The rhythm action game is a funny genre. To many, it's a pointless exercise; bashing coloured buttons in a roughly approximate time to the notes seems ridiculous when you could learn a real instrument and play the songs properly for yourself. On the other hand, there are people that are simply too cack-handed, cloth-eared or completely lacking the musical know-how to learn an instrument, and yet love video games and like listening to music. For them, these games are a Godsend.
So, where do I stand? Well, I got in on this before a lot of you... I got the first Guitar Hero game on the day it was released when I lived in America. And I loved it, but circumstances prevented me from really getting to play it as much as I would have liked.
Since moving back to England, I've bought most of the Guitar Hero games. I'm not proficient at them... I prefer to just break them out every now and then for a bit of fun. I don't play at a high difficulty level... just being able to play along with songs I like is good enough for me. And there's another side to this... there's a whole generation of kids that are being exposed to massive amounts of music that they simply wouldn't get to hear otherwise, and they're loving it. They're taking it a step further in many cases too, and learning real instruments and forming real bands, so that they can play this stuff properly... and maybe write some songs of their own.
So I don't see any downsides to these games. At worst, they're harmless fun. At best, they're educational and inspiring.
But Rock Band brought a whole new level of commitment, and not only in terms of time... at a hundred and fifty quid, there's a financial commitment too. It's one I refused to make... until recently.
When I was seventeen my dad, who has played guitar for nearly fifty years and is an ace player, offered to teach me how to play the guitar. At the time, I'd just started listening to a guitarist called Yngwie Malmsteen (the section from about 4:25 to 4:50 may help you to see what I mean), and I basically bottled it, figuring I'd never be able to play like that.
Over twenty years on, I'm still listening to Yngwie Malmsteen, and I haven't learned how to play the guitar. But Rock Band 2 has some Yngwie Malmsteen songs available to download, meaning I can finally partially fulfil my dream of playing his music (or at least playing along with it). And just as easily as that, Harmonix made the sale.