the art of gamemodding

Range of styles in Max-Payne modding

It seems that the time of harvesting the fruits of my efforts finally has arrived. Today again an invitation to write an article for an anthology came in—I didn’t even send a proposal … God, am I satisfied and proud. Alas, the problem is the now emerged density of deadlines. But self-organization is the key to damming up this kind of trouble. So I skimmed through my physical and digital folders and found yet another abstract I submitted to … well, honestly, I can’t remember where to I sent it. But obviously it was not accepted or even received. Let’s post it here:

Despite of their lacking multiplayer functionality the Max Payne (MP) games MP1 and MP2 have generated a sustained online community which mainly condensates around the shared core-interest in modfifying said games and creating original primary, secondary and even tertiary artefacts. Due to the members’ activities and shared practices the MP-community can not merely be defined as an online-fanhood. It more resembles a transnational technoludic online community of practice engaged in culturally appropriating computergames by modifying them. Gamemodding means the alteration of professionally produced and commercially marketed computergame-software by private individuals or groups. The degree of modification reaches from gameplay-tweaks via new and original gamespace-topography (maps), up to so-called total conversions (TCs). The latter constitute completely new games; the original game is not recognizable anymore, as it only delivers the base of the new game, the game-engine. But mods are only one segment of the results of the appropriation processes. The impressive variety of artistical artefacts spans way farther: machinima and real life movies, graphic novels, 2D and 3D digital and offline art are produced as well. By this artefacts a wide range of themes, topoi, and ambiences stemming from popular culture and beyond, decidedly including the cyberpunk genre, are recreated, interpreted, or invented anew. Apart from striving to mediate a certain set of experiences imagined by the respective artists, some of the artefacts are comments on contemporary history, politics, culture and society, or even on the social structure and practices, decidedly including humour and joking relationships, of the community itself.

Two third person shooters mediating the experience of a game noir crime story have triggered vast artistical activities requiring a good deal of technical skills, craftsmanship, imagination, intellectual criticism, and artistical talent culminating in results far beyond of the original games’ contents and the two game-engine’s capabilities. The artefacts and their production processes are discussed, criticised, exchanged, redistributed, furtherly modified, and collectively worked upon within an emancipated and reasoning online community. Not only artefacts have been created, but a whole, nearly self-contained society of artists and art critics as well. Just as one of the (female) community members once commented online: ” … and it all began with a game.”

The paper’s empirical basis stems from long-lasting thick participation within the MP-community conducted by myself since 2002, and which still goes on, designed upon and supported by sociocultural anthropological methods and concepts. The fieldwork comprises participation in all social practices of the community, including being an active member of several modding teams, and is the central pillar of my research project “maxmod :: online among the game modders”. The project’s first goal is to describe and understand the community’s social structure, the gamemodders’ cultural actions and artefacts, and most important, their explicit and tacit cultural knowledge. It is assumed that the paradigm of “cultural appropriation” plays a key role in this.

Artistical expression is one of the aspects being of particular interest within the project. In “good ethnographical tradition” all kinds of artefacts created by the community members were collected from the very beginning. By presenting, discussing, and interpreting a choice of artefacts from this collection and by describing their social and cultural circumstances, this paper aims at procuring an understanding of computergames not being passively consumed, but being actively appropriated, not least via innovative creation and social maintenance of artistical artefacts.

For an explanation of the illustration see the last paragraph of style.