With 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.