Best Buy Bodhisattva
December 19, 2007 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Best Buy Bodhisattva.

From the story:
3, 4, 5 minutes into the song. Kyle slips deeper into what is clearly a state of Samadhi; He no longer perceives a space between himself and the game. There is no him. There is no song. There is no guitar.

At 6 minutes in, a small crowd has formed, perhaps 15 of us. His sravaka - his disciples - look nervously at us, absorbing the distractions, protecting him a bubble of calm. There is complete silence. Even my son is staring slackjawed, like he does in church during communion, not understanding the content of the ritual but understanding the tone and sacredness of the space.

At just over 6 minutes, the song becomes even more ludicrous. While actually playing it will ever remain for me an uncrossable gap, I am enough a student of the form to recognize the crux. He is Lance Armstrong approaching the bottom of Alpe D'Huez: Will he attack? Kyle has yet to use the Star Power crutch he has carried throughout his meditation.
via Kottke.
posted by chunking express (74 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been there.
posted by jeffamaphone at 2:33 PM on December 19, 2007


A bit of a shame really. This is the one remaining fragment of the arcade experience left to modern American society. To see an unknown, unassuming person walk to the controls, and proceed to express their mastery of them. An awesome DDR playthru, someone holding their own through every man at SFII, a perfect play through of Metal Slug, those are lost to the ages.
posted by zabuni at 2:42 PM on December 19, 2007 [6 favorites]


Great read. I can definitely relate to the experience, though not with guitar hero.

At about 13 or so I was very into street fighter 2 on my SNES and I played it almost exclusively. I distinctly remember cranking it up to the second highest difficulty and starting a new game after already playing a pretty decent session.

A couple of fights in, my mind wandered. I was thinking about school, girls, what I smelled for dinner, and whatever other things a 13 year old boy thinks about.

When I snapped back into reality, my blanka was standing over the fallen body of Bison, screaming in triumph with the word PERFECT displayed across the screen. It was a very strange experience and probably the first that made me realize that there's more to these games (and my own mind) that I had previously though.


Also, Through the fire and flames can go to hell. It is a bastard. A friend pointed out that it is basically a happy hardcore song... all you need is to add a little hoover and some synth. Maybe a few whistles.
posted by utsutsu at 2:45 PM on December 19, 2007 [5 favorites]


Bodhisattva: A being destined for Enlightenment, who postpones final attainment of Buddhahood in order to help living living beings
posted by blue_beetle at 2:48 PM on December 19, 2007


related
posted by blue_beetle at 2:50 PM on December 19, 2007


While playing Team Fortress Classic match once, I was having a particularly bad game. This was a capture-the-flag map called "2mesa3," and I dropped the flag (irretrievably) into the giant pit in the middle of the map. My teammates were rightfully displeased and gave me the gift of this knowledge over TeamSpeak. They were quite eloquent.

I became incensed.

I took off my headset and, tossing it aside, began to play with neither communication nor sound: I couldn't hear my teammates, my enemies, or the timer-clicks of my own grenades. For the next four minutes, I would be effectively disconnected from half the sensory experience of the game.

I was untouchable.

When my opponents' rockets hit me, they propelled me forward; when my concussion grenades went off, my jumps were perfect; when I shot an enemy, he inevitably died. I brought a flag to the front of the base, tossed to a teammate to be captured, and turned and went back inside.

For four minutes, I didn't die. For four minutes, I brought out one flag after another, and we ended up winning the match by a narrow margin.

It remains (and probably will remain) the most satisfying moment of gamer-Zen that I have ever experienced, closely followed by the time I successfully read out and executed a complicated fight quite a few stones above my level in a Go tournament.
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:50 PM on December 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


No need to resort to pop mysticism - this is called flow.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:53 PM on December 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


Websense is blocking the article at work, but I'm hard-pressed to believe that someone's ability to play a video game has anything to do with taking a vow to save all sentient beings. Someone want to explain wtf this has to do with buddhism?
posted by desjardins at 2:57 PM on December 19, 2007


I used to get there with Tempest 2000 on the Atari Jaguar.

I had people watching me play and flat out telling me that what I was doing was impossible. After 100 levels in or so, it moves so fast and so many particles are flying around the screen that you can't possibly make decisions consciously and keep up with what's happening on the screen. By the time you've thought about it, the situation on the screen has already changed too much. I was in a total zone, beyond thought. The techno soundtrack helped, also.
posted by empath at 2:58 PM on December 19, 2007


desjardins: Someone want to explain wtf this has to do with buddhism?

Perhaps by showing us "mere mortals" that enlightenment (in the video game sense) can be achieved, he's saving us all.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:01 PM on December 19, 2007


Yes, definitely this is flow--this is a good starter book on some of the ideas (though Csikszentmihalyi has written fairly accessibly about it as well).

Great story, though I can't help but think: if Kyle spent some of that time, energy, focus, and talent learning to play an actual guitar, he'd have developed skills that are also modes of expression and communication, and much less finitely fun than one game. But maybe that's just the old fogey in me.
posted by LooseFilter at 3:04 PM on December 19, 2007


I agree with Zabuni - this article makes me miss the old arcade days. I knew some good SFII players in college - we used to go into the Arcade in Chinatown (Manhattan) to play SFII there. It was always impressive to see some of those people play. My personal favorite from those days was Samurai Showdown - if you were good at that game you looked elegant playing it.
posted by pombe at 3:05 PM on December 19, 2007


Let me be clear about this: for those who haven't read the article linked, or missed the link I'm about to share, or who simply don't know the song and haven't seen it on guitar hero iii:

Here is the song he's talking about.

