LEARNING MAGAZINEARTICLEHOW TO BE A LEARNING HERODavid Wortley & Guitar Hero GDC San FranciscoElectronic games can teach us a lot about the learning process as I have found out in my self-imposed guinea pig role as a would-be Guitar Hero.One of the perks of being Director of the Serious Games Institute is that can legitimately buy yourselfan X-Box 360 and a Guitar Hero game as a research exercise you can explore in the comfort of yourown home. Somewhat surprisingly, given my job title, I have never been an electronic game junkie.Constantly exposed by the abilities of infant relatives, I have found that my age is a barrier to usinggames consoles and any attempt to compete against anyone over the age of 5 in an electronic gameis doomed to failure and embarrassment.Guitar Hero changed all that in a flash. Tempted by the prospect of gigging along with Eric Claptonand Jack Bruce I bought Guitar Hero2 for the X-Box 360 and suddenly found myself with a guitarshaped interface that made those irritating red, green, blue, turquoise and orange buttons moreaccessible to my banana shaped fingers and fading hand-eye co-ordination. My fascination for Guitar
Hero was not just that it brought me into a fantasy world of a long-lost misspent youth as anincompetent bass player in a school rock band called Gotham City, but also that it gave me a chanceto see if this games technology might bring me serious benefits such as improved finger mobility,better hand-eye co-ordination and (dare I dream it) an eventual ability to read music and play a realguitar.Guitar Hero ScreenIn the original game, you choose your alter-ego character from a flamboyant selection of iconicguitar players and find yourself in a band playing your first gig at an “easy” level. This involvespressing the coloured keys on the neck of the guitar whilst strumming a plectrum bar to coincidewith the coloured notes sliding down the screen. Every correct “note” hit is rewarded by theappropriate guitar sound in the song and points. Get it wrong and you get a bum note and no points.Get a string of correct notes in sequence and your score multiplies. Get a lot of wrong notes and youget booed off the stage.It took about an hour before I was able to get enough correct notes to complete a whole song andbe rewarded with the “You Rock” accolade and some career dollars – virtual money that can later inyour career enable you to buy new virtual clothes, guitars and accessories in the game shop.Over the months, my career and my ability blossomed to the point where I became a competentmedium level guitar hero able to hold my own in guitar hero shoot-outs in X-Box Live where youthrown down a virtual on-line gauntlet to other on-line heros and see who can get the most notesand sequences right.In February 2007 I found myself at a post-conference party in New York where several people wereclustered around the next generation game “Rock Band”, based on the same principle but with the
addition of drums, bass and microphone. At last my lifetime fantasy of being able to walk into aparty and play a musical instrument had been realised and I can’t begin to tell you the pleasure ofbeing immersed in a collective fantasy of being in a rock band playing great music. In learning to playGuitar Hero I also learnt a lot about myself and about the learning process. The game gave me justenough challenge and reward to make me addicted and not so much difficulty that I gave up. I alsolearnt that my skills actually improved if I didn’t play for a couple of weeks – it was as if my fingershad a retained memory which clarified and improved when rested for a while.Building your own characterI’ve just bought the next release of Guitar Hero – “World Tour” and the new features in this packagepoint the way to next-generation learning techniques, especially as a platform to facilitatepersonalised and peer-to-peer learning. Instead of choosing a stock character, you can now totallychange the appearance, accessories and clothing of your alter-ego so your learning experience isshaped by your own preferences. Significantly, you also have access to a virtual music studio inwhich you can make your own guitar hero classics and share them on-line with other people.I am now at level 13 on guitar and bass and have shared the virtual stage with both Hendrix and OzzyOsbourne and a little fairy tells me that Santa might be bringing me drums, a second guitar and amicrophone this Xmas. I can’t wait to extend my lifetime of personalised, self-directed learning andwillingly sacrifice my precious leisure time in intense academic research.What a hero I am !!!!