Old Grandma Hardcore

This blog is the chronicle of my experiences with Grandma, the video-game playing queen of her age-bracket and weight class. She will beat any PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc., console game put in front of her, just like she always has. These are her stories. She is absolutely real. She lives in Cleveland.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Cleveland Has A Reason To Rock Again: Grandma Has Guitar Hero

When I was able to go to Case Western Reserve University, my college ID allowed me free access to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, a funny looking pyramid on the shores of Lake Erie dedicated to the birth of Rock. In the lower level, one of the first things you see is a giant wall covered in quotes from those opposing the "grotesque" and "evil" music. Tipper Gore is down there, as is our good buddy Joe Lieberman, I believe. Its placement at the front of the museum provides a stark contrast to the beautiful tribute to the rock gods further along. One cannot help but notice the comparison to the battle video games have faced in the past decade.

As one walks through the sometimes loud and noxiously stimulating halls of the museum, one finds a room dedicated to the Ohio born stars. Devo went to Kent State back in the day; Marilyn Manson was from Canton, Trent Reznor is an Akron native, Dave Grohl was born out this way- and all escaped the clutches of the rustbelt. One unmentioned hero remains, however.


Many folks recommended Guitar Hero for Playstation 2 to Grandma, and she got to pick up one of the guitar hybrid controllers during her first trip to MTV studios. Some said it would be a great alternative to Dance Dance Revolution for someone who couldn't move their feet that quickly. Some said it had to be tried to be believed. Some said the guitar controller looked like something crafted by Fisher Price and the Devil. No one said it would be so god damn ADDICTING.

The game has somewhere around 40 playable songs, ranging from "I Love Rock and Roll" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts to "Bark at the Moon" by Ozzy Osborne, plus a whole pack of unlockable songs. The first songs we all learned how to play on guitar come first; replicating the practice process fairly well! Easy chord songs like The Ramone's "I Wanna Be Sedated" can be played as soon as you fire up the game. Add to that four difficulty levels per song and you get hours of intoxicating, musical goodness.

There are five fret buttons on the guitar controller. In easy mode, you only have to worry about three of them; in medium difficulty four; and in hard mode all five. In "Expert" mode, more grace notes are added, chord changes become more difficult, and you're going to look like a fool when you play it for the first time. The buttons are sometimes too wide for Grandma, so she has to move her hand even in Medium difficulty, rather than floating a finger above each button in anticipation. The buttons press easy, so you don't need to prepare for bleeding fingers like you did in High School. After playing for awhile, the plastic can get a little sweaty if one grips with their thumb too hard, so ease up a bit. Otherwise, if you're playing with a large group of people, SOMEBODY's getting herpes. And no one wants that. You might think it's silly sitting with a little toy guitar in your lap at first, but after five songs or so, you begin to groooooove. Don't fear it, baby- it's natural!

Instead of strings, you have a little ...clicky...thing that you can either strum with your thumb, or hold like a pick. It goes up and down, which facilitates turning the guitar for lefties and really fast solos. The plastic coating on the flipper is the the only real problem we've encountered with the controller. The sweat thing is no big deal, you just hold it differently. After two family wide "I BET I COULD KICK YOUR FUCKING ASS AT GUITAR HERO" tournaments and completing the game in Easy, Medium, and Hard modes, the plastic coating has come completely off the button. It doesn't affect gameplay so much as it just looks bad.

Grandma's favorite song to play is "Ziggy Stardust" by David Bowie. She's gone for hours with the guitar and a set of headphones trying to max out her score and achieve 100%. She liked the song SO much, the two of us went out and bought two things: David Bowie's Greatest Hits Collection, and the movie that truly represents growing up in the 80's: The Labyrinth. This is the same movie that broke through the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" campaign and convinced millions of children to make a mental note to go ahead and try marijuana when they're old enough with Jennifer Connelly's wide-eyed utterance of the phrase "Everything's dancing....."

Grandma puts it this way: "Look, you have George Lucas before he started worshiping George Lucas; David Bowie as... well, basically himself; Jennifer Connelly before she got stoned, went down on a guy and puked in the street in 'Requiem for a Dream'; Jim Henson was still alive and kicking ass; Frank Oz did some of the voices; and motherfucking TERRY JONES wrote the whole thing, so you know it's going to be awesome... they might as well say it's the best movie of all time."