Here is someone playing it on expert.

If you just want to see the screen.

This song is like masochism on expert. It's insane. But here's the thing. I work for a company that runs pro video game tournaments (mostly Halo with a couple other games thrown in) in various arenas across the country. One of our sponsors this latest season busted out guitar hero iii, weeks before it came out- not so much as a demo had hit the public- in their publicity lounge and some of the pros were playing it. Now, pro gamers are generally good at games in general. They get games in a way that a lot of people don't, and they have the focus and dexterity to do things that a lot of people can't. They may only be truly professional at one given game, but their skill applies to a higher level of play than your average joe on a wide variety of games and game genres. Of course, not all Halo pros are good at guitar hero or even like it. But some of them are very very good. So here's what happened when our sponsor busted out guitar hero iii, a game no one had even seen in person before much less played.

One of the pros sat down and beat Through the Fire and the Flames on Expert the first time he sat down to it.

I watched it happen and I lost my shit. I don't game professionally but I love games of all types and I play guitar hero religiously. If my 360 weren't broken right now I wouldn't be typing this. My point is this: There are kids who grow up nowadays seeing video games differently than you or I do. We see a fake guitar and we try to play guitar on the fake guitar. We see a guy running around on the screen and we try to make him jump and shoot and move. These kids don't see that. They see buttons being asked for. They don't see narrative, they see game mechanics. They have a feeling for games that breaks all the way down into the primitive. They're not Master Chief shooting another Master Chief, they're a series of button combinations and thumbstick movements. Where you or I have a process in our minds that says "I want My character to move forward while jumping and point at that other character and shoot at him so therefore I will push forward on the left thumbstick, then A and rotate the right thumbstick until I see him in my sights then I will pull the right trigger," these kids don't have that filter. They just think "situation = left thumbstick forward, A, right thumbstick [x] way around, right Trigger." the game asks for buttons, they press them.

Not all of them think this way, and not all the ones that do necessarily play Halo well, specifically. But to some extent all truly excellent gamers don't see the narrative, they think in terms of the dynamics of the environment and the buttons to exploit them more than anything else.

So for those kids who really do see the game the way I described, something like guitar hero is the easiest thing in the world. A screen that just says "push this button NOW" is like if you're in school and your homework shows you a math problem like 2+2=? and then says "Put 4 in place of the question mark." They're not even being asked to figure anything out or think about what they're doing. They're literally being walked through button combinations that aren't more complex than the ones they already do all the time. It's just that the narrative of playing a guitar for an audience or WHATEVER you and I associate with playing guitar hero doesn't exist for them. It's not there. And for a lot of them it's not even fun. That kid I mentioned just handed the guitar to someone else and walked away like it was nothing.

I don't know if that's the story of this kid in the article. I do know that it blows my mind every time I'm faced with it, even though I'm sometimes faced with it daily. But I'm inclined to think that what this guy saw as a sort of buddhist trance translates pretty well into what these kids do every day. They just become the game. They're not the story, they're the machine. It does what they want because they think with its brain. It might as well be an extension of their consciousness. If there's a generation that's going to take to the singularity like fish to water, it's theirs.
posted by shmegegge at 3:25 PM on December 19, 2007 [61 favorites]


Excellent post (and response- shmegegge). I just became a Metafilter member so I could comment on this and give my kudos. Kudos.
posted by dogbusonline at 3:51 PM on December 19, 2007


Someone want to explain wtf this has to do with buddhism?

His attachment to showing off to crowds is the only thing holding him back from achieving enlightenment and nirvana.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:10 PM on December 19, 2007


Buddha, bizarrely, was kind of down on game-playing. I wrote a blog post on the subject of that and attaining the Zen-space in games a while back: the interested can find it here.
posted by Hogshead at 4:26 PM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


if Kyle spent some of that time, energy, focus, and talent learning to play an actual guitar, he'd have developed skills that are also modes of expression and communication, and much less finitely fun than one game. But maybe that's just the old fogey in me.

Have you seen the South park Guitar Hero episode? "Real guitars are for old people"
posted by kersplunk at 4:40 PM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


They don't see narrative, they see game mechanics.

I think that's the case for all 'gamers' that play to win. Eventually, you have to see past the metaphors to the math underneath it.

When I was playing Magic: the Gathering at a high level, it was the same thing. New players play the game and they think about monsters and orcs and casting spells and just generally telling stories with the cards. Advanced players think about probabilities, resources, time and card advantage, etc.
posted by empath at 5:02 PM on December 19, 2007


I was the object of one of these crowds back in 80's, playing Pac Man in a skating rink. Maybe 30-40 people around me. Those moments of zen/flow/whatever are amazing and I didn't even notice the crowd until the game had ended.

I was part of the crowd on many occasions and those were just about as fun.
posted by aerotive at 5:14 PM on December 19, 2007


You mean you have to use your hands? That's like a baby's toy!
posted by RokkitNite at 5:38 PM on December 19, 2007


Similar experience here, playing Tetris back in 1992. One game, in the flow, far outpaced all my other games before or since. You get in that zone where you "cease discursive thought" and it's very trance-like.

