It’s rare that I get to write about video games and bass guitar together, but the recent news about the new Fender Precision bass guitar controller got me thinking about the bass guitar becoming more accessible with video games.
The Guitar Hero and Rock Band video games have introduced classic rock songs anywhere from 30 to 40 years old to new fans – kids and young adults that play video games. These games have also been attributed to increased CD sales and radio play for the artists featured in the game (everyone from AC/DC and Metallica to Garbage and the Beastie Boys). With the arrival of a dedicated bass guitar controller, I can’t help but wonder if the bass guitar will benefit as well.
Video games appeal to an audience that may never have seriously considered playing a musical instrument. By playing these games, learning the bass grooves and hearing the bass lines (they drop out if you screw up your timing or press a wrong button) there’s a good chance the bass guitar may rub off on people. About 10 years ago video games helped me get more interested in hockey. After playing the video games and learning more about the sport, I eventually became a fan. I ended up purchasing new skates, a stick, a puck and the official team jersey – even shelling out for a couple of NHL hockey games. I think that video games may also help convert new followers to the bass guitar camp in a similar way.
The new Fender Precision bass guitar controller takes the video game bass playing experience to the next level. It allows you to even play finger-style by incorporating a double strum bar for alternating finger technique! Heck, even my brother – a drummer has been playing bass on Rock Band – giving himself a little more respect for what I do as a bassist. The latest news is that you can now also get a Gene Simmons “axe” bass that he made famous while playing bass for KISS in the 70s.
Now don’t get me wrong, playing a video game isn’t anything like the real thing, whether it’s taking a slap-shot or jamming on a bass riff. I had a chance to play the game several times (albeit using the standard guitar controller) and it took a lot of getting used to. Being accustomed to the feel of a real bass guitar – the controller was puny, and of course there are no strings to interact with. The sensitivity was off as well, it seemed to be forgiving of my timing without affecting the performance on the game (not so in real life).
The other major adjustment factor is that you have to play bass guitar with your eyes – by watching the screen – as opposed to using your ears. Unless you’re a classical musician or play in an orchestra, you general tend to listen to the other players to play along with them. I noticed my eyes were getting tired since they were glued to the screen for minutes at a time; I guess I need to blink more?
These games won’t further your bass education by teaching you how to play actual notes or lock in with other players. You play along to the recorded version of the song; you can’t speed it up or slow it down. You hit the right coloured button at the right time, nothing more. If the drummer is having a hard time, you can’t change what you play to make them sound better (like a real bassist might do), no – you adhere to your part or risk being booed off stage. Just like hockey video games are often heavy on the goal-scoring and light on the defensive aspects of the game (after all, scoring goals is more fun) you won’t learn the real life strategies of a real life bass guitar player.
It should come as no surprise that playing video games won’t make you a better bassist. Video games are about entertainment first and education (if any) second. Playing Rock Band is fun, even if I’m playing virtual bass guitar on a Fender Stratocaster controller, so they’ve succeeded in their main goal. Oddly enough it’s cool to perform with others that aren’t musically inclined; the opportunity to reach people who couldn’t tell the difference between a bass and a guitar is greater than ever!
Awareness of the role of the bass guitar in music is a good thing in my book, and video games are helping to spread the word. It is odd to think that a few years from now you may pick up a copy of Bass Player magazine and read about the hottest new bassist discovering that they started playing bass after experiencing it on Rock Band – stranger things could happen! The video game exposure of the bass guitar should translate to more instrument and equipment sales, more interest in bass guitar solo projects and hopefully a little more respect for the role the bass plays in music – how could that be bad?
Thanks for reading about the bass guitar gaining popularity from video games at Bass Guitar Rocks.com.