Today, I’d like to talk about a serious addiction of mine which I call: plastic button mashing.
Had to look this up, since I’ve played this game so many damn times, but it was back in late 2005 when I decided to pick up a little game called Guitar Hero. I was the first of my friends to acquire this weird creation; so foreign yet intriguing to me. This little plastic toy with colored buttons, a strum bar, a wammy bar, and mini guitar strap; it just looked…..cool. I had never played guitar and I doubted that this thing would teach me how to play, but it seemed like it could be fun. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Since I only had experience with major mainstream games, learning to use my left hand for buttons while strumming with my right hand was VERY different. I started off slow, yes on easy, with: green/red/yellow. I also kept it simple and learned the virtual/fake versions of “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple, “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones, “Thunder Kiss ‘65” by White Zombie, and even “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. I just went at it, day after day after day. I was hooked on these flashing colors, mashing those buttons, and strumming like crazy. Sure, I knew it wasn’t real, but hell if this was the closest I would get to playing guitar I didn’t care. It was just fucking fun.
While playing these intro songs, I slowly graduated to normal mode (green/red/yellow/blue), using all 4 fingers. This added another dimension of difficultly. More notes, hammer-ons and pulls offs (that’s when you tap without strumming), and just faster……..BUT I loved it even more. I added other songs to my guitar hero catalog: “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath, “More Than a Feeling” by Boston, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin” by Judas Priest. What added to all this fun was that I was learning songs (although fake) that I either kinda knew or had never heard before and I became more exposed to an amazing selection of music. As I got better and better at the game, I added more songs to what I could do: “Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top, “Stellar” by Incubus……..and it was somewhere in here that I cranked the difficulty again. After hours and hours of play, I graduated again to hard (green/red/yellow/blue/orange); stretching that fourth finger was a BITCH. It required timing and precision, and mixing the strumming/hammer-ons/pull-offs/speed was intense at first. Yet, I kept at it.
While doing all of this, my friends/family were getting involved too. They saw how much time I was sinking into this fucker, and of course they could always hear the incredibly loud music blaring from my basement (YES, I LOVE IT LOUD!!!). Eventually it turned into this party game. Everyone wanted a piece of guitar hero and its colorful/musical goodness. Some jumped right in and owned that fucker, and others…..well we had some good laughs. While playing with them and own my own, I made that last big step and graduated to expert: green/red/yellow/blue/orange (with the new addition of a shit-ton of notes, multiple notes together such as green/red/yellow or green/red/blue, and crazy solos). THIS WAS IT FOR ME.
Once I hit that last level, I hit as many songs as I could: “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead, “No One Knows” by Queens of the Stone Age, “Symphony of Destruction” by Megadeth, “Ziggy Stardust” by David Bowie, “Crossroads” by Cream; I WAS HEAD OVER HEELS IN LOVE. Not just for being able to fake rockin the fuck out, but for all this music exposure. Good music. Songs or artists I wasn’t very familiar with and it just opened up another world for me. Even when I wasn’t playing, I was checking out new albums/CDs by these bands as I just loved the music they did. Near the end of this first guitar hero game, after months of plastic button mashing, I even attempted the other HARD AS SHIT songs: “Bark at the Moon” by Ozzy Osbourne, “Cowboys from Hell” by Pantera, “Frankenstein” by The Edgar Winter Group, and “Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult. Blistering solos, sooooo many notes, just an insane frenzy in some of those songs (see the solo in cowboys from hell, Dimebag Darrell was a BEAST). I was just……just overwhelmed/ecstatic/overjoyed with this game. Every party that it was at, every college event, every holiday: if that game was there, I was on it. I just couldn’t help myself. I was addicted to plastic button mashing.
Enter the sequels. This would probably be a 10 page article if I went through it all so I’m going to try and cover all the one’s that I hit: Guitar Hero II, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, Guitar Hero: Metallica, Rock Band (which I’ll come back to in a second), Rock Band II, Rock Band III, Beatles: Rock Band. Each game offered improved functionality, more original song selection (note: the original guitar hero was all covers), more instruments to play (see rock band), and more of a challenge. I couldn’t help myself. When one game came out, I just had to pick it up. The more difficult notes, solos, challenging songs; it was just feeding my plastic button mashing addiction.
It was somewhere in between rock band 1 and 2, that something else clicked. After months and months and MONTHS of playing, I wanted more. While playing rock band, rock band 2 i think, there was a phrase that came up on the loading screen between songs: “you know, you should consider picking up a real guitar. They aren’t that expensive”. I thought, “Huh. Maybe I should.” Average starting guitars were about 100-200 bucks, but at that time I was still hesitant. Playing the real thing is not the same as a game, and I knew that. That Christmas, thank you Santa, I got my very first guitar. Santa got the gifts mixed up and got me the electric and my little brother the acoustic, but I was just happy to have something so cool and new that I had never even tried before. My bro and I did a temporary trade off and I took his acoustic and he borrowed my electric, and I went down a new road.
I had very little instruction (took classes for maybe a month), and everything else after that was self-taught. I spent a whole new chunk of time learning everything I could about the instrument. Notes, scales, chords, tunings; it re-lit the fire inside of me all over again. I can still remember the very first song I learned even though it was VERY simple, but it was special to me because I ACTUALLY DID IT. Not a game, not plastic buttons; six strings and me. Loved it.
I’ve been playing for about 6 years now. Nothing professional, just for fun, but I STILL love it. This magical game of guitar hero opened up a brand new world to me I never really knew before. I still play both too. With my plastic button mashing skills I can just lose myself in that colorful world. Sitting down with my acoustic though; that’s where the true enjoyment comes from in playing the real thing and learning something challenging and real. I even picked up the recent Rocksmith games (the 2014 edition is DEFINITELY where it’s at) as they’re a great way to incorporate gaming and teaching into one. I highly recommend it to anyone willing to sit down and learn the real thing. Just remember: practice, practice, practice.
Be sure to check out some other articles I wrote on Why Do We Play!