>Here, as promised, are a few questions. Please don't feel like you have to>write loads in response. I know that email interviews can become very time
>consuming for the interviewee.
>1. When did you get the idea for the exhibition? Are you a gamer? Do you use
I am a gamer and first encountered patches through a friend with a similar interest in gaming. I am also an artist and I created my first patch as an art piece that was intended to critique and parady gender politics in computer gaming. The patch, called "Madame Polly", was a parady of the recent genre of female action heroine games like "Tomb Raider" where the player finds clues embedded in computer terminals distributed throughout the game space that construct the avatars own polymorphous and contradictory identity: herioine as boy toy, heroine as drag queen, heroine as feminist role model, heroine as abject pleasure tool for women, were some of the possible gender subjectivity configurations. I also wrote an article relating to gender and gaming for an issue of Switch about cyberfeminism and appended a section onto the article which I intended to be about feminist game patching activity. I discovered, upon further investegation of home pages, that the patches I believed where created by women were actually bearded computer geeks who happened to have androgynous and feminime names. This nevertheless led me to the idea that patches offer a means for alternative game scenarios to emerge that challenge stereotypical notions of gender in computer gaming and also potentially subvert other conventions of computer gaming such as notions of game world space and subjectivity, politics of the other and game interactivity and gameplay.
Patching appears to function as a cheap form of conceptual beta-testing for the gaming industry, which sometimes picks up on patching trends and releases them as official games. For example, Lara Croft from "Tombraider" appears to trace her most immediate genealogy to patches with active female characters like Marathon's Amazons and Female Cyborg. It occured to me it would be interesting to organize a show that would exhibit some of the more subversive and unique patches floating around the web that have emerged as a sort of popular culture hacker art form and to also to invite artist's who are not necessarily deeply immersed in gaming culture to create game patches. Following in the wake of artists like VNS Matrix and the Hactavists of the Electronic Disturbance Theater, as a curator I am interested in the notion of art as culture hacking, art with a critical agenda that seeps outside the boundaries of prescribed art audiences and engages itself with a broader public(ie. the gaming public). Art that finds cracks in the code and hacks into foreign systems. I also want to invite a cross-pollination of gaming and art stratagies by providing artists with tools and techniques developed by game hackers and exhibiting game patches created by gamers as art.
SoI posted a call for submissions for "Cracking the Maze" Game patches and plug-ins as patches art"on the web and I am very happy with the results. (a description of the show concept and artists names can be found at http://switch.sjsu.edu/web/CrackingtheMaze.) which will open in June. I am also excited that theorists Sandy Stone and Erkki Huhtamo will be contributing writing to the exhibit and have contributed helpful advice in the selection process. And the upcoming coincident issue of Switch, (journal of new media art and theory at San Jose State University), about gaming and art I think will be a good on-line environment for the exhibit.
>2 What are the best game patches you've come across?
This is always changing. Game patching is not an art form that lends itself to the selection of timeless awe-inspiring masterpieces and aesthetically game patching cannot compete with the capital that goes into the graphic detail and ambience in commerical games(although many young gamers continue to make valient efforts and the result is often a less resplendant replica of the orginal game) The patches(add-ons, mods, skins, plug-ins, shapes etc.) that I find most interesting are those that offer a humerous twist on the familiar tropes of gaming and create potential gaps where new gaming genres can emerge. I think "Barney and his Minions" for Doom is a patch the is darkly humerous and undermines the machismo associated with shooters by replacing the standard tough guys with children's fantasy figures. Also, I enjoy patches that are not necessarily subversive but operate as what William Irwin Thompson calls "epistimological cartoons" garish hyperboles that crystallize underlying cultural relationships. "Los Disneys" is a patch that is offers a dystopian vision of the U.S. real estate being taken over by Disney Corporation. Since Disney already owns a retirement community in Florida and has entered the hearts and minds of many Americans through the entertainment industry "Los Disneys" strikes a resonent chord that is taken to the pitch of millenial apocalyptic fever.
>3. How subversive are game patches really? Sure, the Carmageddon patches
>made the censors in the UK look silly - but to what end? Indeed, the most
>recent Carmageddon patches were actually released by the company?
As I mentioned earlier, patches are cheap game concept beta-testing for the gaming industry. They also are commercially appealing to gamers interested in customizing their own game worlds. Game patches and hacks range from the highly mundane and trivial to the subversive. Take for instance, a web ring of "skinners" for Quake, mostly teenage to mid 20's boys who exchange monster outfits for premade 3d monsters in Quake with eachother, a sort of paperdoll dress-up for boys, roughly equivilent in concept to one of the few computer games ever released for girls, "Barbie Dress-up". Then, on the other hand, there is Rtmark's illegal hack of SimCopter (which will be in the exhibit) where more often than not Bikini Clad Boys are available for kissing instead the game manufacters intended girls in bikinis.
