In the early 2010s, the closet in my parents' basement was stuffed with plastic instruments. The guitar that came with Guitar Hero 3, with another guitar from Rock Band, plus a drum kit and a microphone. Another microphone, this one from Def Jam Rapstar. On top of this polypropylene orchestra were two other off brand guitars that felt closer to the real thing, but which I could never get to work with Rock Band or Guitar Hero. Those games consumed a lot of my time in my high school years, but they also took up a lot of space. I've wanted to revisit them, but that would mean shelling out for the landfill-destined equipment all over again, not to mention finding somewhere to put it once the desire to play subsided.
But, there's a new breed of rhythm games that won't have that problem — ones that replace real-world plastic instruments with in-game weapons of war.
While rhythm combat games like Beat Saber, BPM: Bullets Per Minute, Metal: Hellsinger, and this week's surprise release, Hi-Fi Rush, are forging their own genre, they also feel like rhythm games reverting to the medium's mean. The market for plastic instruments dried up — and Rock Band dev Harmonix has struggled to find a follow-up in the years since — but there will always be a market for games with exhilarating fights.
That's a little disappointing. Not because I don't like these games. I do! But because rhythm games have long offered one of gaming's primary means of interaction that didn't involve violence. The connection between "being good at Guitar Hero" and "being good at guitar" was always dubious at best. But games like Rock Band and Band Hero had the potential to get people interested in a hobby outside of video games. A game like Metal: Hellsinger feels like it's more likely to inspire players to check out other first-person shooters. Steam isn't going to tell players that other people who played BPM: Bullets Per Minute also listened to Metallica. Fans of Hi-Fi Rush might play other character action games, like Devil May Cry 5 or Bayonetta 3, but they're unlikely to channel their newfound understanding of rhythm into another hobby.
And, that's fine. It's okay for video games to be fun for their own sake. I don't expect fans of Cursed to Golf to hit the links, or for Cult of the Lamb fans to sign up for an auditing session at their local Scientologist church. Thank God most Call of Duty players don't sign up to check out its real-world equivalent.
But it can be a wonderful thing when a game is able to get you interested in something outside the world of gaming. The Assassin's Creed Discovery Tours are a cool example of how a game developer can use their product to expand its players' horizons. Those modes, added sometime after launch for Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla, gave players a chance to learn about the world as it was in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and during the time of the Vikings. Because it takes the existing map from the game and inserts lessons into it, it offers a new kind of education for players who might not like learning in a classroom setting.
Guitar Hero and Rock Band offered that for kids who were excited about music. I still haven't replaced my plastic instruments, and nothing has replaced the hole that Guitar Hero and Rock Band left.
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