I am the Brad Johnson of Guitar Hero.
For those of you who aren’t football fans, let me explain. Brad Johnson has been an NFL quarterback for 14 seasons, for 4 different teams. On paper, he’s had a rather impressive career — he’s third best among active QBs in winning percentage, his career passer rating is in the Top 20 in NFL history, he’s completed 60% or more of his passes for 12 consecutive seasons (an NFL record), he’s won a Super Bowl and went to the Pro Bowl twice. He even holds the distinction of being the only QB in the league to ever throw a touchdown pass to himself. Yet despite all this, his name rarely came up in discussions about the league’s best quarterbacks during the peak of his career, and the likelihood of his making the Hall of Fame is uncertain at best. Football experts often list him as one of the most underrated or unsung players in the game.
Why does a player with such an impressive resume receive so little attention? It has a lot to do with how he plays — Johnson is a conservative QB who specializes in unsexy aspects of the game like completing low-risk, low-reward short passes, sustaining long drives, and clock control. Coaches describe his play as “managing the game”, which basically means avoiding game-costing mistakes even if it means passing on some potentially great plays. Brad Johnson is unlikely to throw an interception that loses the game, but he’s also equally unlikely to win the game with an amazing last-second touchdown pass. He’s a guy who does enough to succeed, but rarely excels.
And what exactly does all this have to do with me attempting to play “My Name is Jonas” on a little plastic guitar?
Well, much like Mr. Johnson, I’ve become quite the master of succeeding at the Guitar Hero games without really excelling at them. A quick look at any of my playlists shows an incredible number of three star performances, with only a rare occurrence of a 4 or 5 star review. I’ve beaten all the games on Hard difficulty, and got pretty far on Expert, but I’m really not that good. My success has been about 25% skill and 75% knowing my limitations and planning around them. Nobody gets through as many songs with their Rock Meter “in the red” as I do, but somehow, I get through them.
In other words, much like Brad Johnson is likely to make a conservative short throw rather than attempt a long pass into tight coverage, I’m probably not going to nail some tricky solo, but will rather make sure that I hit as much as the easier parts of it as I need to get through it (I don’t really play these songs so much as I survive them). Rather than attempt to play every note in a song, I’ll skip the ones that I think are likely to screw up my rhythm. After all, why miss four notes in an attempt to hit one? So what if the songs sound like they’re being played off a CD that has been scratched all to hell?
And then there’s star power. To a good player, star power is an essential part of getting a good score, and a coveted 5-star review. To me, it’s an essential tool of survival. I use star power the way a fighter pilot uses his eject button; once it looks like a crash is inevitable, I hit it and avoid an untimely demise. And with so much at stake, you’d better believe that I’m nailing those bonus sections at all costs. If I have to skip a chunk of the song just so I can be sure I’ve got my fingers on the right buttons when the star notes come, so be it.
Critics of Brad Johnson would usually grudgingly admit that, at the very least, the quarterback did manage to get everything he could out of his seemingly limited ability, due to his preparation and good decisions. Similarly, I’ve gotten pretty far in the Guitar Hero games (despite the fact that I kind of suck at them) by knowing where the hard parts are, which notes to skip, and when to bail myself out with star power. Few people would get excited about seeing either of us play, but you can’t deny the success we’ve had.