Fellow Annenberg student Deb, who studies sound and culture, sent me the following email about Guitar Hero yesterday:
Thought about you today while reading a (very) Foucaultian analysis of Western classical music practices (Western ensembles = auditory panopticons arranged around the conductor/guard tower). As everyone-and-his-congressman knows, video games lead directly to murder and mayhem, but musical training has always been touted as an influence in the other direction. Music (the antithesis of noise) orders sound, and musical training orders behavior and shapes character (or so we are told) in everyone from school children to prison inmates. I wonder if the civilizing musical aspects of Guitar Hero cancel out the violent video game aspectsâ€”if “sweetness and light” cancels out “kill, kill, kill”…
That sounded like a splendid idea to me, but then I started thinking about what actually happens onscreen in Guitar Hero games…
- Guitar Hero is all about rock ‘n’ roll, which (along with comics) was the video game’s evil media predecessor.
- You can play as the Grim Reaper, and characters often smash guitars and make threatening postures.
- Even if a video game were to be made that was about “good” music, like Cello Hero (or something), it would be blamed for distracting kids from playing cello for real.
I think this last point is key. The only games that seem to be exempt from fear and criticism are those that certain well-meaning adults think are fooling kids into doing things they otherwise wouldn’t do, such as exercising (Dance Dance Revolution) or traditional, memorization-based learning (Number Munchers). Beyond such examples, however, games can’t win in the eyes of critics: either they depict something you’re forbidden to do in real life and are blamed for encouraging these things (e.g., shooting games), or they depict something you are encouraged to do in real life and are blamed for replacing these things (e.g., sports games).
Deb replies to my comments:
And classical musical training is all about disciplining the ear, whereas pitch is pretty much irrelevant in Guitar Hero. Rhythm is relevant, though. And I think you’re absolutely right about Cello Hero. (But wouldn’t Bassoon Hero be the best…)
Couldn’t agree more. (Are you listening, Red Octane?)