Also, awesome comment, shmegegge.
posted by darkstar at 5:49 PM on December 19, 2007


My closest approach to becoming "one" with a game happened in, I think (some of these years are a bit blurry, due to one reason or another, the majority of those being psychoactive substance related), 1982. I deposited my quarter in a Defender game at a Stinker Station in Gayway Junction, ID, and proceeded to play it for the next six hours. I had almost no sense of the passage of time or of the audience that surrounded me. Sometime during this period someone phoned the local newspaper and an actual reporter was sent to cover this "breaking story." I still have the clipping to this day, complete with my picture, which appeared on page three of the Argus Observer.

And thus ended my "five minutes of fame." :)
posted by Falling_Saint at 5:53 PM on December 19, 2007 [6 favorites]


shmegegge: all your links are to the same video.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 6:00 PM on December 19, 2007


I've had those days playing Counter-Strike.

I was playing dust2, only CT left, bomb had been planted, coming up long A towards the site.

I spot the only T left in a corner by the bomb site... take out an HE grenade, without breaking a stride throw a strike and nail him with it from distance, taking him out.

After I respawned and could hear/see people's messages, someone said something about Payton Manning.

It didn't happen too often, but it sure was fun.
posted by starman at 6:07 PM on December 19, 2007


Time Crisis 2 arcade. Start to Finish. Never was hit once. I didn't even realize it until the game was finished. If I had thought about it, it probably wouldn't have happened.

It's being "In the zone". It's like meditation, only with more gunfire.
posted by Durhey at 6:10 PM on December 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


Regularly beating Strider on one life. Staying alive in Spy Hunter long enough for the Peter Gunn music to go totally bananas. Hitting warp factor after warp factor on Star Trek:TNG pinball. Best arcade moments of my life.
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:29 PM on December 19, 2007


Shmeggege - all those links are to one video which isn't there. This one is though.
posted by motty at 6:41 PM on December 19, 2007


Great story, though I can't help but think: if Kyle spent some of that time, energy, focus, and talent learning to play an actual guitar, he'd have developed skills that are also modes of expression and communication, and much less finitely fun than one game. But maybe that's just the old fogey in me.

From the comments (taken from Penny Arcade I think)

Invariably, when reasonable people are discussing Guitar Hero or Rock Band, that forum smart guy oozes in somewhere near the middle of the thread and tells people that they should be playing real instruments - presumably, like he does. Put aside that Mozart has missed the point completely (i.e., why don't you play for the real NFL, etc). The fact of the matter is that he is quite simply wrong. And not just wrong: it's that thick, unctuous kind of wrong that masquerades as erudition. He is, in fact, a yokel - and he's operating under some pretty romantic notions of what constitutes an "instrument."

I wrote about this a while ago when talking about the remix mode of Frequency, another Harmonix game, and how it made the PS2 controller a kind of instrument. That idea fascinated me. Actual instruments are not especially ergonomic, in general terms - they are not engineered for use. They need to account for crass physical laws to epitomize their function. Instruments are beautiful, let me be clear. But they are not, themselves, music.

These guitars are only toys because they are limited, at this particular moment, to playing other people's songs. This is a software problem, and not representative of some lasting defect with the device. It's already been resolved by the community many times over. When Harmonix delivers a composition suite with the next Rock Band (or the next), and people start creating and uploading their own albums, it's going to be pretty hard to maintain the fiction that people are playing with toys. Between the five keys, combinations of those keys, and the "hammer on, pull off" mechanic, you're talking about a ri-...-diculous number of states - even before you expand it with pass-thru USB style devices that intermediate between the guitar and the host device.

posted by mecran01 at 7:20 PM on December 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


I was in the zone once playing Super Mario 2. I beat the game in one sitting. No clue how.

My stepmother would get into the zone playing, of all things, Duck Hunt. She was a crack shot to begin with.. but she'd hit this point, and just blast every duck for what seemed like hours.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:27 PM on December 19, 2007


These guitars are only toys because they are limited, at this particular moment, to playing other people's songs. This is a software problem, and not representative of some lasting defect with the device. It's already been resolved by the community many times over. When Harmonix delivers a composition suite with the next Rock Band (or the next), and people start creating and uploading their own albums, it's going to be pretty hard to maintain the fiction that people are playing with toys.

The device he eludes to was already invented and the outcome fucking sucked.
posted by The Straightener at 8:29 PM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I am disappointed that this post is not about Steely Dan.
posted by emelenjr at 8:36 PM on December 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


When Harmonix delivers a composition suite with the next Rock Band (or the next), and people start creating and uploading their own albums, it's going to be pretty hard to maintain the fiction that people are playing with toys.

I disagree. People will have to create their own accompaniments, vocal lines, and know how to form a cohesive song. It's not just a guitar line. Making music involves creativity that these kids are not learning. I don't deny that what these kids are doing is incredibly difficult and intricate, but it's still paint by number.
posted by anomie at 9:13 PM on December 19, 2007


Ok, I get it. What they did was cool. Really cool.

I'm a total geek/nerd/dork.

But.

Why spend that much time learning the game when one could spend the same amount of effort in a real guitar?

Is the appreciation that this person has mastered a 4-button instrument or that this person is a musical adept?

Can this guy entertain - without a bunch of consumer electronics to a not un-sophisticated audience? Can he sing? Can he play stuff on an acoustic guitar? Can I hang out with him without strangling him because the only thing he'll talk about is how great he is at Guitar Hero/Garage Band?
posted by porpoise at 9:27 PM on December 19, 2007


Ok Ok Ok, I'm not trying to get down on these people.

I'm just saying that if games allowed people to feel more confident about their musical abilities, someone should encourage them to spend a similar amount of effort on actual instruments.

