Can you hear me rockin’?

It’s the usual Saturday night in the residence halls of UW-Eau Claire. The RAs are on duty and making their rounds as they begin to climb the stairs to the next floor. With each step they take, the sound of a blaring bass gets louder and louder, despite the fact that it’s past quiet hours.

Once they reach the floor of their destination, they search for the room from which the sound is coming. As they turn the corner, they see an open door and a bunch of people huddling around a television. One person is standing in the middle, appearing to be holding a guitar in his hand.

This isn’t a normal guitar, however; this is a special guitar made to hook up to the television, the guitar that is the basic controller for the video game “Guitar Hero.”

The RAs may ask these particular students to stop playing the game. But, in all likelihood, these students are just a few of the countless students at Eau Claire who play the video game that seems to be growing in popularity with each passing weekend.

How it began
“Guitar Hero” is a music genre video game for the PlayStation 2 video game console. It was developed by Harmonix Music Systems and was published by Red Octane for gamers to be able to simulate the playing of an electric guitar, with a guitar-shaped controller modeled after a Gibson SG, according to the game’s official Web site.

The game was released in North America on Nov. 8, 2005. Since then, it has won numerous awards and on Nov. 7, 2006, it spawned a sequel, “Guitar Hero II,” which can be played on both PlayStation 2 and the Xbox 360. The sequel includes 64 songs and also introduces a practice mode, as well as a new multiplayer co-op mode that allows players to collaborate by playing lead, rhythm or bass guitar parts, according to the Web site.

How to play
The controller has five buttons called “frets,” a “strum bar” and a “whammy bar.” Each song is presented in five columns that together resemble a guitar fret board that scrolls constantly towards the player. The five columns correspond to the five fret buttons and appropriately colored notes appear in these columns. To play a note, the player must hold the correct fret button and press the strum bar. If the player misses a note by strumming early, late or not at all, a three-stage “Rock Meter” will decrease. The Rock Meter is an indication of how well the player is performing and of the crowd’s general opinion of the set.

The game has four difficulty modes: easy, medium, hard, and expert. Along with the four levels, there are three modes to choose from: career mode, quick play, and multiplayer.

The game features 47 playable songs, 30 of which are covers of the originals. Additionally, there are 17 bonus songs that can be unlocked at the “unlock shop,” according to the game’s official web site

It goes on to say that the final score, along with overall accuracy percentage and longest note streak, are reported at the end of a song. It is not uncommon for a song to contain 400-600 notes or more, while more complicated songs on hard or expert difficulty modes can contain 1,000-2,000 notes.

Additionally, the web site reports that there are eight playable characters, six of whom are available from the beginning of the game. Though the characters never speak, their personalities come through in their design and playing style. Their biographies are hinted at throughout, with brief character descriptions printed in the game’s manual booklet and on the character selection screen.

Why it is popular
Freshman Matt Ludvigson said he has been playing “Guitar Hero” on and off for three months, but every time he gets the chance to play, it gives him an opportunity to break from his normal persona and take on a different role.

“It’s like for three minutes I get to be a rock star, and that’s just a lot of fun,” Ludvigson said.

Senior Ross Neher, on the other hand, said he thinks of the game as a bonding tool.

After being bored one day and seeing the game in Wal-Mart, he said he decided to buy the product that he claimed was “very well-marketed.”

Neher, who said that he plays mostly with his roommates and their friends, said he had no experience with the game – or with playing guitar in general – prior to buying the game. He said he hardly heard about it before making the purchase but has had “Guitar Hero” for about two months.

“I was a Dance Dance Revolution fan, and this game basically had that same premise, so I thought it would be good and I bought it,” Neher said.

He went on to say the game has bolstered his companionship with friends and has given him a great sense of accomplishment, seeing as how he has beaten the game’s highest level – expert.

“I have put hours into it, and it’s something that to me was different,” Neher said. “It rocks, and is the best game ever. Ten minutes into it, I was hooked and pretty much addicted for life.”

But he isn’t the only student who is addicted. Senior John Gnacinski said once his friends offered to let him play, he was addicted.

“I bought it a week ago, which was actually a week after I initially played it,” Gnacinski said.

“Since then it just hasn’t gotten old.”

Gnacinski, who plays the acoustic guitar outside the video game world, said he has used the game to help him improve his playing skills.

“It has definitely helped me to not worry so much about the strings to play,” Gnacinski said.

Ludvigson, who has played the guitar for three years, also said the game has helped him improve his skills.

“It helps you with forgetting your fingers. It has definitely inflated my ego and made my fingers stronger as well,” Ludvigson said.

Despite their personal reasons for playing the game, all of the “rockers” had theories as to why it is popular outside their groups of friends.

“Everyone likes music and wants to be a rock star. It’s a lot like DDR, which also makes it pretty awesome,” Ludvigson said. “It isn’t violent, but entertaining, and just makes for a really good time.”

With college students also having small blocks of time in between classes, the game has provided students with something to do during what could otherwise be a boring period.

“College students have a lot of free time, and rather than just watching television, they like to try new things, and this game is a newer type of game and is different than any other type of video game,” Gnacinski said.

Verdict still out with professors
Students may find “Guitar Hero” to be one of the more popular ways to spend a night on the weekend; however, if you ask a majority of the professors on campus about “Guitar Hero,” most of them won’t know what you are talking about. Even some of the professors in the music department aren’t familiar with the game.

Music therapy professor Lee Anna Rasar had never heard of the video game. After researching what the game entailed, Rasar had mixed feelings about what the game was promoting.

“When we look at populations served by music therapy, many of them have lives wrecked by destruction, and this image would not be an ideal choice of words to use,” Rasar said. “We would prefer to create a healthy symphony.”

And while many students who play the game feel that it is improving their guitar-playing skills, Rasar felt that the technology that the game uses is something that is already being offered by the music department.

“We can lay down tracks for people to play along with video editing and recording studio equipment and individualize the music choices, including creation of our own songs, and we can use images of the guitarist using healthy, non-destructive positioning when playing,” Rasar said.

Gary Don, professor of “Introduction to 20th Century Techniques,”also had not heard of “Guitar Hero.” Despite this, he said there is a proposal currently in place that would modernize the current labs that Rasar described, which may allow for newer technology like the game to reach students at the university level.

Don said his students, virtually all of whom study voice, have yet to mention the game’s popularity to him.

Ethan Wickman, assistant professor of music, hadn’t heard about the game either before being informed of its premise during a student conference on Tuesday.

“It certainly sounds helpful. If it can help you to hit a note at the right time and help with your agility related to playing guitar, then I think it would help you to recite melody lines,” Wickman said of the game’s effect on currently active and aspiring guitar players. “It wouldn’t help if the notes were different, because that causes a bad correlation.

“It would likely help to improve hand-eye coordination, but it can really be no substitute for the real thing.”