Dim the lights. Queue the sound. I'm about to take the stage…
The applause is deafening. After a few quick instructions from my technical advisors, Matthew, age 6, and Andrew (age 9), my warm up act, who has just ripped a perfect version of Hendrix's Purple Haze, I head into into a gritty rendition of Living on a Prayer by Bon Jovi. My latent career as a rock star (sort of) is launched. As I wind up my first live performance, I get a "You Rock!" from the screaming video audience. Ok, my grand nephews gave me an easy one. But imagine if I had got "You Suck" in front of the whole family!
For those of you who live in a cave, Guitar Hero, is the latest video game phenomenon to hit the tender brains of our aged challenged members of society. Using a fake plastic guitar, budding young rock stars follow on-screen prompts to keep in sync with some of the most famous guitar songs of the past 40 years. The more closely you can match the prompts, the more points you score. In their ineffable fashion, the creators of the satirical TV comic strip South Park produced their own version, "Guitar Queer-O", in which Stan and Kyle get so good they are signed up by a an agent to hit the big time (one million points). When Stan's dad offers to show them how to play the guitar for real, they quickly put him down. "Guitars are for old people," they snap.
In their search for incandescent stardom, Stan and Kyle quickly hit the skids, going through the typical rock and roll odyssey of celebrity, abuse, betrayal, and decline. Stan resorts to "Heroin Hero" to manage the stress and skirts with "Rehab Hero". Kyle ends up doing stints at the local bowling alley in return for free Frescas. When they finally put the band back together and break a million points the rewards are not what they expected and they quit the game for good.
In between their mischievous fun-poking, the guys at South Park may have a point. There is something distinctly creepy about Guitar Hero with its insect-like graphics, screaming Orc audiences, and Goth-clad musicians who all seem on the edge of an overdose. "Do we really want our kids emulating rock stars with questionable lifestyles," I ask my sister-in-law Susan (grandmother to Andrew and Matthew). "Well," she replies brightly, " it teaches them good hand-eyed co-ordination which they will need even if they want to become surgeons." True, I think, but I can't avoid this image of my pancreas being whipped out by some young kid trained on "Surgeon Hero" who scores 100,000 points for successfully snipping out my internal organs in record time.
My songwriter friend, Carol, thinks "if they spent the same amount of time learning to play a real instrument as they did on Guitar Hero, it would be more useful." Apparently former Stones bassist Bill Wyman and Pink Floyd's Nick Mason agree. But then they are, like, "old guys", so they don't count even if they are the actual rock icons the game is based on.
If the saints and mystics are to be believed, the whole of life is a dream which we progress through and eventually have to transcend in order to understand the unbounded reality. I can't help but wonder if adding another layer of illusion to the game of life makes it that much harder to discover this universal truth and reach enlightenment. And there is the unquestionable dork factor to consider as well. Anyone who has seen the latest Wii commercials on TV where people flap about with a plastic wands in front of their flat screens while simulating rowing a canoe across a badly drawn lake can't fail to agree. I mean, if we are going to live the illusion, doesn't God do much better graphics? Shouldn't we also get the birds sounds, the lazy lapping water and the sweet summer breeze, quite apart from some healthy exercise, included in our virtual reality?