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My Latest Hero


Okay, I’ll admit it. I was wrong. It started a couple years ago, when one of my buddies started explaining to me how awesome the new PlayStation game he bought was. It was called Guitar Hero. I mocked my friend mercilessly for his addiction to this game.

“Imagine how awesome you would be if you actually spent the same amount of time practicing the real guitar as you do playing this game?” I told him. Yes, I knew I sounded like my mother. To me, the concept was simply laughable.

Now, Guitar Hero III is on the market, along with a competitor called Rock Band that takes the concept from wanking ego-centric guitarist solo player to a whole new, full-fledged, “I’m-in-a-band-with-three-other-guys-so-now-when-we-suck-I-can-blame-them” level. The market has spoken: “We want to rock, but only in our living room and with a few other people.”

Well, like most music writers, I’m a frustrated musician. I’ve played lots of gigs; some of them even had people in the audience. I like to rock. I definitely rock hard in my living room. So, it was time to find out what all the hullabaloo was about.

Guitar Hero II was my option—it was a sale: $79, new.

The missus immediately opened the box and pulled out the shiny plastic white guitar with a black pick guard. She reached into a drawer, pulled out a cartoonish skull and crossbones sticker and slapped it on the body of the axe.

“Now, we can rock,” she said.

For the last week, every day after work, and most of the weekend, we rocked. We rocked like Cheap Trick. Like Aerosmith. Like Guns N’ Roses. Like KISS. Like The Police. And, yes, I rocked like Lynyrd Skynyrd… blowing past “Free Bird” to end the game.

But what struck me more than the addictive play of the game was its potential impact on the music world.

There is a collection of bonus tracks you can “buy” by earning “money” by playing the songs throughout the game. The better you play, the more money you earn, the more new “bonus” songs you can purchase. One of those tunes was by the band That Handsome Devil, a Boston-based funk-rock outfit that was completely under my radar until I got hooked by the game. I now own their entire album.

It’s not necessarily a new marketing idea. The Madden series introduced me to Good Charlotte back in ’03, for instance. Grand Theft Auto’s collection of genre-specific music is half the reason to buy it.

But none of those games lets the player become the music. Live it. Rock it.

The Guitar Hero franchise has bridged that gap brilliantly. It’s not a leap to imagine a tie-in for online digital music sales. In a couple years, I imagine you’ll play a tune, a prompt will pop up with your score and a little box that says, “Did you like this song? Would you like to buy it? Click here.” And suddenly, you’re downloading the tune and the rest of the album. A whole new retail outlet is born.

Until then, I’ll check you later. Got to go blister some Primus.

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