"Rules," as the popular
saying has it, "are made to be broken."(1
) They establish standards, guide behavior, and organize
play, but in doing so, they expose the nature of the game. They
prompt the player to think about the game and its rules and to
ask, "Why is the game played this way?" The question
is important to children and also to artists, and to others who
may long to change the rules of the game. Children may change
the rules of games to make their games easier to play, to gain
some advantage, or perhaps to include or exclude certain individuals;
they may change the rules to make a game more interesting or challenging
or even more fair. The rules reveal and create a world, and players
may want to imagine and experience an alternative. They see the
game for what it is, and they want to change it. Artists do this
when they modify games, and those who create art by modifying
games do believe that the rules are made to be broken. The modification
of analog and video games by artists reminds us that there is
an art to modification and art in the modification.
Game modification by artists is not a recent phenomenon. Artist-players
have customized and adapted the rules of game play since there
have been games to play, but game modification is a significant
part of certain art movements. Surrealist created their games
of chance, Duchamp had role-games and fascinations with chess,
and the 1970's happened upon Fluxus games. Games themselves
became Fluxus essentials and served as modes of exploration and
means of dissemination of Fluxus ideas about art. Fluxus artists
pursued the game as a path of experience and experimentation that
involved humor and participation—often physical participation—and
used the game as a way to question and to undermine the seriousness
Fluxus games were often simple creations such as boxes containing
rules and items for playing games. The boxes, for example, would
contain altered decks of cards and manipulated chess and backgammon
boards. During Fluxfests, artists would play modified multiplayer
games, including soccer on stilts, ping-pong with holes in the
paddles, and bike races to determine who could be the last person
to cross the finish line. Fluxus artist modified a range of games
from simple table games to more elaborate physical tournaments,
yet they had this in common: they changed the rules of the game.
Today, patrons can visit museums
to see exhibits of Fluxus games from the 60's and 70's,
but, unfortunately, they generally only see the games displayed;
they do not play the games, and Fluxus games were designed to
be played. An aspect of the life of the art is lost. Celia Pearce
There is deep and tragic irony in going to an exhibition of Fluxus
artifacts…. Objects whose entire purpose was to elicit play
exist now only as the corpses of their former selves, trapped
in a "Mausoleum" within the object-centric commodity-based
world of Art with a capital A.(3)
Fluxus games are to be played, and
mere display deadens the art. As Pearce points out, those who
play the game are "co-creators" of the art,(4)
so without play the art is incomplete. Moreover, Fluxus games,
which in a museum display are contextualized as objects of art
are subverted by the context, for Fluxus games challenged the
role and value of art as object. Video game modifications of recent
times pose the same kind of challenge as Fluxus games: they are
designed for play, not display. However, they have a feature that
may well keep them from becoming "object-centric"
and "commodity-based " art; they are not objects to
begin with; games live in an electronic environment. To be observed,
they must be active. Only the medium in which they are displayed—a
computer—becomes the object. Most people already have the
object on which video games are played, and they do need not visit
a gallery space to experience a video game modification. It is
possible for many to download and to play an artist's game
modification from the Internet. Video game modifications today,
in contrast to early Fluxus games, have the advantage of greater
playability and availability.
Through the Looking Glass, the first video game created for the
Apple Macintosh computer, is a video game modification.(5)
It earns a certain place in the history of Apple and did require
skillful coding, but its basic design is little more than a game
of chess modified to include Alice from Lewis Carroll's
book, "Alice in Wonderland." Simply changing the pieces
or characters in a game is not unique in the gaming world; many
board-game manufactures have changed the pieces to put a new face
on an old game and sell more boards. However, this was also the
first game that allowed players, not programmers, to design and
create their own distinctive game pieces. Granted this was done
to show off the computer's graphic ability, but it opened
a new door of interest and imaginative possibilities in video
game modification. It set a precedent in gaming that has continued
with games such as SimCity,DOOM,Unreal Tournament,Halo, and many
other games that have included game editors. Video games that
ship with game editors allow artists to apply Fluxus ideals, and
they may actually create new artists who are drawn into explorations
and experiments a new form of gaming. Those who experiment with
game editors and modify games, knowingly or unknowingly, continue
the work of Fluxus, because their changes at times hinder play,
subvert rules, and introduce the ridiculous. The games editors,
at least in some ways, make it possible to change the rules of
Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans,
"the Dadaists of Internet art" who collaborate as
Jodi,(6) also modify games.
One of their works, SOD, shown in the exhibit GAMESHOW, June 2001
to May 2002 at Mass MoCA, is a modification built using the Castle
Wolfenstein gaming engine.7 In the modification, the artists have
removed all of the recognizable elements of the game and have
replaced them with black and white geometric shapes that create
a new architecture and a new gaming environment that challenge
the player's orientation as well as hinder navigation.
The dysfunctional elements of Jodi's game effectively expose
and undermine Wolfenstein's paradigms of navigation and
construction of space. SOD also exposes and demolishes the balance
between the user's and the system's control which
is an essential element of any action game.(8)
By making the game more difficult to play, the members of Jody
have exposed the elemental structure of the game's environment
and have also created abstract art.