Actual instruments, sure, are more difficult (given the same amount of investment) but are potentially more rewarding. Why aren't there FPPs about random music majors who play the flute or the oboe or the trombone?

Where are the stories of Guitar Hero and Garage Band Kings and Queens who pick up the actual instrument and make waves? How many actual instrument players go and become Kings and Queens of Guitar Hero and Garage Band?
posted by porpoise at 9:34 PM on December 19, 2007


Entering that state of flow, that state of mastery has always been so tantalizing. StarCraft, Ninja Gaiden (the new one), Guilty Gear, Street Fighter, DDR... The temptation to spend enough time to be able to play a game based on pure mechanics has always been strong.

But then it's just reflex. You're one with the game, as shmegegge put it. I'd rather be one level out and able to appreciate the other aspects of a game like the art, atmosphere, or story. This is why I stopped playing DDR and continue to shy away from any Guitar Hero invitations. Those games seem easier to play purely on mechanics. I can't find enough to admire in them outside that trance like state. Guitar Hero especially! In fact, attaching the guise of guitar playing to what is essentially button pushing makes the game very foreign and mechanical to me. And that comes from someone who is not a guitar player by trade or hobby.

Maybe I'm just growing out of video games.


*sigh*
posted by Mister Cheese at 9:49 PM on December 19, 2007


Metafilter: It's like meditation, only with more gunfire.
posted by salishsea at 10:13 PM on December 19, 2007


I totally used to get into these flow/trance states.

Usually when I meditated. But hey, emelenjr, let me take you by the hand...
posted by eclectist at 10:21 PM on December 19, 2007


I'm more in Mister Cheese's camp. I really dislike most games that are easily reduced to trance-like button mashing. It's high-tech masturbation without the money shot.
posted by Justinian at 10:23 PM on December 19, 2007


porpoise writes "I'm just saying that if games allowed people to feel more confident about their musical abilities, someone should encourage them to spend a similar amount of effort on actual instruments."

Well, what kersplunk is referring to is a line in a recent South Park, and suffice it to say the point of the punchline is that the kids are into it because it's a game, not because they fantasize about being a rock star (although some probably do). Adults project their own desires onto the kids when they discover the kids like this game, but their motivations are different. A kid who's really into music will not spend all his or her time playing a videogame simulation of the experience.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:09 PM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Mister Cheese writes "This is why I stopped playing DDR and continue to shy away from any Guitar Hero invitations. Those games seem easier to play purely on mechanics. I can't find enough to admire in them outside that trance like state. Guitar Hero especially!"

Once again, it's not really about playing the guitar. The reason it's popular is the same reason the Mario Bros games on the NES were so popular. It's purely mechanical, like you said, memorizing combinations of movements, and the payoff is a Pavlovian video trinket. I totally understand this state of mind, even though the exercise itself is probably pointless (although many things we admire probably are, too). However, particularly after a long session with a strategy game where I have to think of a million different things, it's hard to get out of that state, and I feel fuzzy and zoned out until I sleep again. I can't do that every day, because it takes up too much time and it's exhausting. But it's fun every now and then, when I don't have to work the next day and have plenty of time to kill, and that's not too often anymore.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:15 PM on December 19, 2007


shmegegge: One of the pros sat down and beat Through the Fire and the Flames on Expert the first time he sat down to it.
Nice, but I don't believe your story for one reason: probably the best GH players in the world lounge around at scorehero.com.

These are the people who dominate the leader boards, the ones who (like hellashes) get perfect scores on songs like "Jordan", who post constantly about slightly refining the timing of star power milliseconds before a particular run so you can squeeze a couple of hundred points out of a star power sequence due to quirks in how the game handles timing. They are the guitar hero equivalent to 100m sprinters, using every trick of focus and training to squeeze a little bit more.

These people, the very best of them, were invited to demo GH3 a month or so before it shipped. They played the games, some even getting 100% on Expert last-tier songs the first time through. And their own posts talking about previewing GH3 said that the best among them, guys like wulfe94, couldn't nail that intro section until about 20 attempts, realizing it was a simpler "hold down the green button" technique.

So I don't believe you really saw someone beat TTFAF the first time through. I suspect said player was very very good, but had at least time to try that song before. If the very best known to me- people dominating the worldwide leaderboards- say they couldn't touch that song for quite a few attempts, I don't believe you had some Dragonforce Jesus show up.
porpoise: Where are the stories of Guitar Hero and Garage Band Kings and Queens who pick up the actual instrument and make waves? How many actual instrument players go and become Kings and Queens of Guitar Hero and Garage Band?
Well... to be fair, with Guitar Hero, and I think even more so with Rock Band, those who are musically adept are disproportionately the best players. Watch for example this guy (I believe he's #1 on the xbox leaderboards) beat Rock Band on drums and you realize.... you can't really play at the Expert level unless you are musical. In some cases it's because that person has existing musical training, in others because they are untrained but have always had a musical ability that's gone unused. Maybe GH and RB will get them exploring that ability more.

