Music As a Game

Advances in music performance video games are blurring the line between game performance and musical performance. It is a convergence that is not lost on musical equipment makers, especially when the Christmas gift-giving season rolls around. Compare, for example, the presentation and packaging of the guitar “stage pack” below with that of the “guitar controller.”

Peavey stage pack Guitar Hero III controller

The differences aren’t very large to begin, and with musical instrument makers imitating the packaging of game equipment makers, you almost have to be a guitar player to see the difference. The real guitar is the one on the left, with the tiny amplifier next to it. The one on the right that comes with a sheet of stickers to dress it up — that’s the game controller.

Imagine that your uncle got you the real guitar, instead of the game, by mistake this Christmas. How far might you get with it before you realized that the guitar was not a game?

The truth is, if you were really into it, and treated the musical instrument as a game you had to learn and win, there really wouldn’t be anything along the way to make you stop and say that it is more than a game. The songs aren’t built into the instrument — you have to move your fingers in the right way to create each song — but perhaps that just means it is a game for a more advanced player. If you got good enough to perform in front of a live audience, and real people applauded, you might say, “Whoa! This is something!” But you could still think of it as a game if you chose to.

There is a long tradition in music that says that music is not a game, but a serious art for serious people. I predict, though, that many in the next generation of performers, especially among those who got their start in music performance games, will not adhere to that particular tradition.

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