creation myth

The following thoughts are based on a forum entry of mine at PayneReactor (meanwhile the original thread has migrated to MaxPayneForums) dating back to 29 July 2004. The post was an answer to an article dated 28th July 2004 by highly respected modder Maddieman at his website Hell’s Kitchen. Maddie tried to answer the question “why people cling on” although only “such a small percentage of mods come out, less of which are any good; why do people still bother waiting for them? The variable ratio reinforcement schedule is a term that explains why some behaviours or behavioral thinking is reinforced. Simply speaking, it means that a certain behavior is reinforced unpredictably, making it hard to kick the habit, despite evidence to the contrary.” Although surely valid to a certain extent this deemed me to be a little too reductionist or simplifying—neglecting cultural and social qualities. Hence my myth-tinted reply.

The “variable ratio reinforcement schedule” at first glance sounds quite appropriate to explain the observed behavior of people clinging on. But for my taste it is a too straight-forward model which accounts to a ‘cost-and-reward’ principle, implies that people are purely goal-oriented (in our context that means they only want to get finished mods), and completely neglects other factors like those connected to the notion of community and being a member of a community. “All the years of waiting” are not just filled with waiting, but with the ‘good feeling’ of being in a persisting online-community, of being at the pulse of ‘something happening’, of being ‘in touch’ with those who are creative and indeed create something new, never-seen-before.

Maddie has compared the hyping of mods with the marketing- and PR-practices of professional game-designer and -publisher companies: “The mod world emulates the gaming industry: – the way mods (mostly TCs) are advertised/hyped, the way PR is handled, and most importantly, the way the media reports them.” I will jump onto this train of comparison … please allow me to illustrate my thoughts by means of some metaphors.

Think of a game-developer company, like e.g. Remedy, as a realm of creator-gods, the latter impersonated by the professionals working there.Sometimes, in the form of tidbits of information about their doings, plans, and things-to-come, some rays of light fall out of the realms of the creator-gods into the world of the ‘cyberian tribes’. Every time the creator-gods speak, their sayings are wholeheartedly embraced by the members of said tribes. Those creator-gods dwell in spheres as remote to the tribes, as the Tessier-Ashpools’ Villa Straylight in William Gibson‘s sprawl-trilogy (Gibson 1984, 1988, 1993).

Those who are buying and playing the creations of the gods are the human beings who long for new worlds into which they can be immersed. But that’s not the only longing they have—another one is to be near the gods, then becoming like the gods, and ultimately becoming gods themselves. The last mentioned longings are not shared by all those who are ‘consuming’ computergames, but by a large number of them which I see to be located in the modding-communities. Those communities are stratified—Maddie already has started to discuss this in a 3DRealms-thread ages ago. ‘On top’ of the pyramid are those who strive to become professional game-developers; and empirical evidence [even very recent one—you know whom I am speaking of, my man] clearly shows that the hope to jump from gamemodding to gamedeveloping is not completely in vein. The base of the pyramid is formed by those who are content with getting some straylight sifting through the mostly securely closed hatches of the workshops of the creator-gods (the professionals) and the creator-semi-gods (the top people of the modding scene).

‘Straylight’ means getting a glimpse of what’s going on on the workbenches, on Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory-slab. These glimpses come in the form of screenshots, demo-videos, concept-drawings and so on. [In some respects that’s true for the movie-business, too. Or why does Star-Wars-merchandise in the form of Ralph McQuarrie‘s sketchbooks sell so well?] But as it is with the mythical relation between humans and gods, some of them humans are not content with the intentionally spread straylight, they want more. This goes up to a very down-to-earth version of appropriation, e.g. the theft of the HL2-sourcecode. The same is true for the relation between humans (‘mod-consumers’) and semi-gods (mod-makers): The humans long for straylight out of the semi-gods workshops, which only are accessible to other semi-gods and/or ‘higher beings’. They want to be near the creation process, and some want to become a part of it. If a mod or TC ‘fails’ and dies, there still is the ‘good time’ you had following the creation process, as long as it still was under way. Summing it up: IMO the feeling to belong to a community is a strong, if not the decisive motivation for people clinging on to the Max-Payne modding-scene.

Sidenote: Some may have wondered about the increasing number of ingame screenshots I recently post, especially about the WIP Alan Wake. Those are pictures of mythical territory, a promised new world into which one hopes to be able to immerse into one time. An anthropologist doing ‘classical’ fieldwork never has the chance to publish pictures which are exact visual representations of the shared concept of his tribe’s mythical world. I can.

Unfortunately Maddie’s original article is not online anymore. Same is true for a lot of other very worthwhile content and indepth discussion on gamemodding by him. But some of it still is online. Crouched and hidden, but online: ↑march 2003 to october 2003 | ↑september 2003 to january 2004 | ↑february 2004 to april 2004.
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