Wild Secrets — I am a Guitar Hero legend


Andie Balenger/NW

COMPETITOR — A picture of 8-year-old me (right) competing in a Guitar Hero contest at a fundraiser event in my hometown. Along with being the only child in the competition, I was also the only female. Despite this, I battled my way to the final four, knocking out two men before falling myself.

Andie Balenger

Everybody has embarrassing moments they would like to undo and haunting memories that trigger the deepest cringe a human body can muster. We all have a cheeky guilty pleasure we would rather keep to ourselves.

Here, feast your eyes as your classmates spill their guilty pleasures, funny stories and embarrassing tales. This is Wild Secrets.


I am incredibly talented when it comes to the mid 2000s video game “Guitar Hero.”

Like most Gen Zers, I had access to many gaming consoles as a child. My console of choice, however, was the Wii. When my brother and I got our first Wii console for Christmas at an extremely young age, probably 5 or 6 years old, we were also gifted “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith” and the accompanying guitar-shaped controller.

The “Guitar Hero” franchise, which contains seven games in the main series, is a music-based series where you have to match colored notes on the screen to correlating buttons on the guitar-shaped controller. It is like reading music and playing an instrument, just much less complex. The main skill the game requires is hand-eye coordination.

I had played “Guitar Hero” once before at a friend’s house, but having my own copy allowed me to fully immerse myself in the mechanics and technicality of the game. Essentially, the game contains roughly 50 songs that increase in difficulty upon completing the last. The game has four difficulty settings: easy, medium, hard and expert.

By the time I had obtained the first four games in the main series, I was easily crushing every song at the expert level. 

My obsession with the game did not come out of a love for gaming. I actually do not have the attention span to sit through most modern-day video games, and I usually give up after a few hours of gameplay. “Guitar Hero” was different, however, because the game revolved around music that I genuinely loved: 70s, 80s and 90s rock.

I would play the game by myself for hours at a time, replaying certain songs until I did not miss a single note. When I got comfortable enough with a song, I would put on performances for my family members — mimicking many of the rockstar moves that the game displayed on the screen.

This included me head-banging, jumping to the beat and even power-sliding across the floor.

I would try to recruit my brother or friends to play along with me, but they were unable to compete on the same level as me. This would cause us to lose certain levels, and at the time I simply could not afford such a setback. 

I would get so frustrated trying to teach people how to play that I would give up and just make them watch me play.

I know, I was a brat.

I played the game so much that I competed in a “Guitar Hero” competition when I was 8 years old. Not only was I the youngest person competing in the contest, with most competitors being between the ages of 17 and 25, but I was also the only female.

I was not intimidated at the event. In fact, I made a grown man cry after knocking him out of the first round of the competition. Although I did not win the entire thing, competing that day is still one of the most bizarre memories I have.

When I now reflect on why my music taste is much different from other people my age, I have three things to thank. First, my parents never allowed me to turn off the classic rock radio station when in the car. Second, Richard Linklater’s 2003 film “School of Rock,” starring Jack Black, was my favorite movie as a child. And, of course, the “Guitar Hero” franchise.

I built my personality around the game. My favorite bands from ages 8 to 15 were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Queen and the Eagles. Some of my earliest celebrity crushes were Joe Perry and Slash, two names that many people my age may not even recognize. I even dressed as a zombie version of Slash for Halloween one year. 

Fast-forward to today. Now whenever I go to an arcade and see a lone “Guitar Hero” machine — which I am sure is hardly ever played — I immediately give the game all of my money. While my friends think I am just showing off, playing the game as an adult gives me a chance to reminisce. “Guitar Hero” truly influenced me as an individual, especially regarding my cultural and musical knowledge.

I also like to test myself and see if I can still play on expert. In case you care, I can.

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