Guitar Hero: Games and Fantasies

Since we have a new visual design, that will no longer burn holes in our retinas, let us celebrate with a quick post about Guitar Hero by Harmonix.

Instant rocking avalible here.

Guitar Hero is a rythm game, which became quite popular recently. Much has already been written about it. People point out the extraordinary controller, the unique visual style and the refined gameplay. I agree, the game is of fabulous quality. However, there were other games before Guitar Hero, which were equally well made. What is different now?

Let us look back at the other games. Six years ago, there was Samba De Amigo, which was quite similar but with maracas instead of a guitar. In 2004, Nintendo released Donkey Konga with a konga drum controller. Of course, in Japanese game culture, there is an even greater variaty of music controller games. The Japanese Bemani Series features a long list of titles, each dealing with a different instrument. There are even keyboards and guitars. Recently, Taiko no Tatsujin (also know as Taiko Drum Master) has become popular in japan, which also features a kind of a drum as a controller. You could go even further and count games like the legendary Dance Dance Revolution Series or the new and exciting Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan (soon to be released as Elite Beat Agents) although these games do not simulate any particular music instrument.

I was always quite reluctant towards that kind of games, since I never quite understood why should I waste time on them. In fact, if you compare them to Guitar Hero, you start recognizing an important conceptual weakness in them. All those games are just about playing some random instrument. They almost completly ignore the cultural values people associate with those instruments. When you end up playing “Get Busy Child” by Crystal Method on a konga drum, you know somebody misunderstood something.

Guitar Hero not only offers a believable simulation of what it feels like to play an instrument. It simulates a complete fantasy. It allows the user to play out a very well known and desirable role. Guitar Hero is not only about playing a guitar, it is also about being a rock star. Hence, if somebody is familiar with and interested in the myth of a rock star, it is especially easy to evoke Lusory Attitude towards Guitar Hero. Donkey Konga and Samba De Amigo both deal with instruments which are not part of a strong fantasy.

“One day, it will be mine. Oh yes, one day…”

Tycho from Penny Arcade put it quite nicely:

“Young men do not indulge themselves in conga fantasies, at least, not without shame – they do not press themselves against the glass and yearn for the bongos within.”

The whole secret is to see the big picture. If you want somebody to play your game, make the activity of playing your game desirable. Adress the users’ fantasies. But beware of the downside: Your game will only be sucessful among people, who share the fantasy. I like Guitar Hero but my dad never will. We both might enjoy sudoku or tetris because they don’t adress any fantasies, though.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

One response to “Guitar Hero: Games and Fantasies”

  1. Krystian Majewski

    I woul like something about the Guitar Hero controller here, because it doesn’t really have anthing to to with the post and isn’t so important to write another post about it.

    Although the controller is really nice and well-made, an big flaw destroys a lot of fun: it makes sounds. When you press the main switch, it makes a clicking sound. When two people play a fast song, the clicking gets louder then the song. It is really annoing.

    I know that it would be very difficult to produce a controller which doesn’t do any sounds. Hoever, I just wanted to mention that.

    Also, I think it would enhance the expierience if the music would come from the controller and not from the TV. I know that in a regular electric guitar, the sound comes from an amplifyer, so Guitar Hero is accurate here. Still, in a real guitar, the vibrations give you a kind of feedback that Guitar Hero does not provide. A built-in speaker just like in the Wii controller could turn the Guitar Hero controller into something more than just a piece of plastic you constantly click on.

    Hmm, wait a minute.. what if I unscrew that screw


Game Design Reviews is a Blog used by a group of game designers from Germany to publish and discuss their thoughts on various games. The blog consists entirely of reviews of games. Each review focuses on the important game design ideas and concepts of that particular game. We also run a second, more informal Blog called Game Design Scrapbook.


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