My own personal obsession spawned by Guitar Hero is the Boston band "The Slip." One of their songs, "Even Rats" is an unlockable feature after you reach Medium mode. Put simply, they fucking rock. I invoke my band whoring skills and advise you to buy every album they've ever made from their website. [A side note, the first song you hear upon entering the site is "Even Rats."] The Slip is touring now, and they will be at The Grog Shop in Cleveland in March. You bet your ass Grandma and I will be at the concert.

This creates a problem. The Slip have a bit of a college following. Whenever they're in town, they encourage folks to print out and put up flyers, etc.,... MOST of the fans I've met are cool people, but they REALLY hate that The Slip's music has been "bastardized" and "attracted the wrong sort of fans by putting their music in some shitty fucking... VIDEO game." I'm an Indie rock elitist myself, when I saw Rilo Kiley on television for the first time hid in my room and feared the corporate powers would destroy them, stealing them away from Saddle Creek Records. I felt the same way when I watched a movie trailer for 28 Days Later, and to my horror I heard a "Godspeed You Black Emperor" tune, a band who SWORE their music would never find its way into a movie or an advertisement. Good music seems to be even better when it's your own little secret; enabling you to laugh and point at people rocking out to Hawthorn Heights.

Guitar Hero is a fantastic game, and it leaves a lot of room for expansion releases with more venues, characters, guitars, and most importantly SONGS for those of us who already own the guitar controller. Grandma wishes the guitar felt more substantial, but dig this: the game with the guitar costs $70 here in The States, at least that's what we shelled out for it. A PS2 costs what now, $150? So for $220 one can probably find a cheap, used six string electric and a small used amp. If it's something more substantial you want, go buy a real guitar. I haven't touched mine in a while, but tomorrow I'm going to buy some new strings and pull that little beauty out of dormancy. Guitar Hero might be fun, but it's a tease. I'm sure the creators would love to know that a generation of instrument-phobic gamers were inspired to try learning guitar by this game.

Rock on.

[Full disclosure: Red Octane, Harmonix Music Systems, Wave Group Sound and House of Moves, Inc. made Guitar Hero; it was published with an MTV Games label. Grandma is a games correspondent for MTV Overdrive's game show: THE G-HOLE. We paid for ours; this ain't no viral advertising, guys. So.... yeah.]


  • At 10:23 AM, Blogger Brinstar said…

    I think the "hardcore" fans of those bands can look at it another way: It's exposing a new generation of people to their music -- the sort of rock that influenced today's big names. And I'm sure that the bands don't mind the exposure either.

    I was a little disappointed at the lack of Aerosmith and Guns n Roses, but maybe that's what the sequel is for!

  • At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    dude grandmas cool and everythning but she shoulnt get a metion for everything

  • At 11:21 AM, Blogger Collin said…

    My son, daughter and girlfriend are all addicted to the game. There better be a worthy sequel.

    A month or so back I came across a link to a guy who modded his Guitar Hero controller to be wireless. Here's the link: http://forums.makezine.com/comments.php?DiscussionID=33 I would LOVE to see these in mass production.

    We were talking about how awesome it would be to have a game developed for one of the next gen systems that worked for three players and combined Guitar Hero with Taiko Drum Master and Karaoke Revolution. The singer would have the bottom of the screen, and drums could scroll horizontally to the left while guitar scrolled the same way to the right. Possibly allow the guitar and drum to swap sides to suit the players. That would allow three people to play together as a "band", or a single player could choose which part he wanted to play on a song-by-song basis. It would rock and/or roll.

  • At 12:16 PM, Blogger ivorynetsuke said…

    Collin - Holy cow, that would be awesome! I love Taiko Drum Master too =)

    I think I have to credit Guitar Hero for an unforeseen bonus. I've dealt with pain and numbness in my hands for years, so the first time I played GH, I thought I was going to die. But I pushed on, and as I gradually made my way through the songs and difficulty settings, my flexibility has increased, and the occurring pain and numbness has decreased. Enough so that I feel like getting my old mandolin out and attempting to learn to play it again. It's a miracle!

  • At 2:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I still don't get the love for this game. Even if it is quite fun, its still a pale imitation of the real thing. Why not just play a real guitar? It's certainly not that difficult; I bet that you could learn to play "I wanna be sedated" as good as the Ramones ever could in a week. Not only will you build a real skill, you'll look cooler while doing it. There aren't many things sadder than seeing a grown man rawk out with a Playskool reject of a guitar.

