You’re driving home from a grueling eight-hour shift. For many, the day is over as soon as they clock out, but your work is just getting started. Then, the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” blares through your car’s modest stock speakers, that familiar bassline encircling you for 15 magical seconds. The music takes you away as you roll up to a stoplight and step into the shoes of Jack White, strumming along with the earworm of a melody. The world slows to a stop around you. For one fleeting moment, you’re a rock star.
With your foot on the gas pedal, you hit the expressway and envision what you’re going to do with your 30 minutes of free time tonight. You’ll load up Guitar Hero or Rock Band and live out those fleeting dreams of hitting it big. Those games are the last bastion of a genre that has, unfortunately, all but died out over the past decade. But in their heyday, they were some of the biggest, most exciting titles to happen to the industry, as well as the intersection of gaming and music in general.
Oddly enough, the Guitar Hero (and later Rock Band) franchises are a bit of an anomaly. While rhythm games have always been a big hit overseas, with a plethora of arcade and console titles available besides the Dance Dance Revolution series, the United States has typically been unreceptive to the genre. This all came to a screeching halt when Guitar Hero came into the picture—a seemingly simplistic game that became a near-instant hit, changing the landscape of music gaming forever.
In the early 2000s, Activision’s release of Guitar Hero was a momentous occasion. Teaming up with RedOctane and Harmonix, the publisher worked to create what would eventually go down in history as one of the most culturally significant shifts toward a new genre the West had seen in some time. It was unlike anything gamers had ever seen before. Using a plastic guitar peripheral, players were tasked with pressing a series of multicolored buttons to imitate a guitar’s frets, strumming along as notes flew down a special “highway” in the middle of the screen. The result? Feeling like you were a veritable star guitarist.