Me, I'm mediocre at best at the piano, but I know my innate sense of timing and musical flow means that I play the songs like I would sight-reading: seeing a section as a "phrase", and playing it as the song goes. I'm also the best player I know personally, and it's not like I practice or play much- only when friends are over. It's not divorced from the music, but fully a response to it. To me, the fun is that I can "play" a song with minimal investment, because it's fairly simply but still immersive. It's like a Parson's code reduction of fun tunes, bridging the gap between either a) tapping your toe or picking out the basic chord structures and melodies by ear, or b) studying it closely to play it accurately.
krinklyfig: It's purely mechanical, like you said, memorizing combinations of movements, and the payoff is a Pavlovian video trinket.
I completely disagree. Maybe that's how you play, but when I have friends over and we play Rockband, it's about playing the songs we like, and grooving into them. I never practice songs, much less "memorize" any thing, even on Expert, because that is pointless (to me); you just sight read it and play to the music, because what you're hearing should match structurally the block of "notes" you see coming up. If anything, it's about feeling the way the music is flowing, and playing that out in the structural way that makes the most sense in the 5-button limitation. It's very much about being into the music, the same as when I play the piano and hit or mis-hit notes.
posted by hincandenza at 11:25 PM on December 19, 2007 [5 favorites]


shmegegge: One of the pros sat down and beat Through the Fire and the Flames on Expert the first time he sat down to it.

Nice, but I don't believe your story for one reason...


I don't buy that story either. No way.

Also, schmegegge, all your YT links go to the same Dragonforce video.

great comment, hincandenza.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:10 AM on December 20, 2007


I stay away from button mashing games because of a bad childhood experience with Dragon's Lair. God, I sucked at that game. And not just any ordinary level of suckage. People would gather around to watch me feed quarters into the machine and suck the chrome off a trailer hitch. Thirty, forty people at a time. I didn't notice. One time, somebody called a reporter to try and talk me out of playing it, maybe even shame me to stop with the publicity. But, I was oblivious to everything but dying over and over and over again. I have mixed feelings about Don Bluth to this day.
posted by stavrogin at 1:29 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Due to poor genetics, I am what could kindly be called a "Luigi Player." I am sure many of you know my ilk. We're the eternal Player 2s of game play, the ones you pass the controller to after you just ran through Worlds 1-1 to 5-3 without dying. You know you need to be sportsmanlike and give some other kid a chance, but you also know you're the main event, the player all your friends really want to see. So enter the Luigi Player, your out. You can pass the controller to him confident that the moment the little green plumber moves forward, his life is already almost over. Depending on the quality of your Luigi, you may have time to run off to the bathroom or get another soda, but if you have a good one, you'll barely have time to adjust your seat before it's your turn again.

We Luigi's come from a long line of people who are in over their heads. We're not n00bs or newbs or nubblies or anything. We understand the game at hand, understand what we need to do to beat the level or challenge, but some sort of inbred block keeps us from doing it. I suspect that Sisyphus is our pagan saint because we are always, always doomed to failure and repetition.

So while the stars take a well deserved short, break we nudge poor Luigi towards a pit. Or a Hammer Brother. Or possibly being hit by a Hammer Brother and being knocked into a pit where Luigi's girlfriend waits with a Dear Plumber letter and all his things packed up in boxes, ready for him to move out, to slink off in shame while some family member in red slides in, all pinstripes and fedoras, to take his place. Under my watch, Luigi would become a fatalist, popping a little bottle of digital pills with a blank pixelated "why bother?" stare.

Now that I'm older, I'm a bit better at videogames, but am still at heart, a Luigi. Those that have played Halo 3 against me can attest that I am not skilled, but persistent. Being a Luigi Player and expecting death and defeat has made me a sticky grenade champ, a master of the Goldeneye prox mine, a digital warrior whose only line of defense is a singleminded determination to take you down with me. Yeah, I'm the moron that will happily charge into the sword room on The Pit where I know certain death awaits because maybe, just maybe I can toss a plasma or squeeze off a few fatal rounds to kill the lurking minotaur. My Luigi life has little value, but the Mario, his absence, even for a moment, could swing things for my team. Sometimes my best team contribution is just hiding - anytime I see Shotty Snipers on Valhalla, I know I'm in for 15 minutes of standing in the base - by resisting my fatalistic urges I rob the other team of easy kills.

Being a Luigi, I love Rock Band. Here, my mediocrity and inability to shine makes me a helpful, even useful member of the band. I've beat all three solo tours on Medium and don't really feel the need to progress beyond that. I can be called up in a heartbeat to jump in as the fourth for whatever song the Musical Mario wants to shine at. You want to do Green Grass on Hard Drums? And you want to do it on Expert Guitar? Sure, I'll sing. I'm the workhorse seat filler, but unlike the Mario games of old, I actually get to play for more than thirty seconds.

So for me, the part of the article that hit closest to home was the presence of the Bodhisattva's disciples. That's me! All those glances, the urge to protect and insulate the Mario is pure Luigi. After all, if the Bodhisattva's role is to show others the way to Enlightenment, then he needs and audience, right? And what better audience than a Luigi, all bundled up in green, always willing to take one for the team, for the Mario, but still always hopeful?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:19 AM on December 20, 2007 [20 favorites]


Well put, robocop. Have you played as a medic in Team Fortress 2 yet?
posted by joedan at 5:49 AM on December 20, 2007


No, outside of Portal, I've given most of the Orange Box a miss. I logged in to play TF2 on the 360, played a Soldier for about 30 seconds, then lagged out. I understand there's been a patch or something recently?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:51 AM on December 20, 2007


Regularly beating Strider on one life.

I'm sorry. I actually don't believe that's possible. Unless you were wired to a Strider unit at birth. Even then I suspect you'd struggle on Grand Meister Meio.
posted by RokkitNite at 5:57 AM on December 20, 2007


In case you missed it, blue_beetle linked to someone playing the song on expert, just like the kid in the story.
posted by chunking express at 6:06 AM on December 20, 2007


Why spend that much time learning the game when one could spend the same amount of effort in a real guitar?

