Late to the Table: GH5 Contraversy Opinion

First off I accept that this is old news, but it isn’t being treated as news so it’s not really old news, new news or contemporary news whatsoever, merely opinion on facts previously reported as news.


So, we shall be looking at the arguements between Red Octane/Activision and some musical types over the use of Kurt Kobain’s image in the recently released plastic ax-fest Guitar Hero 5.Firstly, the arguement in summary as taken from the world’s most reliable online source of FACT! Wikipedia

“The inclusion of Kurt Cobain as a playable avatar in the game has been considered a “strange concept” by some reviewers, reflecting on the possible influence of commercialization pressures that played into Cobain’s suicide.[47][51] Shortly after the game’s release, it was discovered that once players unlocked Kurt Cobain’s avatar (as well as that for any other of the included famous musicians), they could use that avatar for any other song on disc, leading to what some have considered to be awkward virtual performances of Cobain singing songs from completely different genres.[52][53] Previous games in the series that feature known musicians also allows for the use of their avatars, once unlocked, in other songs, save in the case of Jimi Hendrix in Guitar Hero World Tour, the only posthumous artist to appear in the series prior to Guitar Hero 5. Some have seen this as a scar on Cobain’s legacy;[45] Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb commented that “it’s the near-mythic legacy he left behind and the way the Nirvana catalog has been protected from commercial interests over the years that makes this stuff so harsh” on his observation of such performances.[54] Tim Walker of The Independent contrasted Cobain’s “posthumous humiliation” to the appearance of avatars of living artists that have appeared in rhythm music games, noting that deceased artists do not have the same fair consideration as live artists that can opt to license their images for such rhythm games.[55] Seth Schiesel of the New York Times countered these arguments, noting that as long as no legal contracts were broken, Cobain and the other artists in the game “are too big and too important to be damaged in a cultural sense by mere inclusion in a video game”.[49]

On her Twitter account, Courtney Love expressed her anger at Cobain’s representation in the game and threatened legal action alongside other companies that represent Cobain’s intellectual property.[56] Love further stated that she received no monetary arrangements for Cobain’s appearance, in response to comments that believe Love had “sold out” to Activision and from a statement by Activision CEO Dan Rosensweig claiming that the Cobain estate has “cashed the cheque”.[57] Both Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic have made statements disapproving the inclusion of Cobain as an unlockable character in the game and have requested that he be locked to only Nirvana songs,[58] and Jon Bon Jovi, who had denied Activision’s offer to include him in the game, supports their concerns about having his image be used to sing other artists’ songs.[19] In response to these statements, Activision claims it had secured all the proper publication rights for Cobain’s image for the game.[58] However, according to attorneys for Love, the contract was not meant to allow Activison to “denigrate his image”.[59] Joystiq noted that the crux of the legal issues revolve around the “right of personality”, which is defined at the state level within the United States; these rights are presently held by Love due to her ownership of Cobain’s estate, but may have been overriden in the contract with Activision.”

Now I cannot say that I am on side with either party on this, but I do feel that there is a lot of debate for a good reason, but one question I ask is this, why did reviewers not state similar feelings over the inclusion of Johnny Cash? Similarly dead and included after permission was granted, but barely mentioned. Is it due to the overall feeling that Johnny Cash isn’t as seminal? Perhaps not worthy of as much ‘protection’? Sure the decision to unlock the avatars for play is an odd one, Johnny Cash rocking out as the lead singer of a J-pop troupe is a confusiing sight to behold, but most people tend to use their own creations when playing the game as a whole, myself included.

The inclusion of real world celebrity cameos in video games is no new thing, with the late King of Pop appearing in Space Channel 5 and Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2 despite general world opinion being very fickle at the time. When he died these games were resurrected by numerous gaming sites and the cameos became even better known. His fans love the fact that there is something there, and so should Cobain’s fans – not that it is many of the fans that have an issue.

See Cobain is more famous for being the guy that shot himself than for his music, much as The Ramones are more famous as a T-shirt than as a seminal punk band. It is this issue that some find insensitive… a guy who shot himself in part due to commercial pressure being used in such a commercial way. But which is worse? Avoiding media usage in favour of preserving what exactly? The sense that he is gone for good? Preserving his image tied to his music? It would be nice to think that a world could work like that, but they may as well have just put him in the game with a shotgun wound if they wanted to preserve his most famous image.

The fact that a few famous faces jumped into the arguement is quite telling of their inability to detatch the game from the person, nothing to be criticised for, but it is essentially a game that will make more people aware of Cobain as a person and for his music, while also allowing an ‘image’ to be used as an avatar.

Whenever something like this happens it shows the big divide between gaming/gamers and those that look in from the outside.

I enjoy playing  the games, and appreciate having elements from the world of great music in my game, bringing an element of fantasy. It isn’t the real world, it’s a game, and in a game anything is possible. Hell Michael Jackson approaching children that were tied up with rope wasn’t even remotely creepy in Moonwalker…

But what do you think?


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