The Problem With Musicians and Music Games

By  |  Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 2:52 pm

kurt-cobainWith The Beatles: Rock Band and Guitar Hero 5 released earlier this month, several musicians have spoken their minds about music games. And I wish they hadn’t.

To recap: Last week, singer Courtney Love decided to sue Activision when she realized how her late husband, ex-Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, was being used in Guitar Hero 5. When letting Activision use Cobain’s likeness, Love didn’t realize that in-game characters can perform in any song, resulting in a rather troubling video of Cobain rapping and singing 80s metal. The rest of Nirvana then added their disapproval, and so did, of all people, Bon Jovi.

Earlier, former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason expressed their disdain for music games, based on the tired belief that these games kill the motivation to learn a real instrument (Mason said he was open to a game based on Pink Floyd, simply to make money).

Topping it all off, Paul McCartney admitted that he hadn’t yet played The Beatles: Rock Band. His rationale? The former Beatle can play an actual concert any time he wants.

McCartney’s dismissal, however justified, is disheartening, and I’m saying that as a fellow musician. Having played guitar and drums since childhood, I initially pooh-poohed Guitar Hero as well. But then I tried it, with people who aren’t musicians, and everything clicked.

What Guitar Hero offers musicians is the ability to enjoy music with everyone, not just for the words and beat, but for the musicality and the intricacies that become most apparent when you’re performing. It’s too bad McCartney, Mason and Wyman can’t see that.

Courtney Love’s case is a bit different, but the underlying issue, that she obviously hasn’t spent time with the game, is the same. Instead of experiencing why Guitar Hero and Rock Band are special, these musicians only see two potential rewards: relevance and money. Ideally, music should be about neither.


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5 Comments For This Post

  1. Chris Leone Says:

    While I agree with Nick’s position that a music video game can kill the motivation to learn a real instrument, you’re right on the money about how fun this is for musicians and non-musicians alike. If I can enjoy a fun, active night with my friends, how is that a bad thing?

    Also, who’s to say this doesn’t increase interest and awareness of music and performing to kids that would have otherwise never picked up an instrument? I think it can work both ways…

  2. eidooc Says:

    I recently played Guitar Hero 1 for the first time at my 2yr old’s birthday party. I thought the game was amazing. As a kid, the thought of listening to anything other than R&B or rap was considered uncool. From what I’ve seen, Guitar Hero and Rock Band has opened the door for people to discover a different genre of music. I would have never imagined seeing a bunch of thugged out dudes in a barber shop playing GH and rocking to Metallica.

  3. JDoors Says:

    Do racing games disincentivize people from learning how to drive real cars? The music industry needs to get off its high horse.

    Courtney Love, however, has a valid point about retaining control over how someone’s image is used.

  4. Adam Grickites Says:

    I agree that a a game can not dissuade anyone from learning to actually play a musical instrument, but I don’t see how musicians disapproval of the game can be disheartening. Games are games, music is music. Unless these games get a little bit more complicated they can’t really be compared to playing music.

    In Paul McCartney’s case, I imagine playing a real concert is infinitely more satisfying than an hour of Guitar Hero. Understandable why he has never played in my opinion.

    Don’t get me wrong though, these games are tons of fun!

  5. Sophia Wilson Says:

    Bon Jovi definitely rocks, the best rock and roll band in the planet;~,

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