>4. What do you think people from the art world can bring to computer games?
>People often say that computer games mix incredible technological
>sophistication and innovation with adolescent aesthetics - is that
>simplifying things too much? Or is it at the aesthetic level that 'artists'
>can make their contribution?
I think artists can bring a critical and perhaps more diverse agenda in terms of age, gender and politics to computer games. I also think artists are adept in approaching cultural artifacts in a manner that merges form and content with an attuned awareness to cultural belief systems that are embedded in aesthetics and vice versa. For example, an artist would probably be thinking of the connection between Rennaissance perspective, Cartesian identity and first person shooters.
>5. Patches - as in players customising levels - is now part of the marketing
>strategy for most games - it has been since Doom - it's an obvious way of
>building player loyalty - players get to do their own thing but within the
>limits set by the original developers. Given that, how much scope is there
>for artists to subvert from within - however clever their patches might be?
This dynamic on-line web culture is what makes infiltration possible. The system is already in place and ripe for subversion from within and without.
>6. Many within the games world are suspicious of artists - they think that
>they don't understand how games work and don't have the technological
>ability to make them work, that they pass of substandard programming as 'an
>attempt to rupture the realistic game space' or whatever? What's your
>reaction to that?
It's true that most gaming companies are divided into specialized programmers and "artists" who are actually graphic designers which is quite different from your typical new media artist who has a much broader and less specialized range of skills. Yet some of these new media artists also make their living off their skills in the computer industry. (I personally do and I know quite a few others) This question makes me think of all the depressed middle aged male C programmers who attended a java class I took recently. Intense technical specialiazation can also lead to obsalescence which artists may be better equipped to handle (well I guess artists get obsaleted too for different reasons).
>7. Do artists need to address the nature of the gaming experience at a
>deeper level - ie - not just think about using a patch to remotivate/subvert
>the graphics but try to address the nature of the interaction with the
>machine during gameplay - what you give to and get back from the machine,
>where it takes you, the nature of immersion and its psycho-social effects
Yes, however I dont think the politics of representation in regards to gender and race are more superficial than the gameplay. This is the typical mechanistic worldview of programmers and engineers that sees the game engine as the underlying "Uhr Struktor". A number of the game patches in "Cracking the Maze" address interactivity and immersion. Benjamin Eakin's "Ada Lovelace vs. Donkey Kong" allows you to "interact with the code itself" and Parangari Cutiri's "Epilepitic Game Patch" immerses the player in a world of shifting patterns designed to induce fits of epilepsia in the information weary(taking the warning that appears at the beginning of many computer games very seriously). Matthew Shadbolt's emulator patch phase shifts between an '80's style graphicaly abstract type of gameplay and world to the narrow corridors of the 3d shooter.
>8. I've only started digging into this subject but I've found lots of
>artists who seem to be hugely fascinated by games - for example tomorrow,
>I'm going to interview Jake and Dinos Chapman - they say they want to do a
>computer game and want to talk about the kind of game they might do - I
>think it will probably be all talk but they seem genuinely drawn to games.
>Have you noticed that too? Why are artists fascinated in this way, do you
I think it's very exciting that this meme is on the loose and I think there are alot of reasons to be interested in gaming. It seems almost as if while some new media artists had their heads in the clouds of virtual reality during the early to mid 90's tough and dirty game worlds developed under their noses which offered virtual and often networked worlds to a mass public. However, these virtual worlds are dripping with violence and interactivity is codified into very specific generes of game play. Although I personally am a big fan of many existing types of gaming (including mindless bloodlust) I think that gaming culture is ripe for intervention from outside more diverse agents, including artists.
I know of a great gaming art piece that is going to be shown in an exhibit about Technoculture and Religion in Dusseldorf this summer by artist Eddo Stern ( e-mail: email@example.com ) where there is one giant controller hooked up to three mice that control 3 characters in the networked on-line RPG (Role playing game) Everquest. All three characters perform the same actions in unision in the game world but in different environments so for example, if one is fighting off an attacker with a sword the other one is fighting with a ghost and the third one is stuck in a corner.
>Gosh, sorry - didn't mean to do so many questions all at once. Again, please
>don't feel like you have to write loads in reply. Thanks again for helping
Sure, I think the questions were really good. I could have spent all night answering but I restrained myself. Does your newspaper have international distribution? If/When your article gets published can you let me know so I can pick up a copy? Let me know if I can be of more help.
Hasta el leugo,