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Selling a stairway to heaven? the gamer

If you’re one of the many who find it hard to resist that urge to bust out the air guitar every time the main riff of your favorite song pounds out of a loudspeaker, no matter how embarrassing it may be to you and those around you, “Guitar Hero” may be the game for you. Go ahead, indulge while others point and stare; if only they knew how much fun you were having. The only refuge you have in the face of looking like a complete fool is the hugely popular game “Guitar Hero” and its close cousin, “Rock Band,” which let you virtually rock out with little or no training at all. Just as long as you don’t plan on jamming to some Led Zeppelin any time soon.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Peter Mensch, a partner at Q Prime Management, which manages Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, was quoted as saying, “It ain’t about the money.” It’s that the band doesn’t feel comfortable with game companies having access to its master tapes — which are required to successfully note-track each instrument in the game. It’s a bit empty, as far as excuses go and makes me wonder if there isn’t some deeper issue at the root of the decision.

The games “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” with their familiar plastic instruments, have been poised in a bitter war of escalating peripheral additions and game features. They have been competing for fans by looking for ways to distinguish themselves from each other. Where the difference between “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” was once the fact that “Rock Band” supported drums while the other did not is now a moot point as “Guitar Hero World Tour” will have its own drum kit. Don’t worry, though, if you already own a “Rock Band” drum kit; recent news from E3 has come out that “Guitar Hero World Tour” will support “Rock Band’s” drums. As the line blurs between these franchises, though, the one determining factor between which game you buy might just come down to which one has the songs you want to play. That’s where bands like Aerosmith, Metallica and Van Halen play a big role. If they were to be signed as exclusive to the “Guitar Hero” lineup, “Rock Band” would be left in the cold. Although, currently, no one is really sure what the word is on exclusivity.

Going beyond the business sense, the reason all of this should matter to Led Zeppelin is because these games represent a way of connecting with music in a whole new way. I’ve heard from multiple guitar players who have shunned the games. They see the time spent perfecting skills in a video game as being wasted — time that could be better spent learning to play a real guitar.

That’s not the point, though.

The point is to have fun with music. For the same reason not everyone gets to be a professional football player or explore distant worlds, for everyone who ever jammed on a real guitar but just couldn’t get the hang of it, those are the people these games were made for. Regardless of skill or talent, these games fulfill a powerful fantasy while introducing people to music they might not have heard before. Isn’t that worth something more than money? It seems sad and unusual, then, that Led Zeppelin has no problem lending its music to car commercials but won’t seek to engage with its fans in such an exciting, new way. Until the band members change their minds, though, no one will be buying a stairway to heaven.

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