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Opinion: Guitar Hero’s True Legacy

Growing up in small-town Alabama, country music regularly came blaring out of jacked-up pick-up trucks in the high school parking lot. Music that wasn’t “current” or “mainstream” didn’t get much air time.

This was fine by me. In junior high and the early years of high school when many teens were rebelling against their parents and defining themselves by the music they listened to, I couldn’t care less. I didn’t relate to country. I didn’t care about pop music. I was happy not caring about music one way or the other. I played games. That was enough.

In 2005, the first game in what would become a mega-franchise released – Guitar Hero. Being a non-music person I wasn’t too interested. But boy, my friends sure were. I can remember countless gatherings where we would all huddle around the TV screen to play Guitar Hero 2. My friends would challenge one another in virtual shred-offs while I would sit and watch. Unsurprisingly, I’m pretty darn awful at Guitar Hero, in my mind further cementing the fact that music just wasn’t for me.

As I continued to watch my friends hammer away at the necks of plastic guitars through Guitar Hero, Guitar Hero 2, Rock Band, and Guitar Hero 3, something happened. Sitting on the couch through it all, I found myself wishing for them to pick “that” song. Or “that” one. No, not that one, that song sucks. Pick “that” one!

That’s when the realization hit me. I actually did care about music, one genre in particular – metal. Metal of course is a very broad category, but songs like “Freya” by The Sword or “The Trooper” by Iron Maiden were unlike anything I had ever heard before. Songs like “One” from Metallica and bands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath.  They sang about the great unknown, mythical battles, war, fear, and loss. There was a level of skill and feeling of raw emotion on display in those songs that I never found in in the music that regularly played on the radio. 

That all started when I was around 15-years-old. After discovering a number of bands thanks to Guitar Hero, I dove headfirst into the bowels of the Internet to learn everything about this genre that I’d somehow missed. Now I’m 23 and a certified metal head. I’ve seen Iron Maiden in concert, and my truck is overflowing with old-school metal CDs, but since then my musical tastes have also expanded to include an even wider variety of music.

Less than a decade after Guitar Hero and Rock Band helped me find me find my music, the music game genre is for all intents and purposes dead. Plastic guitars and fake drum sets are gathering dust in closets across America. It’s sad, but that’s what happens when the market becomes flooded. Supply eventually overcomes demand.

Still, for the relatively short time Guitar Hero was around it had a much larger impact than I think many people realize. I know I’m not alone in my experience. Kids who are now adults grew up playing these games at a time in their life when their musical tastes were still being defined. Guitar Hero and Rock Band opened the door on a whole new world of music, exposing kids like me to new bands and songs that they might not have ever learned about otherwise, and in turn creating a new generation of fans for sometimes decades-old bands.

We are the legacy of the music game genre, the rock and roll fans games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band helped create. It’s a legacy that will endure far longer than any of those plastic guitars ever will.

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