Guitar Hero provokes a conditioned response to coloured lights

4th December 2009 – 5.48 pm

I am continuing my drumming lessons, learing different patterns and building the strength of my timing and co-ordination. I am also still practicing on the fake plastic drums fairly regularly, although not as frequently as I did with Guitar Hero: World Tour, perhaps because of the lack of motivation to progress the career mode in Guitar Hero 5. But the differences between playing on a full kit and fake kit certainly have an effect, and not just because extra of the co-ordination needed to operate the hi-hat, or the size and loudness. An interesting contrast is revealed to me when practicing.

My drum lessons require me to learn to read sheet music for drums, at least at a basic level, and it is much simplified over sheet music in general. It is enough if I can deduce what is supposed to be played. I find it helps me to follow the written music, though, at least until I get a good feel for the pattern, as it gives me a visual guide as to which limb should be doing what. Even so, I am still tripping over some fairly basic patterns that I am sure I am able to perform confidently and with little effort in a Guitar Hero game. Going back to the console game and fake plastic drums confirms this, as I bash out the rhythms with practiced ease. There seems to be an influencing effect that is separate from skill.

There are many similarities drawn between MMORPGs and a 'Skinner Box' model, where a player is encouraged to perform a task with a reward stimulus as a result, which conditions the player to continue performing similar tasks in order to gain successive rewards. The basic structure of defeating mobs and completing quests to get loot that improves characters conditions players to continue in the hopes of improved rewards, and the large step of gaining a level is normally heralded by a richly satisfying burst of virtual energy around the player's character. There are similarities between this style of game-play and that experienced in the Guitar Hero games, where positive reinforcement follows successful gigs and, at a lower level, hitting the right notes reproduces the song properly. Indeed, the reason why Guitar Hero: World Tour succeeds in career mode where Guitar Hero 5 fails is in its continued rewarding of the player.

But there is a second pyschological mode at work, it seems to me. I appear to be able to play much more complicated rhythms and patterns when I have a stream of coloured notes scrolling down a screen in front of me than when I am consciously considering my actions. This apparent separation of conscious thought with actions may well be a case of Pavlovian Conditioning, whereby my repeated training in hitting the right fake plastic drum at the right time has conditioned my limbs to react beyond my conscious control. Some form of conditioning would certainly explain my greater capacity to play the fake plastic drums than a real kit, when similar if not identical actions are only achieved with a visual stimulus present.

Of course, the similarities and links to gaming and a 'Skinner Box' are tenuous at best, and generally tongue-in-cheek. I am not making a stronger claim for the link to my apparent 'conditioning', but I still find it interesting. I was not expecting my Guitar Hero skills to transfer completely and immediately to proper drumming, but I am surprised by the observed effect the scrolling coloured symbols have on my perceived skill, as I didn't expect my playing to be so heavily influenced by a visual stimulus. With continued practice on a real kit, and further lessons, my drumming skills will continue to improve over the improvements already noticed since my first lessons. And I can still use Guitar Hero 5 as a means of positive reinforcement, revealing the potential skill I hope to eventually transfer to real drumming.

  1. 2 Responses to “Guitar Hero provokes a conditioned response to coloured lights”

  2. the reward for playing real drums (at least for me when I learn a new complex rhythm or some co-ordination requiring complexity that I haven't tried before) is getting to the point where you can listen to yourself play - you hear the rhythm as it should sound rather than concentrating entirely on actually playing it. it's at that point where I usually go "omg I'm actually playing it" and promptly screw the whole thing up. :-) practice until this doesn't happen and you'll have mastered that particular thing. let the good endorphins be associated with the good sound and not with the flashing lights :-D

    By Akura Kawanaka on Dec 4, 2009

  3. Yep, thinking too hard tends to desynchronise everything! I certainly feel the progress, though. With one of the triplet patterns I've been practicing, rather than concentrating on matching bass notes with the correct hand, I now 'feel' where the bass fits and my foot kicks it in appropriately.

    I have a long way to go, but it's all coming together on a real kit.

    By pjharvey on Dec 6, 2009

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