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How to be a failure at Guitar Hero III

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As I tried to play, funny electric sproing-like noises - meant to show mistakes - came out of my figure. That it seemed to be an image of a girl onstage wasn't helping. The song sputtered to a stop and the view panned back to show the embarrassment and failure.

I practiced some more but could see how it was going to end. Without a few hours to spend, it would be a frequent smash-up. Because of that, the games draw you in the same way as getting shot down repeatedly in a flight simulator. There's an immediate desire to master it in a short term, to put uncoordination and ineptitude well behind you.

A recent article in the New York Times on the guitar games wheeled out some egghead to claim that: "There is an aspirational element to Guitar Hero... [it satisfies] the desire to interact physically with music."

No, not even close. In Guitar Hero III, I noticed, the guitar sound is essentially always the same, no matter what one does. The key to tone in an actual guitar is the direct physical interaction between the player and the instrument. This is expressed in the guitarist adage that everyone's tone comes from their hands.

Further on in the Times piece, the reporter gets it right in passing mention that Slash is a fan of Guitar Hero (it features his music), but that he has confessed to stinking at it.

My observation was the longer you've played guitar, the worse you'd tend to be at the games because instinct fights the mechanics of play until a new conditioning sets in.

In any case, there's no facsimile of chicken pickin', no slide (although you might be able to play the controller behind your head), no thumping the instrument with your hands in time to the riffs so you sound like an old bluesman.

Of course, no one will ever summon the cops on you for playing too loud in the garage and you won't get heckled after performing most of a set by some guy yelling "Play your other song!".

Paradoxically, the stores carrying Guitar Hero III and Rock Band in the US also sell cheap guitars made in China by slave labour. American guitar companies like Gibson have extended their brand names to Chinese plywood-guitars-in-cardboard-boxes, available out the door for a little over $100.

Guitar Hero III and Rock Band are a bit more expensive, plus they won't hurt your fingers or discourage you from playing because they are poorly made and won't stay in tune. ®

George Smith is a senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological, and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighbourhood hardware stores.

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