Consoleation Diagnosis: Red Octane Wrist
Although I am a vocalist by trade, Guitar Hero and its subsequent spinoffs and sequels captivated me with the ability to make playing guitar as easy as just strumming and pressing buttons instead of, you know, actually learning how to play. Playing along with some great music certainly had– and continues to have– an allure that is undeniable. I even get the urge to play while away from home, such as I did during a trip to Mohegan Sun; I found a Guitar Hero coin-op and played a few songs there. I’ll probably never learn how to play guitar, so playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band will likely be as close to shredding stardom as I get.
That stardom, however, comes with a price. I call it Red Octane Wrist.
See, since I don’t know how to play guitar or understand proper positioning or fingering techniques, I’m probably cocking my left wrist around the neck in a weird way. After a few songs, my left wrist starts to get sore as I attempt to match fret buttons with on-screen cues. Particularly long songs (I’m looking at you, Free Bird!) will kill me. They’re still fun to play, but wow… the pain. Unfortunately, I’ve gone from being able to play these games for hours at a time to maybe an hour or two at most before ending my virtual jam session and moving on to something else.
Of course, there could be other, non-physical reasons for shorter play sessions. For example, neither Guitar Hero nor Rock Band in their most recent forms have managed to break the mold like earlier games did for me. I remember plunking the money down for Guitar Hero on my PS2 and initially experiencing that thrill of feeling like I’m actually supplying the guitar parts for some awesome tunes. Despite the fact that all of the songs were covers, I wound up liking several of the tracks so much that I had to purchase them from iTunes shortly thereafter. Playing the guitar solos in tracks like Bark at the Moon and Cowboys from Hell felt incredible, even though I could never play these songs on any difficulty other than Medium. As time has gone on, though, a lot of the experience has just felt… similar. Some of the tunes have been great– especially thanks to DLC, such as the release of Pearl Jam’s Ten for Rock Band– but it’s still the same core experience that I had years ago. There was literally a span of about three months when I didn’t play a music game at all, basically because they felt (if you’ll pardon the pun) played out.
I have started playing both Guitar Hero World Tour (GHWT) and Rock Band 2 (RB2) again recently. RB2 holds an edge over GHWT because of the game’s ability to randomize sets. Random setlists are great because you never know what you’re going to get… and if you’ve invested in a fair amount of DLC, the library could be pretty substantial. The DLC is a huge selling point for RB2, as well. It’s easy to gradually build up your library of songs and many of them are pretty damned good. To its credit, GHWT does focus more on the guitar and is more challenging to play, with a lot more notes to hit (and thusly causing my case of Red Octane Wrist to flare up quicker). GHWT also has Satch Boogie, which is one of my favorite songs to begin with; to me, it parallels the inclusion of Eric Johnson’s Cliffs of Dover in Guitar Hero III.
It could be fate, but my trip to pick up Guitar Hero Metallica ended in failure. Perhaps that’s a sign that my wrist would be crying for help after playing those Kirk Hammett solos. (I wound up getting Legends of Wrestlemania instead… but that’s a story for another blog entry.) That’s not to say that I won’t pick it up somewhere down the line… or maybe I can coerce someone into buying it for me as a birthday gift… but I think that I’m pretty stacked on music games for the time being.