IMHO – Weighing in on the Cobain/GH5 Controversy

When I heard that Guitar Hero was going to be home to a digital version of 90s grunge rocker Kurt Cobain I’ll admit that I thought it was pretty cool and puzzling at the same time. While I thought that it’d be fun to see him perform a few of his best songs, if only in a digital format, would he have wanted to be in the spotlight like this? Probably not but hey, his wife and former bandmates signed off on it — I thought wow, maybe Courtney is softening a little bit this is great — so they obviously saw some merit in doing so right? Apparently not.

Shortly after the release of the game, Courtney Love went on a tirade of comments via her Twitter account saying things like “we get NO money for this, travesty, Frances gets NO money for the rape.” and “not in twenty JILLION years would i EVER have allowed this and this islethal.”. She even went so far as threaten to “sue the s**t” out of Activision. Apparently Courtney is really just cheesed off over the fact that Cobain is an unlockable character that you can set to have as the singer in your band and she doesn’t like some of the songs that he performs.

When asked about this Activison stated “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”. I understand that Kurt was very likely not a big fan of Bon Jovi (as an example), but, something tells me that Johnny Cash wasn’t much of a fan of Nirvana’s.

I’m a member of the generation that thought of him as their voice and I can honestly say that while I loved his music and he was a voice for my generation, that stopped the instant he committed suicide. It was a cowardly thing to do to his wife and baby daughter – forget the fans. Further to that point, his wife, sure isn’t helping to preserve his legacy much with her non-sensical babblings, public displays of outrage and lawsuit threats about all things Kurt Cobain.

She (Courtney Love) signed off on the use of his likeness and was even involved in some aspects of the creative process in bringing him back to life in the game. In doing so, she may have opened him up to a new audience Nirvana may have never really gotten ahold of which is a good thing but I’m afraid that the party in all of this whose being hurt the most by this is their daughter Frances. She is part of the gaming generation and I bet that she was pretty excited about seeing her father portrayed in a game such as Guitar Hero.

All I’m trying to say is “Sleep it off Courtney. It’s just a game, and, as a fan of Nirvana’s I’m thankful for the music and having him as a playable character. Sober up, Grow up and Lighten-up. You’re only hurting your daughter and further tarnishing his legacy”.

I predict that Activision will cave to Miss. Love and lock Kurt to just the Nirvana songs but I just won’t be playing GH 5 online or with Xbox live turned if that’s the case.

What say you?

Join the Conversation


  1. I don't think Love really has a case. She signed the agreement then disengaged from the creative process where she might have had more opportunity to protect the use of Cobain's image.

    And Activision just showed poor tact. Plugging Cobain's skin into the standard animations without context. Why have celebrity appearances in GH if they're without context and not really based on the real person?

    Love demonstrated bad stewardship. Activision displayed poor artistry.

    We just did an article on this, too, contrasting the Cobain situation with Harmonix which did an excellent job portraying The Beatles in Rock Band.

  2. Hey Cornfedgamer – thanks for stopping and sharing your thoughts. Good article with some very vaild points. I will def. give you props on the comment about Rockband accomodating to The Beatles and not the other way around.

  3. Courtney Love wanted money, as usual, no matter what or how. There's no case here.

    I understand the argument that having Kurt Cobain play other artists' songs is not nice/right/etc etc. Yet I don't think 90% of the people (pre and early teens) that will buy GH5 even know of Kurt's particular view of life and the music industry, or that they care about it. They just want the software to work.

    GH (and Rock Band too) is basically a very very big rip-off. Release the same game with a different number once a year with different songs. I think rhythm-based games reached market saturation, hence the release of spin-offs like DJ hero.

  4. Dave G.

    And you just made my point. Many of the people playing the game will not care about the way real people are portrayed in the game, they just want the software to work.

    So why even bother paying for the rights to a Kurt Cobain character if nobody cares? Actually, why bother including him in the game at all if he's just a skin, void of context?

    But if a game developer is going to include a real person in their game, do they not have a responsibility to portray him accurately.

    Or on the flipside, if a Movie producer were going to have a video game character in his movie, does he not have a responsibility to portray the character accurately.

    Now before you list of all the movies that do a poor job at this, that doesn't mean the practice is good.

    Besides, don't we want to hold gaming to a higher standard? Too many people, even people who play a lot of video games, are too eager to throw away the medium as a mere novelty. Who cares, as long as it's fun?

    Well I say electronic entertainment can be more than a novel diversion. Games can teach. They can tell stories. They can enlighten. They can allow people to experience events from another viewpoint.

    But in order to realize these lofty opportunities, we need more developers taking issues like this more seriously. Or else games will forever be children's playthings.

  5. @Cornfedgamer

    I totally agree with you.

    Games with actual intellectual stimulation are few and far between. By intellectual stimulation I mean original stories that are well told, use of logic and reasoning in games, but most importantly, the creation of an emotional link. These are a hard thing to quantify, but for example, I think Uncharted did a great job at this.

    The story is enjoyable for both young and older crowds, but the script is directly aimed at the latter (let's forget about the awful nazi-zombies). The added "realism" from the more mature script makes it easer for the mature player to connect with the story/characters.

    On the other hand, yes, God of War 3 will probably be a very fun action game with great gameplay that doesn't require the use of a brain and that's alright; but it could be much more with a few story-telling tweaks and the implementation of decision-trees.

    The game I really look forward too in terms of rational and emotional! interaction with the player is Heavy Rain. Now that is a real mature game. I think (hope) a lot of developers are eager to see if Heavy Rain will be a commercial success. If it is, then we are in for more *serious* development from game studios.

    It's a business after all, let's show some demand (by having higher expectations as you rightfully request) and they will follow.

  6. It's true. The last game that really had my head spinning was Bioshock. And are there any games that can elicit an emotional response the way a book or movie can? Maybe a few… but they are few and far between, you're right.

    I think the Uncanny Valley is a major hurdle for the industry and its ability to elicit an emotional response. CG characters can be repulsive if they look too much like real people. Their dissimilarities stand out more.

    I am also really stoked for Heavy Rain. It is new and innovative. Video games need to experiment to find their storytelling niche.

    Here, here, Dave! Thanks for the forum, Josh!

  7. Did you guys see that Bon Jovi came down on Love's side on this issue?

    From Kotaku:

    The Bon Jovi frontman has told the BBC "I don't know that I would have wanted it either. To hear someone else's voice coming out of a cartoon version of me? I don't know. It sounds a little forced".

    Does it ever. He then reveals that he was approached by Activision to appear in Guitar hero 5 himself, but said nothankyou.

    "I had the paperwork, they wanted me to be on that game and I just passed," the long-haired heartthrob said. "But no-one even broached the subject with me that I would be singing other people's stuff. I don't know how I would have reacted to that. I don't know that I would have wanted it either."

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *