Monday, 17 January 2011

Games With(out) Frontiers

As those of you who know me by now will be aware I am unable to grasp the attraction of Guitar Hero.

Not, you understand, that I have anything against games systems – I am old enough to have had an Atari system with Pac-Man and Space Invaders, to have listened to the ear-piercing high-volume screeching of a ZX Spectrum loading and yes, to have owned a Sega Megadrive.

My most recent system is quite old now – bought just before I discovered girls (or a specific girl discovered me at any rate) - and its main function in life is to gather dust and to serve as a shelf for the TV remote. Occasionally I will feel in the mood to re-play one of my “jump about and kill things” games (most games can essentially be boiled down to a few basic elements: jump about, collect and kill things – drive about, collect and smash into things – and, more recently, blow nine types out of crap out of things whilst re-creating the Somme/other famous battle/attempting to fly a plane)

To be frank the new generation of “wave your arms about like a prat” games just don’t interest me – they just seem to be a gimic, designed to take attention away from the fact that games are suddenly being designed for people with the attention span of a gnat – and Guitar Hero is, for me, one of the worst offenders (although a special place in the hall of fame will no doubt be reserved for the Wii-Fit – a system designed for those of us who want to merely pretend we have a fitness regime without the unnecessary effort of joining a gym and then never going)

I don’t think it helps that I play not one but four instruments ((in degree of ability these go: Guitar, Sax (although this is catching up quickly), Bass, Keyboards)) and from a musical point of view I can’t quite see what the attraction of standing in front of a TV screen frantically going GREEN-RED-RED-RED-GREEN-BLUE for hours on end is.

My argument goes as thus:

For the price of a Rock Band starter pack and PS3 (or whatever) you could buy a decent second hand acoustic guitar from a charity shop and pay for 12 months of community college education (starting from £40 for ten weeks) and within a few weeks be playing whatever songs you chose and not just those few prescribed by “the man”

Also: you don’t have to “unlock” a specific song before you can “play” it – simply type the words “guitar tab” into your search engine and watch the hundreds of sites come up (though very few for sax or keyboards as this would involve transcribing music)

This is ultimately much more rewarding and fulfilling.

But I was putting this point to a friend over Christmas and they said: “Yes, that’s all very well but: a) not everyone has musical ability, b) Guitar Hero et al are designed as party games – not as musical accomplishments.

And whilst I can see that side of the argument it does raise further questions.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with playing computer games – they can be stimulating, challenging and pass many a lonely hour – but the point of a computer game is that it’s something you do on your own, maybe with one or two other people.

Many of the board games I used to play as a kid are now being turned into computer games for the Wii or similar: Monopoly, Scrabble and so forth – but this raises an important social issue.

Back in the day when you had a party you would sit around the room facing one another, interacting directly with one another – now it seems that society is moving so that the only way we can interact with one another is via a screen. Does this worry you? Will the memory of your friends face always be of features cast in the light of a TV screen?

Only the other day I logged into Facebook to see two status updates – both sending messages to people who lived in the same house as the other! Get off your arses and go and talk face to face!!!!

Most of my work now is done over the internet – I speak daily with people on the other side of the planet (well – I type in a deeply frustrated manner to people on the other side of the planet) and high street shops are continuing to go to the wall because we increasingly do our shopping online. Public Houses are closing because we do our drinking alone in our houses.

Don’t get me wrong – I am totally anti-social and spend as little time as possible at parties, public houses or other social interaction events (unless with people that I know I have lots in common with and will find Something To Talk About) – my idea of a party is very much the traditional one that we Brits manage so well: of all the women in one room talking about hernia operations whilst the men sit in stony silence in the other room waiting for death/to go home (whichever seems more attractive at the time (on the subject of which – sport was invented purely so men would have something to talk to each other about, so it’s a bit of a shame that I have no interest whatsoever in sport))

But I think it’s a sad day indeed when we invite a large group of friends around to our homes, ask the question “so what shall we do” and answer “let’s just look at the telly”

Frankly – I could be doing that at home.


Argent said...

I agree about Guitar Hero et al (buy an instrument and learn!) but the idea of it as a party game is actually quite valid - a sort of Guitar-shaped Simon says, it seems to be. Some people do the whole band thing, drums and all - I think this would take a degree of concentration and co-operation.

We have just got a Wii and the thing about it for us is that you don't look at the telly. You look at your friends, laugh with them, and all enjoy whatever game it is together socially. We like the 10-pin bowling game - it's not a game that you have to focus on to the exclusion of conversation and merriment so for us it's as social as going to the alley (but without the wearing of shoes that other people's feet have been in).

I used to play a game called Baldur's Gate back in the day and found it a happy way to spend my nights in digs. At the same time, my work colleagues were also playing on their machines and we have a great deal of fun discussing are various progress/setbacks at work in the daytime.

We have this unchallenged assumption that unless interaction is of the traditional face-to-face variety, it is of less worth. Is this always true?

These things are what you make of them.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

i guess that's true - but i don't think it changes the basic idea that the TV is rapidly becoming the equivalent of an additional guest at parties

Anonymous said...

My son got hooked on Guitar Hero right about the time the second one was released. We got it, had a lot of fun, and picked up the subsequent releases. He got quite good at it, so I went and bought him an electric guitar with all the trimmings. He's been playing "real" guitar for about three years, all thanks to a love of the game Guitar Hero.

We have also had quite a bit of fun with these games at get-togethers. The best was a couple Christmas's ago when my mom and dad decided to join in. They hated this music when I was growing up, and there they were, singing it and playing along. Sure, the TV held our attention, but in a way that was interactive, with one another, and with the images displayed. We were the master of the TV, not the other way around.

Which I think gets to your point. The TV can be a drool-inducing monster-sized distraction, or we can put it to use in ways we control . . .

Just my two cents.

pohanginapete said...

Perhaps my mind is too closed, but I'm unable to bring myself to spend time doing something that seems like a poor substitute for the real thing. I used to be able to play a few chords on the guitar, but if I wanted to play well, I'd follow your suggestion pretty much to the letter.

I'm probably a bit odd too — or perhaps lucky — in that I never got into computer-game playing. I think the few occasions I played computer games engendered a healthy fear of how compelling they can be, and I backed away (much as I have with Facebook, and completely with Twitter).

I guess I find real reality more worthwhile than virtual reality. Others might disagree, and I guess people born into a world where virtual reality has become commonplace might not make the distinction.

A thoughtful and (as usual) entertaining post — thanks :^)

iNdi@na said...

pseudo guitar playing and pseudo drumplaying all leave me cold.
shall stick to blowing mournful tunes on my sax
does not need electronic interference of any kind
fortunately nearest neighbour is half a mile away

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

tysdaddy - i think that's true: we have to remember who's in charge with the tv. I still think that when you have guests around 9 times out of 10 its polite to turn the tv off - but i guess it does depend on who it is and what's going on

Pete - i don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with games. Another worry i have though now is that skill has been replaced by novelty - to my mind the wii/move/whatever games aren't half as inventives as the ones that used to have to rely on gameplay because the graphics weren't there.

indiana - keep playing that sax.

the watercats said...

I've never tried guitar hero, but from what I can tell you'd need a similar amount of dexterity and rhythm needed to learn an actual guitar... if you have rhythm, you have music... I'm in complete agreement. My brother has a wii thingy, we played it once and the best part was creating the most horrific mee (or whatever it is) ever, which apparantly keeps popping up in the crowds when my nephew is playing archery and puts him off.
Ihave very fond memories of the zx spectrum... ahhhh.. hungry horace.... and the casette tape... *daydreams....