BY ADAM BONANNI It’s certainly been a busy couple weeks for the music game genre. After Beatles: Rock Band dropped on 9/9/09, gamers are anticipating what could be a renewed interest in the genre, partially due to lack of new titles in the Rock Band or Guitar Hero franchises and, what this journalist can only imagine as the issue of plastic guitars and drum sets outnumbering bad ties in peoples’ closets. Almost overshadowed by the hype that can only be described as modern Beatle-mania, was the launch of Guitar Hero 5. Overshadowed, but not totally forgotten, it would seem.
Last week, Guitar Hero found itself back in the media spotlight with the controversial inclusion of former Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain as an unlockable character. Apparently unbeknownst to Courtney Love and the trust of Kurt Cobain, the definition of unlockable in this case is the ability for players to spend accumulated in-game cash to add to a character selection roster. Upon starting up the game, the player picks a character, picks a song, and they’re off to shred. Much to the horror of Courtney Love, DaveGrohl, Krist Novoselic , as well as anyone with an abiding respect for the groundbreaking work of Nirvana, this allows the player to use Cobain to strum along with any one of the 85 different tracks in Guitar Hero 5, including “In My Place” by Coldplay, Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire” (ugh), and “You Give Love a Bad Name” by Bon Jovi (ugh, ugh).
At issue is the appropriate use of the late rocker’s virtual image, and many reviewers described an uneasiness placing Cobain (amongunlockable avatars of Carlos Santana and Johnny Cash) center stage in arena venues performing everything from cheesy top 40 pop to cornball nu metal. Over in camp Love, it appears to have been her understanding that Cobain’s image could only be used for the two included Nirvana songs: “Lithium” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Love twittered that this use of Cobain’s image was tantamount to “rape.” Love is apparently not much of a gamer, as the process for character selection has remained the same since Guitar Hero’s inception.
Camp Grohl and Novoselic also released a statement condemning Guitar Hero developer Activision, declaring they “want people to know that we are dismayed and very disappointed in the way a facsimile of Kurt is used in the Guitar Hero game.” Like Love, they claim they were aware of his image’s use in concordance with Nirvana’s contributions, but they claim “It’s hard to watch an image of Kurt pantomiming other artists’ music alongside cartoon characters. Kurt Cobain wrote songs that hold a lot of meaning to people all over the world. We feel he deserves better.” While it looks like Courtney Love and her team of attorneys will be taking this matter to court, Activision’s statement claims “Guitar Hero secured the necessary licensing rights from the Cobain estate in a written agreement signed by Courtney Love to use Kurt Cobain’s likeness as a fully playable character in Guitar Hero 5”. We’ll have to wait to see how this plays out in court, but what it could bring, other than shoehorning Love back into the spotlight, remains to be seen.