It’s 2015 and, just like I was in college—not to mention in high school before that—I’m really good at Guitar Hero. And just like in years past, I still can’t get anyone to care.
I played the new Guitar Hero game, Guitar Hero Live, for all of two hours before determinedly switching to the “Expert” difficulty. The new plastic guitar controller, with two rows of three buttons instead of one row of five, is different enough that I’d started on easier difficulties to help ease the transition. But I’m goddamned good at Guitar Hero, and Expert mode called.
Expert is where Live really cranks shit up. It introduces “chords” that require limber finger gymnastics to hit every button, then forces you to switch between them with demanding speed. The buttons you’re pressing in time with the music start to actually resemble that music’s notes, and some basic musical understanding—a little bit of rhythm, even—becomes practically required.
Expert is where I’ve been playing since high school, and Expert is where I’m playing now. Sometimes I fail. Even playing along with shuffled tracks in Guitar Hero Live’s new casual “Guitar Hero TV” mode—like MTV as it was meant to be, it just plays music videos all day—I have to crank the difficulty back down occasionally. And even then, most people who only casually pick up a plastic axe once in a while can’t hack it where I’m at.
In college, I’d thought this would make me an instant hit. I’d throw on my skinny jeans and sip a sophisticated malt liquor, and wow friends and strangers at the countless Guitar Hero parties I knew I’d attend.
The reality, of course, was that no one gave a shit that I was good at Guitar Hero. Like everyone else in the world, I stopped playing eventually, and the franchise (as well as its main rival, Rock Band) took a five-year hiatus.
Now it’s back, and there’s one key difference in my life that’s making it easier than ever to rock out with plastic: I no longer care whether anyone cares that I’m good at Guitar Hero. In an online era where I tweet every time I die in a video game, I’m somehow capable of enjoying my prowess in Guitar Hero for what it is—an absurdly specific skill that I’ve inexplicably spent years honing for no real purpose—and not trying to get anything more out of it than that. Maybe I’ve just finally realized there’s nothing more there.
Guitar Hero Live is actually a significant evolution from the past games in the series. Structurally it’s completely different. Even if the new live action mode—where you play onstage seeing through the eyes of a guitarist as actual humans chant along with the lyrics of actual songs being played by a fake band—is really dumb, it’s at least different.
And “Guitar Hero TV,” which lets me just pick a channel and play endlessly, is my perfect mode. It’s the new pick-up, pass-and-play Guitar Hero experience that I never knew the series was missing.
I had a few friends over last week, and as we drank and talked we clicked away at the plastic guitar too, passing it back and forth like a roach. Whenever it was my turn, I opened the menu to crank the difficulty back up to Expert.
Hitting a 50- or 100-note streak gave me a rush of pride and adrenaline. If anyone else noticed, they didn’t really care. Luckily, neither do I anymore. I’m just glad Guitar Hero is back.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Gaming Editor. He’s really good at Guitar Hero. He lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and two dogs. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.
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