In the Zone with Guitar Hero Expert Chris Chike

Chris Chike, a self-described die-hard video "gamer" and one-time Guinness World Record holder for Guitar Hero, brings to the Penn campus a unique and dynamic skill set. And with his earliest childhood memories populated with Super Nintendo characters and his future aspirations focused on designing and implementing video gaming technology not-yet-imagined, this sophomore's Computer and Information Science major at Penn Engineering is the perfect fit.

Chike, a Midwesterner, says he intentionally pushed himself outside of his comfort zone when including Penn among his college application choices, and he seems to have easily absorbed any culture shock this East Coast urban university may have thrown his way. Chike is the youngest of four children and traveled the farthest from home for college. His grandparents recommended Penn and his parents, both engineers, endorsed the idea. When accepted, he enrolled without hesitation.

At about the same time he was starting to consider academic life after high school, Chike was at the top of his Guitar Hero game. He had found his passion in music-based video competition and had quickly excelled at a game in which players gain points by pressing buttons in time to pop and rock tunes on a guitar-shaped controller. By 2008, Chike was racking up and posting unbelievably high scores for advanced Guitar Hero songs.

Emerging Victorious from the Fire and Flames

It wasn't long before his YouTube-documented gaming exploits got the attention of the Guinness Book of World Records, and he was invited to prove his prowess on a famously difficult seven-and-one-half minute "power metal" song called "Through the Fire and Flames." In a one-shot solo exhibition in New York City, Chike "played" the 3,722-note rock extravaganza with 97 percent accuracy. To his surprise, his record-winning performance was broadcast on ESPN that same day, and he was bombarded with text messages from friends attesting to his newfound fame.

Curiously, Chike is not a musician, and a "real" guitar holds little magic for him. He explains that it is the rhythm underlying the melodies that drives him and informs his talent for the game. While dexterity and concentration are key to his extraordinary performance, he often loses himself in the beat. When it's all working together, he's "in the zone."

Innate ability does not, of course, rule out the need to practice and at his peak while a senior in high school, Chike was spending five or more hours a day perfecting his game. But what about hanging out with friends and life on the other side of the computer screen?

Checking in with the ‘Real World'

Media theorists and social scientists often discuss the correlation between hard-core video gaming and anti-social behavior, and Chike confesses to having routinely performed "sanity checks" to ensure that his well-rounded personality remained intact. He intuitively understood that the "rush" and intense mental stimulation he experienced as a Guitar Hero was best tempered by "real" connections with friends and family. His high school GPA was a couple hundredths shy of perfect, he was competitive in the triple jump as a member of the track team and played soccer: proof positive that, even as an unusually accomplished and dedicated gamer, his time was not entirely spent in darkened isolation.

Now in his second year at Penn, Chike's gaming fame seems to him a thing of a somewhat distant past. A world record is an outstanding accomplishment, but Chike seems to have left any bragging rights about his reign back in Rochester, Minnesota.

What's Past is Prologue

"Video games define my life," Chike willingly admits, but he is looking forward, not back. Chike is carefully shaping his avocation into a vocation, and applying his intense focus and drive to his programming studies and research. Through leadership training internships at GE, he is developing skills as a computer and information technology project manager. It is Chike's belief that excellence in any endeavor is possible only when one's heart is in one's work. It is not difficult to envision a future video gaming world enlivened by his creative dreams and heartfelt rhythmic imaginings.

View the article in Penn Engineering magazine "In the Zone with Guitar Hero Expert Chris Chike" by Patricia Hutchings.

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