“Playing music is, I think, one of the most fundamentally joyful experiences that life has to offer. Just about everyone tries at some point in their life to learn to play music: piano lessons as a kid, guitar lessons as a teenager, or whatever. The overwhelming majority of people give it up after six months or a year in frustration, just because it’s too difficult to learn to play music the old-fashioned way. […] Consequently, this profound joy that comes from making music is only accessible to this tiny percentage of the people of the world. We created this company to try to invent new ways to give music-loving non-musicians—the millions of passionate air-guitarists in the world—[a chance] to play music.”
That quote comes from an interview with Alex Rigopulos, co-founder of Harmonix. He still serves as CEO of the company that developed games like Frequency, Karaoke Revolution and Guitar Hero. I think the quote tells us the proper way to look at music video games. Harmonix games are not a perfect substitute for “real” musicians, they’re just a way for non-musicians to get a taste of what they’re missing. Nobody plays Guitar Hero and thinks he’s a guitarist. It’s also important to remember that Rigopulos wants his games to be fun, a way to avoid the hours of practice that are needed to master a real instrument instead of a plastic controller with colored buttons. Judging from the 25 million units sold and $2 billion in sales, he’s succeeded.
So let’s apply that same idea to the upcoming DJ Hero. The game is exactly what you think it is: Guitar Hero for turntablists. It comes complete with a peripheral gaming controller– a four-button turntable and a plastic mixer with two corssfaders. I can already tell this game is going to polarize people. It doesn’t come out until October 27th, but I’ve already heard a lot of talk. For the most part it’s been positive. Paul Oakenfold loved it and David Guetta is signed on to promote it. Still, it’s hard to say whether the enthusiasm is valid or just a way to bump up sales for a game they both get paid to appear in.
I’ve also heard some complaints that the game “dumbs-down” the art of DJing. Let’s just make one thing clear: nobody in his or her right mind is going to perform live with this thing. It’s just a video game. So all the arguments lobbied by “real turntablists” against, say, Ableton Live or Serato Scratch Live don’t apply here. Similarly, nobody who plays DJ Hero is going to mistake himself for an actual DJ using Technics 1200’s and a Pioneer DJM-800. Playing an Xbox 360 game isn’t the same as doing this. The people who complain about how playing DJ Hero isn’t the same as using an actual set of turntables and a crossfader are correct; but their complaint is irrelevant because it’s so painfully obvious. I’m sure some people are going to get a little too into this game (just like those Guitar Hero superfans), but they won’t mistake their gaming skills for DJing skills.
The biggest hope I have for this game is that it gets people more interested in electronic music. Who knows? It might even inspire people to try their hand at “the real thing.” If the game gives us our next great musician or just a larger group of people buying concert tickets and supporting “the scene,” then I’m all for it. And if it doesn’t? Hey, at least it’ll be a fun way to spend your free time.
All this talk about DJing got me thinking about one of the legends in the genre, DJ Shadow. He’s also included in DJ Hero as a playable character, something I have to give the game programmers a lot of credit for. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of DJ Shadow, especially his first album Entroducing, the first ever sample-only album that he released 13 (13?!) years ago. Nothing but a pair of turntables and an MPC. It still sounds as fresh today as it did back then. I won’t spend any more time praising Endtroducing. Enough has been said about the album already. There’s really not much I can add other than to say that if you’ve never heard Endtroducing, I strongly suggest you go listen to it in its entirety. Here’s one track.