Games and Sick Guitars

Just because I’m bored I’m going to compare games to musical instruments.

Wait what? Make sense you fool! Some of you might be saying now.

But bear with me it’ll make sense in a minute.

When you think about what a game actually is, it’s fairly similar to what a musical instrument is. A video game is a piece of software that is made to interact with a human person in a variety of ways in order to entertain that person. A musical instrument is a physical object that is made to interact with a human person in order to entertain that person. A game in and of itself doesn’t really do anything. I realize some open world games are so sprawling and complex that they seem fairly complex and almost alive, but without a player there to interact with they will just continue with their clockwork routine forever. Even the best guitar in the world that makes the cleared richest notes ever is just going to sit there until someone picks it up and strums its strings.

Another similarity is that with both games and instruments looks don’t equal value. The band The Sonic Youth are kinda famous for modding their guitars by doing things like jamming screwdrivers into them. They do stuff like this because it changes the way the instrument sounds in a specific way that they like. In the same way game devs will occasionally need to leave bugs in their game because removing them would break the experience they are trying to create for players.

No two people will play the same instrument the same way. Even if you ask them to play the exact same song it will end up sounding different. In much the same way even with the most linear games out there people will find ways to play them in diverse ways. This fact is why I think let’s players on YouTube and Twitch streamers are becoming so popular. I could probably learn to play my favorite song on the guitar if I tried really hard and applied myself I’d still rather go to see it played at a show or even just download it, some people would rather watch someone else build a rad castle in Minecraft.

The analogy breaks down a bit when you start to think about competitive games. Unless you’re talking about a Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World style battle of the bands where you’re summoning magic creatures to fight you’re never going to compete with musical instruments the same way you do with games. I still think the analogy is useful, though. Too often the conversation about games falls back onto comparing games to movies or other older, non-interactive media, and I think those comparisons are becoming less and less valuable as games become more and more complex in the way we interact with them.