Guitar Heroics

Every console I have ever owned was purchased to play only one of the titles available on each system. Sure, I’ve gone on to buy more games for the platforms later, but that first cherry high has been because of a singular entity. For the Sega Genesis and SNES, it was Shadowrun. On the N64, it was GoldenEye. Xbox? Knights of the Old Republic. For the Xbox 360, it won’t be Shadowrun again. But for the Playstation 2, the game was Guitar Hero. And it almost cost me my soul.

“It all started with an open box and a dream.”

The day I spent $250 to play one game started like any other in our office. I had been reading through some industry news, and at least two cups of coffee were running through my veins. It was a good day. Until the box arrived. Stamped with on the side, I first believed the box contained nothing more than books for the IT Department. What we didn’t know was the code monkeys knew how to rock.

Out of the large Amazon box sprang forth a videogame box about the size of a keyboard. Inside, though, was what shocked me into a $250 purchase. For everyone who has ever strummed a badminton or tennis racket while rocking out in their childhood bedroom, Guitar Hero‘s guitar-shaped controller was like laying your eyes on the Holy Grail.

The owner booted up the game on the office PS2 and began to thrash. Well, sort of. Unfortunately for him, buying the game did not buy him any sort of rhythm whatsoever, and I quickly stepped in. I may as well have tied off and injected myself with Black Tar. Thirty minutes after first picking up the plastic controller, I became the proud owner of my own copy. The added cost of a Playstation 2, high definition cables and a memory card brought me up to $250.

The events of the next few months were something that could have been chronicled on an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music. “When we come back, after a meteoric rise to the top, we’ll tell the story of how JR Sutich and his band, Juggernaut, came crashing down to earth, self-destructing in a fireball of alcohol, pain and broken dreams.”

I played Guitar Hero for hours on end, every day, for weeks. I became the best player out of the group I spent most of my time around. I put on exhibitions, playing “Unsung” by Helmet on Hard with my back turned to the TV. Don’t you know that I was a shooting star? Unbeknownst to me, however, my arch-rival, my nemesis, my ex-wife had gotten her own copy of the game. And after selling her soul to the devil at the crossroads, did the impossible: She beat “Bark at the Moon” by Ozzy Osbourne on Expert. In front of me. Using my plastic axe. Just like castles made of sand, my sense of superiority collapsed.

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“And then, things started to fall apart.”

I began to practice even more intensely, without any progress. I had hit my peak and could not get any better. The game that had become my obsession now mocked my efforts. I actually started getting worse, becoming unable to complete songs that I had finished earlier. I avoided playing at parties, in case my friends, my fans, discovered my shameful secret. Eventually I came to terms with my failure to finish the game and stopped playing altogether. The one simple truth that I realized during all of this is that those who cannot do, teach. My success didn’t just have to be measured by my actions and achievements. My vindication could come at the hands of my son.

Shortly after the “passing of the torch” idea went up in flames (the poor little guy’s fingers were just too small to hit the fifth fret), Guitar Hero 2 was announced. Finally, my prayers had been answered, for I had a new inspiration. I picked up my axe again and started to shred. No longer was I concerned with merely playing well enough to get through a song, I played my own version of practice mode. Failing a song no longer discouraged me if I had managed to refine my technique. And slowly, the results of my re-dedication began to show. My practice paid off at E3 2006, when faced with the demo version of Guitar Hero 2. Russ Pitts and I blitzkrieged through “You Really Got Me” by Van Halen, with me on Lead/Expert and Russ on Bass/Medium.

“After the break, Juggernaut prepares for their reunion tour, talks about plans for the future and pauses to reflect on the long, hard road they’ve traveled when we go Behind the Music.”

If I learned anything from Guitar Hero, it’s that Def Leppard was wrong. Fading away is preferable to burning out. I follow the development of the sequel to the game that almost broke me with earnest. Every scrap of information, every rumor and every leaked song list becomes something to collect and analyze. Now, with the Guitar Hero 2 demo disc coming in next month’s Official Playstation Magazine and the game itself available for pre-orders, it’s time to put the band back together.

JR Sutich is a Contributing Editor for The Escapist and is rumored to have been banned from an online game during its initial design stage.

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