Rocktastic: How Guitar Hero Brought Stardom to the Masses

If you’d been living in the woods for the last 10 years and needed a quick pop cultural primer to bring you up to date, you could do worse than watch the new video by Eminem, for his single "We Made You". There’s Sarah Palin, enjoying the attentions of the Village People’s Alaskan chapter. There’s the rapper dressed as Mr Spock, in anticipation of this summer’s blockbuster Star Trek remake. There’s Lindsay Lohan and Sam Ronson. There’s Amy Winehouse.

And between the celebrity-based barbs there’s Eminem, as himself, prancing back and forth on what appears to be a giant guitar fretboard, surrounded by brightly coloured dots. This, in case you really have been away for a while, is what Guitar Hero looks like.

Guitar Hero combines two favourite activities of the frustrated rock star: karaoke and air guitar. It contains the live performance aspect that has made singing off-key cover versions in public so popular with amateurs, while cutting out the caterwauling that makes karaoke so disagreeable. It’s simple: plug in your games console, strap on the accompanying plastic axe and strum away, hitting the five coloured plastic keys in time with those little dots on the screen, to produce the chords for a not-inconsiderable catalogue of classic rock tunes, from AC/DC to ZZ Top.

The history of gaming begins with the solitary pleasures of Pac Man and Donkey Kong. Multiplayer games, and later the internet, allowed for a shared experience of sorts. But only now, with the advent of consoles such as the Nintendo Wii, and titles like Guitar Hero, has gaming truly become a social activity – much like gathering round the old Joanna for a rendition of "Roll Out the Barrel", or sitting the family down for the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special.