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In-between instrument and immediacy: Guitar Hero and the instrument-inspired

DALGLEISH, Mat and Payne, Chris (2024) In-between instrument and immediacy: Guitar Hero and the instrument-inspired. In: In-Betweenness of Play (British DIGRA), 11-13th April 2024, Staffordshire University London Digital Institute Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Here East, London E20 3BS. (Unpublished)

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Abstract or description

There has been extensive discussion of Guitar Hero (hereafter GH) (Harmonix/RedOctane, 2005) elsewhere (e.g. Miller, 2012). To provide new insights almost twenty years after its initial release, this paper re-examines GH, and its controller in particular, through the previously neglected lens of musical instrument design (a field that has flourished over the last fifteen years), and aspects such as interaction metaphor, mapping, nonlinearity, and mastery. A recurring theme is that instruments are privileged but no longer stable or trustworthy. GH instead exists a space “in-between” musical instruments and sound toys, but can still leverage some of the perceived advantages of instruments.

Building on Marshall's (2008) concept of the instrument-inspired, we explore the apparent disconnect at the heart of the GH controller. On one level its primary interface is little more than five push buttons and a strum bar, yet the guitar-like arrangement of these elements enables the design to exploit a widely understood (and culturally significant) interaction metaphor to intuitively provide immediate knowledge of how the interaction works (Sarasua, et al., 2019).

A particular focus is mapping, or the designed relationship between player input and system output (Hunt and Wanderley, 2002). It is identified that, despite largely binary interaction outcomes in GH compared to the broadly continuous sound output of traditional instruments, the GH controller and many traditional instruments share the same basic many-to-one mapping type (Kvifte, 1989; Jordà, 2005). This feeds into consideration of learning and mastery. Rather than focus only on usability, instrument designers are seen to desire a "low entry fee" for novices but also try to support “limitless virtuosity” (Wessel and Wright, 2001). In the case of traditional instruments, mastery is closely tied to the player's ability to overcome significant input-output nonlinearity. Moreover, this is considered crucial to expressive potential (Jordà, 2005). The GH case is shown to depart from this as its mappings are highly linear and the potential for extended mastery (albeit with limited expressiveness) instead comes from game juice and flow-oriented game mechanics.

We conclude by articulating how, despite the series’ demise, GH’s in-between-ness has influenced subsequent developments in both games and the NIME community.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Faculty: School of Digital, Technologies and Arts > Games Design, Production and Programming
Event Title: In-Betweenness of Play (British DIGRA)
Event Location: Staffordshire University London Digital Institute Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Here East, London E20 3BS
Event Dates: 11-13th April 2024
Depositing User: Mathew DALGLEISH
Date Deposited: 24 Apr 2024 13:47
Last Modified: 24 Apr 2024 13:47

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