The year was 2005, I was a junior in high school and did what most high-schoolers (well, that I hung out with) did back then: hung out in my friend’s basement playing video games. During that year, my friend purchased Guitar Hero and were hooked. As the years progressed, I noticed a trend among most of my college friends: most of those who gamed had a copy of Guitar Hero (or one of its many sequels).
The most famous one among my friends was the Metallica-based version, and to this day my fingers still ache from the many times I played “One” across the difficulty spectrum. As I struggled to play an actual guitar due to my disability, the series gave me the gift of being able to play in some capacity. Whether it was with my friends at a college party or in my parents’ living room during winter break, I was in my element.
With the press of some buttons and a push down on the lever, I could rock all night and all day in my own way. My stepdad was a musician back in the day too, and using instruments in any shape or form was encouraged. He even took me to see Cheap Trick and Alice Cooper in concert (the latter of whom I learned about through Guitar Hero).
Over the years the series received numerous sequels – some centered around bands like Aerosmith and Metallica, while most were a cluster of various rock genres and artists that helped curate my taste in music. While I was introduced to bands and musicians like ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Journey, Pat Benatar, and others by my parents, Guitar Hero furthered my love for their music. I loved playing it in front of my parents because it was a unique way for us to bond, especially since they’ve never been big players of video games.
Something my parents were big on was music, and they’d take me to music festivals, introducing me to genres like Jazz, Blues, Crooner, Country, and various types of Rock. On our road trips, the car was filled with the sounds of Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Santana, Frank Sinatra, and George Thorogood.
When we were not traveling or going to festivals, Guitar Hero filled in, even introducing me to certain songs from artists I knew that I had either never heard of before or that I’d realized created a song I already knew. When I found out Def Leppard was behind Photograph, my mind was blown, but there it was as DLC for Legends of Rock. Rhythm and music games like Guitar Hero, Rockband, and others are no longer that popular, but they played a big role in crafting my musical taste.
When Guitar Hero III got its own drum kit, that is really where my love of playing the drums took flight. While my stepdad did have a full drum kit in our basement when I was in middle school, I only dabbled, but using one as a controller really inspired me to pick up the instrument more seriously. I remember my mom taking me to a local music store to buy me a drum (I did not get a full set due to space, but I got a snare which I played endlessly), where I picked up the rhythm within five minutes of sitting down at a kit. It helped that one of my friends had an actual drum kit that I’d often practice on. Now I’m not saying I’m on the level of Rick Allen (Google him), but play enough on your friend’s set and you can become half-decent.
I would never thought to pick up the drums had Guitar Hero not come along and rocked my world, nor do I think I would enjoy certain artists and songs the way I do either. Those songs are not just songs I routinely play on Spotify, they are gateways to memories of me and my friends in our teen and college years having fun at a time when all that mattered were grades and who could use most Star Power the most.