Guitar Hero = Arts Education Hero…?

One of the coolest things at the Americans for the Arts Convention last weekend was the Guitar Hero/Wii set up. Yes, I am a video game geek as you know, and when I discovered in the “After Words Lounge” that there was not only a Wii set up, but a Wii set up with a data projector and big screen, I just about plotzed. Audibly.

My friend Graham and I played a few rounds of Dance Dance Revolution, but I suck at it, even though I have the game. It’s really difficult. Then we broke out the Guitar Hero and I schooled him and schooled him until he gave up and went to bed.

A bit later, I realized I was the last person in the room. And it was 2 a.m.

The following day, between some slow sessions, I wandered around the conference’s main networking area, where they had a little bookstore, some internet kiosks, and (?) a man cutting mirrors into small pieces that he then strung up and dangled on a wire.

In between his table and the bookstore was…Guitar Hero! Just on a regular screen, but, you know, whatever. Guitar Hero. !!!

I put my bags down and played for a while. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m not bad. I can rock out to Hard on most songs, and I almost never fail out of songs (except for Steely Dan–lame!).

A few people wandered over while I played and tried to talk to me, but when I play Guitar Hero, I go into full on Rain Man mode and can’t participate in the outside world.

That is, until a middle-aged woman approached me.

“Does this even help you play the guitar?” she asked?

I tapped away on the buttons, my fingers little blurs on the fretboard. “Well, no,” I said.

“I didn’t think so,” she said. “My daughter plays the guitar and she’s been asking for this, but I don’t see the point.”

“Well, I couldn’t walk over and be able to play it after playing Guitar Hero,” I said, circling my point like a shark ready to feed, “but it does teach you some skills that are important to playing guitar.”

“Like what?”

“Like visual rhythm comprehension,” I said, tapping out a riff for emphasis. “I have to take the notes on the screen and, based on the time signature of the song, play them at the right time, on the right rhythm.”

She was quiet.

“Plus there’s the whole sight-reading thing,” I went on.

“Sight reading?”

“Yeah, like, I’ve never played this song before, so I’m basically figuring it out as I go, which is all sight reading. That’s a skill I learned in band class. My teacher would put music in front of me and I’d have to figure out the notes and the rhythm on the first try.”

“Oh.” She wandered away.

But I think I made my point, especially to myself. I’d never considered that Guitar Hero could be a form of music education, and while, yeah, you can’t play an actual guitar without some help, the last time I checked, playing race car video games didn’t teach you how to drive. (Right, mom?) But they can train your reflexes and coordination, which makes you a better driver even if it doesn’t make you a driver in the first place.

I think people would more readily see a connection between dance education and Dance Dance Revolution. In that case, you have to time your steps to the floating arrows on the screen–basically the same concept, different controller–and, if you’re good, you can make it look like you’re actually dancing.

If you’re me, you can make it look like you’re actually seizing.

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