How Rocksmith teaches plastic-guitar heroes actual shredding skills
Published: January 9, 2012
If you wanted to be a jerk about it, you could probably define my life as a series of failed attempts to learn to play the guitar. In the past 15 years, I’ve owned five different guitars and bought instructional books, tapes, and CD-ROMs, all with some feather-haired ass striking a Hendrix pose on the cover, proclaiming his program to be the only one I’ll ever need. The return on these investments: I can play a close approximation of the main riff from Nirvana’s “Come as You Are.” The problem was, every time I got my new purchase home and started lesson one, I remembered, “Oh, yeah, playing the guitar is insanely difficult. You can’t just pay some money and magically start shredding.” Then I’d half-heartedly play some fingering exercise or “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” or whatever for 20 minutes before tossing the newest book/tape/CD-ROM on the stack in the closet. There were video games to be played, after all. When I got sick of this unending cycle, I gave up the guitar and became a music critic.
Guitar Hero seems custom-made for guys like me. “Wouldn’t it be great,” it asked, “if every song ever could be played with five buttons and a flipper? You could become a guitar “expert” in a couple of weeks, without even standing up. Lisa from high school would be so into you then.” And it is great. I played those games so much I’d see the falling notes when I closed my eyes at night. But every so often, I’d get sad when I saw a real guitar and realized my plastic simulacrum would need like 30 buttons to teach me to play “Go Tell Aunt Rhody,” and like 120 if I wanted to learn anything that might impress a 16-year-old girl.
But here comes Rocksmith, the guitar game that lets you plug a real guitar, with strings and frets and shit, into your console using a special USB cable. The game teaches you using the falling-notes highways familiar to Guitar Hero and Rock Band players. (Note: The highway map is necessarily much more complex, so players unfamiliar with plastic-guitar games will probably be extremely confused at first.) And forget about fingering exercises. Right out of the box, you’ll be playing “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. Of course, if you don’t already know how to play “Satisfaction,” your version of that famous riff will sound like “Bah bah [several beats of silence] Bah bah,” but Keith Richards will keep right on playing just the same. There’s no squealing missed notes (other than the ones coming from your guitar), no failing a song; the difficulty increases or decreases as you play, depending upon your skill level. You can practice each section of the song individually with the “Riff Repeater” function, which starts at half speed and increases as you begin to master it, a process I’m told actual guitar players refer to as “practicing.”