a columnist nonetheless.

And I know what it's like to have an idea, and have that idea crumble under the weight of one's own reasoning. And I understand the desire to just plunge ahead anyway, even when your own common sense is telling you you should stop. But stopping means having to come up with a whole other idea for a column, and paid columnists for Newsweek with fancy titles don't have the luxury of just skipping a day when shit doesn't pan out. So I understand completely why Steven Levy went ahead and published something completely fucking moronic. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"Clearly, Guitar Hero is fun. But by bestowing the rewards of virtuosity to those who haven't spent years to earn it, is it dumbing down musicianship? If a teenager can easily become a make-believe guitar hero, does that mean he won't ever bother to master the real thing?"

The answer, of course, is "no". Levy even KNOWS the answer is "no". If you know where to look, you can see where he argued against his own point, demolished his own point, and decided to put his own point forward anyway. Like when he says "Technically, you are not creating music by pushing buttons on the fret board of the game controller." Or when he points out that "In that sense it's no different from other experiences made virtually accessible by the computer, from being a World War II sniper to playing golf like Tiger Woods."

Both of these are clever, well-thought-out points that, taken to their logical conclusion, should have caused Steven Levy to write about the goddamn iPhone or something instead. But he plowed forward, getting quotes from the developer, and a guy from Gibson talking vaguely about making guitars that are easier to learn and play. And, in the oldest trick in the book, closing with the same image he opened the column with. "It sounds great—just as the Devil's offer must have struck Robert Johnson at the crossroads."

Ooooh, spooky. The Technologist is comparing technology to a DEAL WITH SATAN. That's a fun tack to take. Maybe next week Bill Kristol will wax lyrical on the virtues of peace-loving Islam and really good weed. If it wasn't patently obvious that Levy knew his own words were completely fucking ridiculous, I'd be compelled to point out that Levy's own words are completely fucking ridiculous to anybody who's played Guitar Hero.

Not even the most clueless GameFAQs poster is under the delusion that what they're doing in Guitar Hero is "making music" or "playing guitar". At best, it's rocking out. It's air guitar with a score. All Guitar Hero gives you, and this is from someone who loves Guitar Hero, but all it gives you is a simulation of what it'd be like to be in the world's most popular Warrant cover band. And nobody aspires to that. Well, except for the members of Warrant.

The only people for whom Guitar Hero is a cheap, reasonable substitute for an actual guitar are the people with $200 guitars and four months of lessons who idly pick out Good Charlotte tab sheets they got off the Internet when they're bored. In other words, in addition to making a kickass game, the people at RedOctane* have done the world an invaluable service, saving parents hundreds of dollars and dozens of evenings of agony supporting a soon-to-be-abandoned hobby.

The next Hendrix isn't going to be satisfied with Guitar Hero. They're not going to want to wait for RedOctane to get around to making new songs. They're going to want to make their own noises. And years from now, when we're all sick to death of them churning out Guitar Hero games, there will still be 20-year-old guitarists wailing away while their friends whine about how they're bored in school and girls dumped them.

And Steven Levy will still be dumb. See what I did there, Steven? Finishing with the same image I started with, Mr. Fancypants Newsweek Columnist? This shit ain't rocket science.

*Game nerds should note that this column is DELIBERATELY ignoring the acquisitions and developer changes surrounding the Guitar Hero franchise for purposes of clarity. So close that e-mail and go back to trying to five-star Jordan.