"It has been a gateway for some players," says Kiri Miller, an ethnomusicologist at Brown University in Providence, R.I., who has studied the culture of gaming and its links to music. Game competency comes relatively quickly, she says. "It has helped some people say 'OK, I could achieve this [in game form] – and it might be worth really working to achieve this on a real instrument."
That's hardly universal. For many hard-core gamers, there is a "flow experience" that's not so much about musicmaking as it is about YouTube potential. "They love the ridiculousness of making all of these motions that have nothing to do with the sounds that come out," Ms. Miller says. "They love that disconnect."
Others prefer to see connections. The rapid rise of music-based gaming has taken the music world by surprise, says Joe Lamond, chief executive of NAMM, a nonprofit trade association of some 9,000 retailers and manufacturers of musical instruments. Released late 2007, "Guitar Hero III" made $115 million in its first week, straddling demographics that ranged from nostalgic boomers to ironic millennials to kids whose parents support nonshooting games.
"Our hope is that this is just maybe proving what we felt: that inherently there's a real desire for everyone to make music," says Mr. Lamond. He resists trying to guess whether some guitar gamers will pick up stringed instruments, but he believes it's worth probing, and others do, too.
"Some of our more progressive members are already out there doing promotions with 'Guitar Hero,' " he says. One preholiday promotion: A consumer who bought Guitar Hero at Guitar Center could get $50 off a guitar.