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How to be a failure at Guitar Hero III

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Review Guitar Hero III and Rock Band are totally unavoidable in shopping trips to consumer electronics stores. As a guitar player for 40 years, I view the in-store demos of the games as primarily exercises in pitiless annoyance. What could be more embarrassing than people holding plastic toy guitars in public while trying to mime along to classic rock hits played by cartoons on a TV screen?

I also saw very few women or girls as opposed to young boys lining up for these try-outs. Was it because they were put off by the excess virtual testosterone, or did they just have more sense than the opposite gender?

In any case, if you're a guitarist then you know a good instrument is a fine piece of wood, and just the act of picking it up and settling in with it is a tactile pleasure not easily duplicated by anything else. What was it with a plastic 3/4 size thing with no strings?

But one can gripe and grump for only so long before curiosity becomes irresistible. While playing a computer game with attached guitar controller can't possibly be like playing an actual guitar, here are some comparisons after I stood in line to play Guitar Hero III.

No one who plays guitar can transfer their skills to Guitar Hero III or Rock Band.

If you try seriously to do this, you'll be reduced to tears and/or sputtering impotent rage. Or you'll have a laugh, depending on your point of view and composure.

It took only a minute or two for me to make a fool of myself trying to play along to the Dead Kennedys' Holiday in Cambodia. The song is easy, but the game doesn't really allow for the playing of its guitar controller the way a real guitarist approaches music.

Part of this is locked into the screen cueing which, if you're old enough, can be likened to a variation on Sing Along with Mitch's follow-the-bouncing-ball musical TV variety show from the '60s. Only you use your fingers and the controller's buttons and picking hand flap to follow along instead of your voice.

Which leads to another interesting point: In both games, you don't seem to have to actually hear the music to play it, meaning someone totally tone deaf could be great at both games. On the other hand, you do have to be able to see the screen, so the idea of being a Blind Lemon Jefferson is out, along with any benefit from being able to intuitively play by ear.

Anyway, to play a guitar requires one to become one with a song. I couldn't do this with Guitar Hero III, not even a bit. You lag the performance unless you've played it so many times it's a hardwired part of your eye-hand-coordinated memory.

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