kirkpatrick 2004 excerpts

Technological politics and the networked PC

However, the best illustration of the kind of positive cultural politics envisaged here concerns the culture of game modification. Games players write and exchange ‘mods’—modifications to games programs that include new twists of storyline and environment—and have succeeded, through this activity, in obliging games producers to leave their source code open for this purpose, something hackers have not yet persuaded the manufacturers of Windows to do. This has been achieved through the market, with astute games manufacturers recognising that there was demand for games with accessible source code, but also through successful negotiation and lobbying. Where hackers confront power dramatically and parade their subversions of the interface order only to be suppressed by power, gamers compromise, negotiate and effect a gradual re-opening of the technical levels of the machine. (↵Kirkpatrick 2004: 16)

The growing culture of ‘mods’ and the constant discussion among games players of how to make games better suggests that computer game players are not merely passive recipients of these environments, but actively participate in shaping them. As Andrew MacTavish (2003) shows, game modification involves players directly in the process of re-shaping environments produced by games manufacturers. In a series of disputes with computer game publishers, modders have forced the publishers to soften their proprietary licenses to accommodate mods. In this way, game players have imposed their vision of how games should be improved and had their ideas taken up (and sold on) by games companies. This story attests to the idea that the computer game is, in significant respects at least, radically inconsistent with the hollowed out interior of the subject of mass culture. The modifications in question frequently display a kynical character—the most famous one, ‘Counter Strike’ gives the player the opportunity to assume the role of revolutionary guerrilla (‘terrorist’) in a game that originally simulated counter-terrorist operations, for example. To be sure, computer game companies are acting out of, fairly cynical, self-interest since the ‘flexible’ licenses (EULAs) allow them, rather than the modders, to exploit the modified game versions for further profit. The important point, however, is that, ironically, gaming culture turns out to be the cultural launching off point and to some extent the site of a constituency of social actors who refuse to be assigned a merely passive role in the networked society. Modders are committed to learning in the standard sense (about games and through the process of interpreting game narratives) and they participate in the equivalent of civic associations within the new mediated social space. And they participate in a process of technological, or reflexive enlightenment too, which equips them for fuller participation in the new public sphere (if that is what it is). (↵Kirkpatrick 2004: 19)
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