I, Mike “The Birdman” Dodd, am a rock star. I play nightly to an audience consisting of Optimus Prime, Darth Tater, my autographed picture of Transformer’s rock Stan Bush and my collection of Jean Claude Van Damme posters. OK, so maybe I’m just a rock star in my own mind. The Guitar Hero franchise was something I never thought I would be addicted to, much less something into which I’d invest a crap load of money and time. I remember watching Attack of the Show late one night and seeing a promo segment that caught my attention like no other since Final Fantasy 7. After trotting into Wal-Mart and dropping $80 on a game with some Sum 41 tracks and a Queens of the Stone Age song, I was entered into a new world. Guitar Hero was a new experience. Little did I know it would end up changing my life, gaming and otherwise.
I wasn’t Jimmy Page right off the hop; I downright sucked, and I even failed on Easy a few times before I stopped hearing those annoying “clangs” and “twangs.” Those sounds are a lot like being punched by a midget in the groin: they hurt, especially to a gamer who’s not used to losing.
But Guitar Hero pushed me to learn and listen and engage in a new form of gameplay that I didn’t know about before. Guitar Hero also helped me get through some very tough times in my life. I had a experienced a pretty bad heartbreak during my first year of college. My fiance left me on my birthday, and I was heartbroken, homeless and seemingly without a friend in the world for that night — except for a little plastic guitar. The music helped me get through that hard time. I started to sing along with the games tracks and just let it all out through song. It was such a powerful moment to blast Bad Religon’s Infected on Expert and sing and not miss a note.
Guitar Hero helped throughout college, as we had Guitar Hero nights at the Residence and just stayed up all night playing the same songs and over again, really making an impact on the social world around us. This led me to ask one of my best friends to teach me to play the Bass guitar. My first guitar was a Epiphone Thunderbird with a Gothic Inlay, and I still play…badly. I did, however, learn to play Guyz Nite’s “Die Hard,” which was pretty much the best moment of my musical career.
Through it all, Guitar Hero opened up a lot of new avenues for me, and it’s a game that really brought me back into being a gamer. I have bought all the sequels and new guitars, and I even picked up a new instrument in the process. I learned more and more about music and let it talk to me in new and exciting ways. I even sang along with my playing and noticed my scores going up — and people mentioning I had a nice singing voice. It really made an impact — then Rock Band came out. Rock Band provided a whole new level of social experience when we formed out first virtual band, Piledriving The Shark.
Band nights were times where all of us got together and sang and drummed and strummed without a care in the world. It was truly awesome, and I really have to send out huge props to developers like Red Octane and Harmonix for unleashing such a force on the world. You gave us the power of rock and roll in our living rooms, and for three to four minutes at time, we are living our dreams and letting the power of music come from deep down inside, rewarding us with satisfaction and a high score. Band nights also allowed us to come together closer as friends, encouraging each other but learning from each other as we took turns and hints from the actual musicians in our group. We became closer friends as soon as that loading screen came up and the lights went down. We hit the virtual stage and let something new out into the world for a few hours.
It’s weird to see how much a video game can really change one person’s life. Guitar Hero made me work thru a heartbreak and really learn to express myself. Sure, it was through five simple buttons and my voice; some people just use different forms of expression to get through life’s difficulties, and this is the one I chose for myself. Now, years later, I’m still playing Guitar Hero and Rock Band, not for any heartbreak, but to simply celebrate the power of music and expression and knowing that I found a piece of myself in a plastic guitar with five buttons and a whammy bar.
Video games can sometimes unlock a new potential in someone. Some people become artists, and some play for the MLG. I joined the broadcasting industry because I found a voice within myself. Guitar Hero changed a life. Now ask yourself: what video game changed yours?
My name is Mike Dodd, and I am a Guitar Hero….
Mike Dodd is co-founder and host of
This Week in Geek, an International radio show and podcast and a place where gamers and “geeks like us” can chill. His gaming column appears on DailyGame every Friday.