Anyone who’s had a go at face-melting in Guitar Hero, or banged the drum to the tracks in Rock Band, could be forgiven for thinking that the musical instrument market was facing a little competition. A drum kit, for example, costs a couple of hundred pounds as a starter set and makes more noise than an articulated lorry. An electric guitar, while slightly less expensive for a starter model, still isn’t cheap when you factor in all the leads and the practice amp and case: and, again, it makes an astonishing amount of noise. A video game, on the other hand, makes the player feel like he or she is playing the guitar or the drums, can be turned down to stop screaming parents, and puts the player right at the heart of some of the hardest rocking songs of all time.
Well, yes, sort of. But then skateboarding games never stopped skaters from smashing themselves up for real, and football games still don’t stop gangs of kids making goalposts out of jumpers and ruining their school uniforms. The idea that the video game takes away the desire to play actual instruments seems pretty flimsy. If anything, you’d expect it to make kids who thought they might want to play, more likely to actually go out and do it.
The Real Thing
There’s a difference between belting the heck out of a drum kit, or slaying the opening to Therapy’s Knives with a real guitar, and pressing some buttons on a plastic replica. Your ears don’t hurt. Your legs don’t get weak from pounding the pedals. Your fingers don’t bleed.
Believe it or not, all of that’s part of the action. When someone talks about Fender electric guitars, they’re talking about an intensely physical experience between the musician and the instrument. Rock music in particular, certainly for the generation likely to be playing music video games, is all about the intersection between all that raw power and the audience. That intersection, of course, is the guitarist (or the drummer or the singer or keyboard player) – riding the wave and blowing the crowd away.
Real Car vs Toy Car?
You see, the difference between playing actual Fender electric guitars – whether you torture them to the point of breaking or play Shadows riffs in a covers band – and playing a plastic replica is a bit like the difference between driving a Ford Mustang and getting behind the wheel of a pedal car. Well, alright, so it’s like the difference between playing Grand Theft Auto and driving a Mustang, but the point (like the song) remains the same. You play computer games about driving cars because what you really want to do is drive cars – not the other way around.
The thing about a Fender, or a Mustang, is that they’re as beautiful to own, and to hold, as they are to use. They’re genuine design classics. Their look, and their sound, have gone down in the history of popular culture. So much so, in fact, that both have a long history of being used in advertising – for everything from chewing gum to beer. Whenever the manufacturer of a product wants to make its target audience associate something with everything that was cool and stylish about the American Dream, it’s the fast car and the smooth guitar that gets the screen time.
You’re not likely to find a kid sitting up nights just to look at her or his little plastic Guitar Hero guitar. But you will find every boy or girl sleeping with his or her first electric guitar propped up where he or she can see it as soon as he or she opens his or her eyes.