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Symphonic “Guitar Hero” Rocks Gamers



The Grateful Dead has legions of fans that follow the band from show to show. “Video Games Live” has Matt Campana.

When the Richmond Symphony performed “Video Games Live” at the Landmark Theater on April 25 — a traveling road show featuring a compendium of game theme music from “Super Mario Brothers” to “Halo” — it was the eighth time Campana had watched. He made the five-hour trek from Philadelphia, where he's an aspiring video-game-music composer studying at Drexel University.

“People think it's just bleeps and bloops,” he says, “but it's so much more than that.” Different characters have different motifs, he says, not unlike opera.

Campana volunteers to oversee the “Guitar Hero” competition held in the lobby for two hours before the show starts. The highest scorer able to play Aerosmith's “Rag Doll” gets to perform “Sweet Emotion” with the orchestra and chorus onstage in the second half of the show.

Campana marshals two dozen contenders through the competition while crowd members look on, some dressed as their favorite video-game characters. At least two sword-wielding Links from “The Legend of Zelda,” a pair of black trench-coated villains from “Kingdom Hearts II” and a red “Tetris” block attend.

Jonathan Weadon, a 30-year-old Internet technician for Cox Communications (in civilian clothes) tries his hand at the game.

“I talked to some musician friends,” he says. “They all say ‘Guitar Hero’ is significantly harder [than real instruments] because the same finger motion can make different sounds.” He doesn't win. “I've been playing too much ‘Rock Band,’” a similar game, he says. “It's got a very different feel. I'm very dissatisfied.”

Zach Powers, a 10-year-old from Short Pump with pixie ears and high cheekbones, chugs Mr. Pibb before taking a whack at “Rag Doll.” He doesn't make it very far, though he too floats the “Rock Band” defense and his affinity for Boston over Aerosmith.

Richmond's champ is Zach Fifield. He scores more than 254,000 points — more onstage points than in any of the previous shows.

“Pretty much the people that win tear it up,” Campana says, “because they play a lot, a lot, a lot.”

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