MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, HOST:

And I'm Michele Norris. Games like "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" let you play along to popular music with fake instruments, but sales for both games have plummeted. One company is hoping to revive interest in that genre by adding a new twist: a real guitar. As NPR's Laura Sydell tells us, real guitarists are finding the game a little too hard.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Four years ago, the game maker Ubisoft acquired an unusual technology.

PAUL CROSS: It could recognize notes you were playing on a guitar.

SYDELL: Paul Cross was charged with using this technology to create a game, and that meant learning how to play a guitar.

CROSS: I don't know if you're a big fan of watching learning DVDs, but they're pretty scary. We make video games, and they're not meant to be scary in any way shape or form - scary, intimidating-scary.

SYDELL: Cross and his team came up with a game they called "Rocksmith," that turns learning how to play a guitar into what they hope will be fun. All you have to do is pull out that electric guitar that's been collecting dust, plug it into your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, and give it a strum.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "ROCKSMITH")

CROSS: It says it's out of tune, then automatically brings up the tuner, of course, because you're playing a real guitar. You have to learn how to tune the guitar as well, and it has to be in tune.

SYDELL: The game makes that pretty easy; just turn the tuning pegs until a meter on the screen hits zero. "Rocksmith" teaches you how to play the guitar parts of rock songs by using color coding for each string, and showing you where to hold down the string on the neck to play notes in a solo, or which combination of strings to fret for a chord. It does this as the song is playing, and it adjusts how much of the song you play based on how good it thinks you are.

CROSS: Oops, missed it. Now, you saw the notes disappear because I missed.

SYDELL: So Cross has to play fewer notes. He says the game even notices when you keep having a hard time on one particular part of a song.

CROSS: And then suggests a challenge to take for that section so that you can get better and better and better.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "ROCKSMITH")

THERESA SAWI: Ooh. Wow. That's really panic-inducing.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SYDELL: Is it, really?

SAWI: Like, coming at you so fast.

SYDELL: That's guitarist Theresa Sawi. She and another guitarist, Garrin Benfield, are checking out the game in my living room.

GARRIN BENFIELD: I haven't hit a single note it wanted me to hit there.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "ROCKSMITH")

SYDELL: They both find the game anxiety-producing.

BENFIELD: The thing that's most challenging, I found, having played guitar for all these years, is it's asking you to stare at the screen and go, OK, ninth fret, you know. And you're sort of accustomed to glancing down at the guitar, not just staring at a screen.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "ROCKSMITH")

SYDELL: But is "Rocksmith" a good teaching tool?

SAWI: No, not really.

SYDELL: Sawi teaches guitar.

SAWI: It doesn't have any note names. It has fret numbers but, no, I wouldn't use it to teach unless it had scales or something. That would be fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SYDELL: "Rocksmith" does rate your playing.

SYDELL: You got a groove bonus.

BENFIELD: A groove bonus - now, that's cool. It's like, all the notes were wrong, but your groove is good.

SYDELL: The game tries to teach various techniques through extras, where you can master bending the strings and palm muting.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "ROCKSMITH")

SYDELL: That was baffling to Klaus Flouride, the bass player from the punk band the Dead Kennedys.

KLAUS FLOURIDE: No, no, no. It doesn't tell me what the heck that was about. Help me. What did I just not do? Oh, boy.

SYDELL: "Rocksmith" is a game. You win by getting better at playing the songs, then you get bigger club audiences - all girls - until you're playing stadiums filled with all girls. Flouride has done this in real life, but he says the foot of the stage is usually filled with guys. He's having a harder time getting himself into the virtual stadium.

FLOURIDE: OK, I'm going to flunk it. I can play this song, but I can't follow their instructions.

SYDELL: The game ranks Flouride an amateur. "Rocksmith" also has a rehearsal space, where you practice your songs before going on stage. The game's space has a nice, leather couch and an oriental rug. Flouride says this isn't exactly what his rehearsal spaces look like.

FLOURIDE: They're chaos, basically, usually. Three bands sharing them; piles of amps all over the place.

SYDELL: This is definitely a cleaned-up version of rock 'n' roll.

FLOURIDE: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Sterilized.

SYDELL: The room is also missing empty beer bottles, but this is a family game. If you're not a professional guitarist - and that is most of us - it is kind of fun to finally get some use out of the guitar I've been moving from house to house for the last - well, I'm not going to say how many years. OK, here I go.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "(I CAN'T GET NO) SATISFACTION")

SYDELL: Ubisoft, the company that makes "Rocksmith," is counting on people like me. According to the National Association of Music Merchants, about 2.7 million guitars are sold in the U.S. every year. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "(I CAN'T GET NO) SATISFACTION")

ROLLING STONES: (Singing) I can't get no satisfaction because I try and I try and I try and I try. I can't get no, I can't get no...

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