Friday, September 4, 2009

The Ugly Side of Zombies in Gaming

In case you haven't heard the news, seen the screenshots, or watched the tasteless videos, dead Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain appears as an unlockable character in the just released Guitar Hero 5.

I was ten years old when Kurt Cobain killed himself. Not too young perhaps to be a fan, but I've always been an admitted dilettante when it comes to music. I mean, I knew and liked his songs--Nirvana was, after all, the hottest band in the world--but I paid little attention to the lyrics, let alone anything he said or stood for outside the music. When the story of his death broke, it was certainly news, but I don't remember it impacting me personally in any great way. And the way he went out did not elevate him in my opinion. (Not that any of these Guitar Hero rock stars are role models, and I don't object on those grounds.) So I wonder why this bothers me so much.

It's not as if this is the first time a dead artist has appeared in Guitar Hero. I just recently shared the stage with the dead Jimi Hendrix in Guitar Hero: World Tour. When I heard that the dead Johnny Cash, who has been gone not even half as long as Cobain, would be in Guitar Hero 5, I assumed that he would be the one succeeding Hendrix as the legendary zombie guesting in the latest installment. And what of the dead John Lennon and the dead George Harrison in Beatles: Rock Band? Perhaps none of these are any more classy than the usage of Cobain, though at least virtual Hendrix and The Beatles only perform their own songs.

I suppose it's a combination of timing and circumstance in the case of Cobain's death. It occurred during my life and at the peak of his relevance. I say again that it did not affect me on any personal level. I was too young and uncultured to care. But it was nevertheless a huge story that became an instant sort of landmark in the life of anyone who ever tuned into MTV back then. As a youngster, I heard more about Kurt Cobain upon the report of his demise than I ever had while he was alive. Now any time I hear his name, the event of his death is the first memory triggered. He was the quintessential dead celebrity of my youth. So it kind of creeps the hell out of me to see him reanimated in this way, all smiles as he sings Bon Jovi with a backing crew of deformed Xbox 360 Avatar characters.

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