  • At 3:36 PM, Blogger avid x3ro said…

    Please Keep your silence!!

    MR. Anonymous at 2:41 PM....

    Grandma is a gamer, 99% of the visitors are gamers, WHY PLAY A real guitar, its not as easy as guitar hero, and does not reward you as quickly, its a game plain and simple, Also just so you know, Grown MEN are the majority of gamers. And this is a gaming blog.

  • At 4:06 PM, Blogger ivorynetsuke said…

    Gotta add another comment ...

    Anonymous (2:41 p.m.) said:
    "There aren't many things sadder than seeing a grown man rawk out with a Playskool reject of a guitar."

    I disagree. I think it shows he's not afraid to have a little fun.

    And, by the way, learning a guitar may not be difficult for you, but it is for quite a few people who either don't have the patience or simply just don't have the knack to play. Plugging in a toy guitar and being able to play some of the greatest songs *immediately* IS fun and IS satisfying.

    Besides, how else are you supposed to see the Grim Ripper "rawk out"? =)

    Have fun!


  • At 8:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I wanted a PS2 when it came out but couldn't do it at that time, most of my extra $$ were going into my PC, and not just for gaming. I have and still enjoy my old consoles, old handhelds, my XBox, my DS, and of course, my computer gaming, which I recently completely built a new rig for (and am loving). Since I've been happy with everything I have, and had friends in the PS2 and could use theirs (before I moved last year) I put the idea of a PS2 away.

    WELL.. this darn Guitar Hero is killing me! I've read nothing but rave reviews and so on. Tim's postings of how Grandma is lovin' it, and how his "clan" has fun with it. I read music and stil play it (never got anywhere with my guitar way back when) and this game, yes a GAME anonymous 2:41, sounds delightfully fun. So now I'm jonesing for a PS2 and this game :) Living in a small college town I'm thinking I can find one used, but still working OK. There's always someone who wants that extra $$ and is willing to give up their PS2, especially if they've roomate who has one, ;)

    Time to put a notice out on the college's mailing list... :)

    Game on!

  • At 11:26 AM, Blogger Orenigma said…

    I just wanted to say that I've been following this blog for quite a while and I love it. Also, as a Guitar Hero addict of some time now, I'm thrilled that Grandma got a hold of a copy. I'm a partially blind gamer, so obviously, my trials with the game have been somewhat... hmm... frustrating shall we say? I'm just cracking the hard difficulty stuff and having a blast.

    Tim, I also understand what you're saying about the coating. It's come off of mine as well. Really wish they'd have tried something different. Oh... and you didn't mention the whammie bar?! You are bblasphemous! Where would we be without the whammy?

    Anyway, yeah, GH totally rocks and I'd definitely say that it's far more than just a humiliation. There's no way in hell I'm touching a real guitar. I'll stick to my escapism in GH if I wanna be a rock star.

    Side note: Never play GH with a friend that plays guitar for real and plays well. He has eaten me alive on my scoreboards on my memory card... over 150,000 on Bark At The Moon on medium. I can't even crack last place.... what's worse... he's gone on to do the same on several other songs... he's just picking them off one by one.

  • At 5:08 PM, Blogger Luis said…

    My girlfriend and I have been playing GH for a few weeks now, and we love it! I'm currently stuck on the last tier of songs on Hard, and I just can't seem to beat any of them! What I'm finding super-hard is doing the up-and-down-strumming, that you really need to play Cowboys From Hell and Bark at the Moon. I'm playing the notes, but I guess they're slightly off-tempo and just aren't registering... I have no intention of even trying to play those songs on Expert, though. Finishing Hard mode will be plenty satisfying if I can pull it off, :-).

  • At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The Slip made it into a Guitar video game. That's cool.

  • At 10:10 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    omg, the labyrinth is my favorite movie of all time!!! i love it! woohoo. :)

  • At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I feel that someone should create a guitar hero tournament here in cleveland. I think that would be fun. What would be even better is that they host it at the rock & roll hall of fame. Like a mini gaming site for rock and roll gamers around the world.

  • At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    hey just a heads up, bw3 in avon lake has mini guitar hero tournaments for 21+ on wednesdays

  • At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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