Because playing the game is fun, and learning the guitar is like being in school. Because learning the guitar is NOT A GAME.

Is the appreciation that this person has mastered a 4-button instrument or that this person is a musical adept?

Neither. It is that he is good at a game.

Can this guy entertain - without a bunch of consumer electronics to a not un-sophisticated audience?

Not by playing Guitar Hero, because that game requires consumer electronics. Can someone who can outdrive Schumacher, Alonso, and Raikkonen in F1 2006 pilot a real F1 car for more than a few minutes without dying? No. Would it be goofy to expect them to? Yes. Is it epically dorky to insist that they really ought to be able to, or that the game is somehow especially suspect because they cannot? Yes.

I'm just saying that if games allowed people to feel more confident about their musical abilities, someone should encourage them to spend a similar amount of effort on actual instruments.

This is like saying that someone should encourage people who are good at Dungeons and Dragons to put more effort into their real halberd. It totally misses the point that ONE IS A GAME.

Where are the stories of Guitar Hero and Garage Band Kings and Queens who pick up the actual instrument and make waves?

The same place as the heroes of Wing Commander who actually pilot interstellar fighters against large catlike aliens, and the same place as the heroes of NBA 200X who actually get invited to play for the NBA, and the same place as heroes of Falcon 4 that the USAF decides to hand an F-16 to.

In the Land of Utter Irrelevance.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:13 AM on December 20, 2007 [6 favorites]


Hogshead: Buddha, bizarrely, was kind of down on game-playing.

I'm not sure it's so bizarre. The foundation of Buddhism is the presumption that the basic nature of existence is suffering and attachment to behavior that leads to more suffering. Even if you can favorably compare some qualities of gamer "flow" with meditative states of concentration, from the perspective of a serious Buddhist you're applying that valuable concentration to something frivolous that won't help you or others escape the nature of suffering. (As opposed to learning to use that focus to understand emptiness or mentally generate compassion and equanimity.)
posted by aught at 6:45 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of speechless at the awe expressed. It seems so amazingly backwards, to be praised for mastering a game that apes fantastic guitar playing.
posted by agregoli at 6:52 AM on December 20, 2007


(Perhaps I'm biased though, as I can listen to fanastic guitar playing by my husband every single day).
posted by agregoli at 6:53 AM on December 20, 2007


Get back to me when somebody writes a Guitar Hero that uses this controller.

Using a game to learn "real" instrument mechanics is a great idea. I'd bet money that we will see something similar in the future. Considering the popularity of these games, a multi-sensor neck controller seems a logical step in the evolution of game complexity.

As to the flow state, I get there every time I play guitar.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 6:55 AM on December 20, 2007


I'm kind of speechless at the awe expressed. It seems so amazingly backwards, to be praised for mastering a game that apes fantastic guitar playing.

There's the small matter that he wasn't. He was praised for mastering a game about rapid pattern-matching and arbitrary dexterity. The game happens to be synced to its soundtrack. Frankly, I find the game -- at least at easy and medium levels -- a little bit easier with the sound off so I can concentrate on the pattern matching. I'd also like to try playing the game with the normal controller instead of the fake gee-tar to see what that's like.

At any rate, he was praised for mastering the game. Period, full stop, end of story. That the game is motivated by a superficial resemblance to playing a guitar, and that the setting of the game is "rock," doesn't really matter. It was no different than marveling at someone who is very good at Defender simply because they're very good at Defender.

He was praised because he was very good at something. Your judgment about whether he should entertain himself by doing that or engaging in some other equally pointless entertainment activity isn't really relevant to anything. It's nice that you faintly condemn him and the people watching him for enjoying something you don't enjoy, but perhaps you could try holding your tongue and minding your own business lest people point out how pointless your own chosen entertainments are.

I mean, crap. Can't you just let the metaphorical kid relax and have some fun doing whatever harmless thing he enjoys without criticizing him for not enjoying some other thing you think he should enjoy instead?

Now where is my two-liter Shasta and my all-Rush mix tape?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:39 AM on December 20, 2007 [3 favorites]


Now where is my two-liter Shasta and my all-Rush mix tape?

Dude, the amount of cash I've put down on used Best Of... CDs from bands featured on Rock Band is no laughing matter. Boston, Rush, Foreigner, Deep Purple... There comes a point when you're standing there in the used record shop looking over a Best of Molly Hatchet CD that you can't help but turn your eyes to the sky and question aloud what you have become.

And then you notice that the price of the CD has been marked up in the past month and you realize that whatever you are now, you're not alone.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:53 AM on December 20, 2007 [6 favorites]


Hi folks,

sorry for the bum youtube links. here I'll try again.

this should be the kid wailing away at a 5 star performance of the song.

this should be someone getting 5 stars on it, except it's a capture of his screen, not a video of him playing.

this should be the original band playing the song from their music video. it's linked in the original article.

hicandenza:

Nice, but I don't believe your story for one reason blah blah blah.

ok. I don't know what to tell you. Maybe the kid had some super secret access to it in advance. I don't know. I'm telling the truth about what I saw if that's what you're getting at. But I can't speak to the kid's experience. But I will say this: what you're describing are kids who have a certain talent but are largely obsessive, and I'm describing a type of gamer who doesn't need to be obsessive. He just gets it right from the get go. For all I know it's a kind of autism. if you were looking at me right now you'd see me shrugging a lot. I honestly don't know what to tell you except that I saw this kid who was clearly bored with the game yawn his way through fire and the flames on expert. I don't know if he got 5 stars. I couldn't see the stars well enough at the end. It is entirely possible that he's the son of some red octane guy and he's been playing it for months, I don't know. But it surprises me that it took the guitar hero experts 20 times to realize the beginning involves holding down the green button since I saw that my first time trying to play it. the difference is I just couldn't play it. maybe at some point I'll be able to.

