Somehow amidst all the hoopla of guitar-shaped controllers and the bastard stepchildren of electronic drum kits, I have managed to keep from playing Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and/or any similar game. Admittedly, at first it was because I was being a total snob/asshole and didn’t want to be associated with the unwashed masses who could now, as CNN.com phrased it, “play as if they have talent.” But as time has gone on I have come to completely loathe the games, and for reasons much subtler and sinister than any hipster trend: they actually attempt to demystify the art and beauty of music. By reducing songs to their intrinsic physical values – notes of a certain pitch played at certain intervals in the company of, and in relation to, other instruments and/or singers – the games remove the mystery of music, for musicians and listeners alike. Additionally, they promote the theory that music is only “good” if it is played “correctly” – bringing back nightmares of overbearing music teachers to many ex-students. Screw it up and you get the grating guitar-flub sound; too many, and you lose the round. (I don’t even want to get into the fact that it completely ignores the realms of dynamic and intensity – a tap on the button is the same as mashing it.)
One way or another, the games advocate the idea that when someone writes a song they are merely lining up colored buttons on a timeline, and that songs can just as equally be reduced to their components. I'm sure some will favorably compare the timeline found in Guitar Hero to sheet music, but the games, by their nature, remove the human element. Sheet music provides (often very strict) guidelines, but they are still only guidelines - each performance of the same music can vary in tempo, dynamic, and even pitch, affected by a player's skill, memory, and even mood at the time of performance. Not so in Guitar Hero - you learn, not to play music, but to play a monkey while the console grinds its organ.
Any artist will tell you that art is the truest application of the idea of “synergy”: though ultimately a song is just a series of notes played in succession to a particular rhythm, and a painting is just a collection of paint strokes with different colors and styles of paints, and literature is just a collection of ink marks on pages, they are made more than that by the artistic processes which place them in the contexts they eventually exist within. They cannot be reduced again to their original elements – but they can be destroyed, if you so wish.
(I realize I may be over analyzing what is, after all, a game, but as more makers and users of the games promote their “instructional” benefits, I begin to balk at the comparisons to real instruments and practice.)