Air Guitars and Video Games · 1 August 2008

I remember air guitars in the eighties. People who may or may not have had any musical talents would finger the air frets and pick the air strings of their air guitars to tunes that were playing on any nearby stereo or in the air musician’s imagination. Today, people do not need to make spectacles of themselves in public strumming their air Stratocasters and Les Pauls. No longer does there need to be subjective judging of who is the best air guitarist. Now air guitarists can just grab their video game controllers that look like guitars and pop in Guitar Hero to see who is the best.

Being a teacher of teenagers, I have heard my students talk about Guitar Hero for quite a while. They have insisted that it is a great game and that anybody who is anybody loves it. I was skeptical to say the least. I did not think that pressing buttons to music would be that fun. Then again, Dance Dance Revolution and games that had people step on electronic mats did not seem like that great of an idea to me either until I played them.

The notion of different controllers has been around for some time. I remember that we could play different games with the rotary controllers instead of the joysticks on our Atari 2600. Technology and games have come a long way since then. Which brings me back to air guitars.

It seems that air guitars would not be able to undergo any changes due to technology. After all, you could have whatever guitar with whatever modifications your mind could imagine. And you could never miss a note on that guitar solo playing in your head. But air guitars have changed. They have become solid and they control video game systems.

Our air guitar controls Guitar Hero III on our Nintendo Wii. Our teenager had played the game at his friend’s house and wanted it for his birthday. I was still a bit skeptical about the game until I saw him play it. Not only did I know most of the songs (the subtitle of the game is Legends of Rock), I even remember playing air guitar to some of them. Not that I was a metal head back then or even now, but I played a little air guitar now and then when I was younger. Everybody did. Now it is fun to try and play the songs with the buttons of the Guitar Hero controller.

It is fun to think back to what video games used to be and what they are today. Systems that use cartridges like our old Atari 2600 are now handheld devices like the Nintendo DS. There are no pixel graphics anymore except on old games ported to new systems. Sound can be stereophonic surround rather than single note tones. And it seems that everything is wireless.

For a while, it seemed that gamers were doomed to have just one controller for every game. Every console system had the same multi-button controller with a few modifications to tell which were from what manufacturer. But with dance pads, guitars, and Wii remotes there is no telling what they will come up for controllers next.

My students were right. Guitar Hero is a fun game. But as much fun as I have playing it, I still think that there is a place for air guitars. After all, I still like to play the occasional air guitar solo when an old song comes on the radio. I just need to do it when nobody is looking.

© 2008 Michael T. Miyoshi

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