Also, the people who ask "why not just play a real guitar" blow my mind. for real? that's really what you're wondering? I mean, I'm not quite getting what it is about guitar hero that makes people think if you play it you can't play a real guitar but DON'T WORRY. It is completely possible to be an actual guitarist and still enjoy guitar hero. I play guitar. I also love guitar hero. Why? Because it'll be a cold day in hell before Axel Rose is singing Welcome to the Jungle next to me while I practice it on my acoustic. Now he sings along with me while I'm wailing away on what I am perfectly content to pretend is a Gibson Les Paul. A lot of my friends who dig Guitar Hero are also guitarists, and things they've said to this really unbelievably silly question are "because I can't play fucking Raining Blood on a real guitar, jerk. Happy?" or "Because no one cheers if I walk into a bar and play Crazy on You by myself." I mean, for real, how hard is it to figure this out? All the arguments about the benefits of a real guitar somehow completely forget that you can still play one if you like guitar hero! I've met kids who, contrary to south park, wanted to get a real guitar after playing guitar hero. hell, I want to go get an electric now. I can't, but i still want to. but hey, at least I have the game to give me some ability to simulate what I can't actually do in life. that's... I mean that's part of their purpose, yeah? Why is that so mind boggling?
posted by shmegegge at 8:23 AM on December 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


also, robocop is bleeding once again makes my day.
posted by shmegegge at 8:23 AM on December 20, 2007


We bought an Xbox360 and a Rock Band set up and had them shipped to Arkansas. T minus 36 hours and counting. I'm afraid my mother in law actually wrapped them in wrapping paper and expects us to open it on Christmas morning. Too bad. We're both actually having dreams about playing it.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 8:24 AM on December 20, 2007


My "one with the game" game is still F1 World Grand Prix on the N64. I'd play it for hours (my roomie and I would regularly sit down and play a whole season of 8-12 lap races...sometimes nightly), and when you'd get in the zone playing that game it was truly a surreal experience. So now I'm pretty good at any game which has the same feel (the various FireFoxes, that Star Wars one with the pod race etc.), so, you know...I have that to list in my "mad skillz" column.

And I'm sorry, but playing that game (created with painfully anal attention to detail) most definitely did give me a better appreciation for real-world F1 racing (of which I have long been a fan), I know the tracks intimately (the ones which haven't changed since 1997 anyway), I can normally identify where a race is being held simply by watching a few seconds or one or two turns, I have at least a general idea of how the drivers need to drive each race to go fastest, how changing the car's setup affects the way it handles on a given track, how there is always a trade-off between speed and handling, and how best to balance them on a given track to eke out faster lap times, how pit stop strategy affects a race, etc. Sure, I had some idea of those things just from watching season after season of real-life F1, but playing the (well-designed, very accurate) game actually taught me a whole lot more than I could have known otherwise. Does this mean I could drive an F1 car and not die? Probably not (although I'm available as a test driver if anyone's hiring). But it certainly did give me a level of understanding of the sport which I wouldn't have had otherwise.

And yeah, I love Guitar Hero for exactly the same reasons. Not because it teaches me how to play the guitar in real life (way back in the mists of time, I played the guitar, among other instruments), but because it's fun, and it definitely does give me a sense of how various songs fit together musically. I don't play it from the pattern-matching/button-mashing standpoint, I play it musically (which is why on most songs the harder levels are actually easier in some ways, the notes left out trip me up on Easy). And I thought GH was stupid until I saw two kids playing it in Best Buy, playing it really REALLY well. And I stood and watched for a long time, and really understood what was so cool about the game. So neener.
posted by biscotti at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2007


Also of note: the guy who got the first ever perfect score in pac-man remains, nevertheless, unqualified in both ghostbusting and competitive eating.

It's still an awesome achievement.

That said, there's an interesting parallel to attitudes surrounding DDR here. I've seen the same attitude of "well, it's not real dancing" around that game, but at the same time modern DDR competitions incorporate a lot of extraneous moves, and more resemble a genuine performance in it's own right, which has gotten it more respect from those quarters. Maybe guitar hero needs something like that? It can be a sort of halfway step between real music and competitive air guitar.
posted by Arturus at 10:19 AM on December 20, 2007


Oh, one other "in the flow" experience: playing Privateer on the PC in 1994. I realized something was different at the end of one scenario when I'd been afterburning through the asteroid fields. :)
posted by darkstar at 10:58 AM on December 20, 2007


Christ, closest I ever came to that kind of flow was finishing Legend of Zelda (both quests, in a row, one sitting) without dying. I pretty much gave up on the game after that, never stopped liking it but moved on. This was of course long after my first attempt, and after enough game time that I had the locations of the power-ups memorized, but still.

Shiny, gold-colored game cartridge... now it sits unloved in my basement. I'd still play it now and then just for old times sake but the damn machine won't read anything correctly any more. By the time it starts it has usually helpfully cleared the save files.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:04 AM on December 20, 2007


Surely this Guitar Hero type five-button controller is potentially just as capable of being an instrument as anything else (trumpets, clarinets, theremins, hurdy gurdies and all kinds of instruments have weird interfaces, and this is no weirder) even if the instrument part of it doesn't seem to have appeared yet. Here's a video of an interesting first attempt (via); I bet there's more stuff that I haven't been able to find.

