Why is Guitar Hero Fun?

I ask the question in all seriousness. For years, I resisted it -- I kept hearing about this game where you could pretend you were playing the guitar, and how insanely fun it was, and I would roll my eyes and think I DO play the guitar, and it's ALREADY fun. Other guitar players I knew shared my disdain of the game. Trouble was, we had never tried it.

My road-to-Damascus conversion moment came a few months ago, when a friend's holiday party featured an ongoing round-robin session of Rock Band, which for those of you who haven't sampled this particular brand of crack yet is like Guitar Hero, except there's also someone playing fake drums, potentially rocking a fake bass guitar and someone else singing along karaoke-style. Sounds like four times the lameness, right?

Unfortunately for my productivity and self-respect levels, wrong. Totally addictive. Two weeks later I owned my own copy, and started hosting my own Rock Band and Guitar Hero get-togethers -- and suddenly found myself in the awkward, somewhat indefensible position of having no real answer to the question I had so frequently (and sarcastically) posed: why is Guitar Hero fun?

Below: my real guitar and my fake guitar. Guess which one gets played more often?

It has something to do with the nature of simulations and virtual reality in general, I think. You already have a life, for instance, so why would you need a Second Life? Lots of people enjoy real tennis -- so why has Wii Tennis proven so popular? Part of the equation is that Wii Tennis and Guitar Hero actually do take some skill to do well (I still can't quite beat the latter on "Expert" mode), but not nearly as much skill as the real thing. So you get the satisfaction of seeing your hard work and practice pay off, only the ratio of hard work to getting better is much more in your favor in the game world than in the real world.

So that's part of it. Another factor is that it's actually a challenge -- even for "real" guitar players -- which those of us harboring an unquenchable drive to excel at everything we do find irresistable. (This describes my wife more than it does me; there was a point at which, after having ridiculed me for getting the game in the first place and having never played guitar before in her life, I would find her practicing Guitar Hero every night -- usually playing Heart's "Barracuda" over and over again. Kill me if I ever hear that song again.)

Also, let me quash a nasty rumor right now: I've heard people claim that being a real guitar player is actually a disadvantage when it comes to Guitar Hero; maybe it's that you want to play more notes than appear on the screen, but at the end of the day some video game nerd might be able to best Slash at guitar in the game world, if not the real world. I think this is hokum: it definitely helps if you know how to play the real guitar!

I feel like I'm partway there, but I don't have the whole answer -- what do you think? Why are simulations like Guitar Hero so damned addictive?

Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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