I still vividly remember the thrill of ecstasy I experienced when I played Guitar Hero for the first time. I’d dismissed the game as trite and simplistic. Who would get a charge from playing a rhythm-matching game with a plastic ukulele? I imagined roomfuls of wannabe rockstars, mashing buttons, hair akimbo, heads thrumming up and down in time to music that was once enjoyable, but rendered now a part of some unendurable exercise in juvenile wish fulfillment.
Then I played it.
Holding the guitar was itself a singular thrill. I felt silly at first. I was, after all, holding an outsized gaming peripheral with candy-colored buttons – hardly an axe worthy of a rock god. But then the game began, and as the camera zoomed over the cartoon audience – my audience – I realized I was about to perform, not just play. That’s when I understood what about this game had captivated millions.
Being good at Guitar Hero may not make you an actual guitar hero, and it may not teach you lick one about playing an actual guitar, but if the essence of being a god of rock can possibly be distilled, stripped of the blood, sweat and tears required to become good at the craft, then the result is Guitar Hero. Playing the plastic guitar may not be cool in the universal sense, but it’s a pretty damn awesome game.
And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? One plays Modern Warfare 2 to experience the excitement of battle minus the battle. One plays Dragon Age: Origins to bang medieval chicks minus the head lice, and one plays Guitar Hero or Rock Band to experience the rush of rocking the songs that make the whole world sing minus the smelly tour bus.
Now that the whole world, it seems, is playing videogames, it’s inevitable that the breadth of experiences games offer will swell. That soon, there will be a game for every taste, to suit every fantasy. But how many of us truly say that when we grow up, we want to be an insurance claims adjuster? That our most secret, darkest of desires is to be a customer service representative? As all-encompassing of the human experience as videogames may one day become, they will always, in some way, pay tribute to the raging fire down below and grant us access to the fantasies we truly seek, the fruits of lifestyles about which most of us can only dream, or else throw the whole world into anarchy: guns, girls and guitars.
That’s why this week in The Escapist, our very first issue of 2010, we pay tribute to this infamous trinity in Issue 235, “Heavy Metal.” Veteran music journalist Ruth Booth explores the relationships between real rock musicians and videogames; Michael Thomsen looks at the videogame industry’s conflicted history with women’s issues; Erin Hoffman explains why game development needs its own “riot grrrl” movement and Jonathan Glover looks at how Heavy Metal Magazine has left its mark on gaming with “Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2.” Enjoy!