You could make a monophonic instrument with a range of two octaves plus a fifth out of those five buttons if you used one button as an octave key and took four combinations from the sixteen ways of pressing the other four buttons to be notes where the octave key became a 'two octaves plus major third' key.
posted by motty at 11:07 AM on December 20, 2007


caution live frogs, you need to blow in your Nintendo and in the cartridge.
posted by chunking express at 11:23 AM on December 20, 2007


what's great about it to my mind is that you absolutely get that legendary pacman/nes super mario bros/bionic commando FEEL in a fraction of the time. Guitar Hero is hard. It doesn't have to be, and it's brilliantly designed so that if you start on the first song on easy and continue in order through easy and then go through medium in order and on like that you'll have a simple and effective education in performing the complex and frustrating maneuvers that will come at you like mad suicide bombers towards the end of expert. but at the same time, those really really hard songs are still almost impossibly difficult and require a fair amount of memorization and rote muscle memory to deal with. the same way mario, since it had no save points, essentially boiled down to sitting down and starting at 1-1 and brute forcing your way through levels you could complete in your sleep until they became little more than involuntary thumb twitches that coalesced into a grueling marathon endurance sport, guitar hero is a form of wind sprinting. it's the 50 yard dash with firey obstacles for gamers.

I guess what I'm getting at is that we can all remember how games used to be test of hand eye coordination, you know? how sometimes you had to hold that long string of complex maneuvers going until you could finally fling out your bionic arm that one last time to do that last really difficult swing off a lamp post and land somewhere safe for a second. it wasn't so much about outthinking an enemy army, it was about olympic gymnastics that you performed with incredible manual dexterity on a gamepad that was often your enemy. now, companies have learned that by and large people prefer their game to exercise their judgment more than their dexterity. to time that jump or gauge that distance more than just complete the long run of crazy jumping maneuvers on the moving platform in the ice world. I think Strider is the perfect example of that older style of gaming. That game simply required your hands to think for themselves and tirelessly nail those buttons at the right times in rapid order to get through. Most games aren't like that any more. some of them are (god bless you prince of persia) but a lot of them are more about thinking your way through the situation. sometimes you still have to think FAST, halo and the like, but still it's less about manual dexterity and more about limbering up the ol' noggin.

guitar hero is a return to that old manual dexterity style, I feel. But they make you work harder for shorter periods of time. It's a hardcore 10 minute workout rather than a half hour treadmill run. I find that endearing as hell. Plus I get to rock out to Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top's La Grange so FUCK YEAH!
posted by shmegegge at 11:52 AM on December 20, 2007


When I was a kid my younger brother was really good at Monopoly. We'd pull it out at family gatherings and in a few hours he'd have bought and sold us hundreds of times over. We'd all be mortgaged in triplicate to him and constantly pray to land in jail, just so we could avoid the minefield of his extensive hotel-laden land holdings.

Thankfully, a bunch of people told him that whatever enjoyment he got from playing Monopoly was a waste of time. What he should really do, they argued, was become a real estate baron. So my eight-year old brother set aside the game and bought up half of Manhattan. Luckily, he found the grind of it--dealing with contractors, paying off the mob, the sleepless nights waiting for a loan approval, all of that stuff--to be exactly as fun as playing a board game. He hasn't played Monopoly since.

So keep on fighting, you "Why bother playing Guitar Hero when you can play a real gee-tar!" folks. I pray some heed your calls. God knows we need some more ridicule for people having fun and playing a game.
posted by turaho at 11:54 AM on December 20, 2007


Can this guy entertain - without a bunch of consumer electronics to a not un-sophisticated audience?

Guys? Didn't you hear me? Stop having fun!
posted by LogicalDash at 11:57 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm just saying that if games allowed people to feel more confident about their musical abilities, someone should encourage them to spend a similar amount of effort on actual instruments.

One of the many things so ridiculous about these kinds of comments is that the critic is making the error he think he sees the gamer making.

The speaker says "Hey, that's not a guitar, that's a video game. You should play a real guitar."

And the gamer says, "Like you just said, it's not a guitar, it's a video game. Why do you think liking a video game means I'd want to play a real guitar?"

See also, xkcd.

"If you like Tomb Raider so much, why don't you go to grad school in archeology?"
posted by straight at 3:08 PM on December 20, 2007


Honestly, though, if I could get a working Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, I'd rather be playing with that.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:21 PM on December 20, 2007


sorry man, but you can get your own weighted companion cube.
posted by shmegegge at 3:28 PM on December 20, 2007


On the controller as a real musical instrument: The Guitar Zeros. Video.
posted by Arturus at 5:22 PM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I used to be a heck of a DDR player. I had a lot of fun drawing 50-person crowds in movie theatres by playing the hardest songs on the hardest difficulty on doubles.
posted by tehloki at 8:12 PM on December 21, 2007


yeah, but did you do it in tap shoes, tehloki?

Otherwise, it's utterly meaningless.
posted by stavrogin at 1:55 AM on December 25, 2007


"If you like Tomb Raider so much, why don't you go to grad school in archeology?"

In my experience, gunplay is much more frowned upon in real archaeology, sadly.
posted by darkstar at 8:26 AM on January 6, 2008


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