Feng Membo has focused on modifying
the video game DOOM, these mods include Taking Mt Doom by Strategy,
Q4U and AH_Q. The modifications reflect a variety of approaches:
transforming the look of the characters in the game, changing
how players interact with the game, and finally taking a studio
approach by making large paintings that have been inspired by
screenshots of the modified game. In Ah_Q, a modification of the
first person shooter game DOOM, shown in the 2004 Ars Electronica
exhibition in Linz, Austria, Membo has put his very own likeness
into the game.(9) Users play
the game as a shirtless Feng Membo holding a big gun in one hand
and a mini DV camera in the other. To add to the confusion of
play, all of the typical monsters in DOOM have also been replaced
with Membo's likeness. The gore and shock of the game has
also modified and increased by adding mirrors to the environment
so that players will be able to watch themselves, or rather to
watch the many likeness of Feng Membo, die. Membo has also replaced
the keyboard and mouse with a Dance Dance Revolution controller:
to kill, the player must "dance" so to speak. With
these mods and through the use of "digital" clones,
Membo is able to explore and question the concepts of online identity
within the context of role-playing in a commercial environment
amongst the violence of the game.(10)
By changing the controller, Membo
transformed player into a performer. Video games themselves can
be made into performance. More recently, video games have been
coming out of the computer and out of the consol and have been
moved into movies; some games are becoming contemporary performance
art works. Roomba Frogger preformed by Make Magazine's Phillip
Torrone and Eyebeam's Limor Fried was a live action game
based on the 1981 video arcade game Frogger. During the performance,
Torrone and Fried took a Roomba, an autonomous robot vacuum cleaner,
which they had dressed in a green t-shirt to make it look like
a frog, and reprogrammed the vacuum cleaner so that it could be
controlled using a Bluetooth enabled laptop. They then let the
Roomba loose on a busy street. The object of the game was for
players to get the Roomba robot across the street safely, just
as players would do in the original Frogger.(11)
The game becomes a performance.
Another example of game as performance is found in the project
series GAMEOVER. In the performance, the 1972 Atari game, Pong,
and the 1978 game, Space Invaders, designed by Toshihiro Nishikado,
are reenacted by a group of performers (see photographs in APPENDIX).
In the seats of an auditorium, the performers act as or represent
a single pixel of the game's graphics. They act as pixels
and act out the game. In the 2005 performance of Pong in Turn-of-Peliz
(Switzerland), six people, three for each side, acted as the paddles,
and a seventh person served as the ball. Performers moved from
seat to seat in the auditorium, which became a theatrical pixel
grid, and played out or acted out a game. The performance took
two hours and was documented in photographs that were later assembled
to create a two-minute video. By transforming the Pong game into
a performance, there is a return to an element of Fluxus practice,
for people are playing the game; but the element is lost when
the game is reduced to photographs and video, which serve to preserve
the moment of the art. The art flows from action to observation
The rules of the game can be changed. There is an art to modification
and art in the modification. Fluxus emphasized art as act, and
the modification of a video game that plays and will be played
expresses this perspective. Art, in the Fluxus tradition, "is
found in the action rather than the object, for if the action
does not occur (the game is not played), what and where is the
art?"(12) Game mods seem
to answer the question. The modification is the art, which begs
to be played, and in being played, the game is reaffirmed as art.
(1) The saying is relatively recent
and has been traced to Arthur C. Clarke's 1953 Expedition
to Earth (Wolfgang Mieder, ed., A Dictionary of American
Proverbs, [New York: Oxford University Press, 1992], 518).
(2)"Fluxus Games Exhibition
Mixes Hijinks and High Art," Indepth Arts News; available
accessed December 1, 2006.
(3)Celia Pearce, "Games as Art:
The Aesthetics of Play," Visible Language 40, no.
1 (2006): 70.
(5) The game was originally created
by Steve Capps for the Lisa computer, but was ported to
the Macintosh when brought to the attention of Steve Jobs
(Andy Hertzfeld, "Alice," Folklore [June 1982];
available from http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?project=Macintosh&story=Alice.txt;
accessed December 3, 2006).
(6) Margaret Sundell, "Jodi
- New York - Internet Art of Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans,"
ArtForum (September 2003); available from http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_1_42/ai_108691821;
accessed December 5, 2006.
(7) "Gameshow: Past Exhibition,
Building 4 & 5, June 2001-May 2002," Visual Arts;
available from http://www.massmoca.org/visual_arts/past_exhibitions/visual_arts_past_2001.html;
accessed December 6, 2006.
(8) Christiane Paul, Digital Art, World of Art (New York:
Thames & Hudson, 2003).
(9) Maia Engeli, "Ars Electronica 2004--The Exhibitions:
Linz, Austria, September 2-7, 2004," Leonard on-line;
available from http://timesup.org/reviewed/ldr.pdf; accessed
December 5, 2006.
(10)Christiane Paul, Digital Art, World of Art (New York:
Thames & Hudson, 2003).
(11) Daniel Terdiman, "Roomba Takes Frogger,"
C/Net News.com (March 15, 2006); available from http://news.com.com/Roomba+takes+Frogger+to+the+asphalt+jungle/2100-1043_3-6049922.html;
accessed November 30, 2006.
(12) "Gameshow: Past Exhibition, Building 4 & 5,
June 2001-May 2002," Visual Arts available from http://www.massmoca.org/visual_arts/past_exhibitions/visual_arts_past_2001.html;
accessed December 6, 2006.
Engeli, Maia. "Ars Electronica
2004--the Exhibitions: Linz, Austria, September 2-7, 2004."
Leonard on-line. Available from http://timesup.org/reviewed/ldr.pdf.
Accessed December 5, 2006.
"Fluxus Games Exhibition Mixes Hijinks and High Art."
Indepth Arts News. Available from http://www.absolutearts.com/artsnews/2001/06/16/28719.html.
Accessed December 1, 2006.
"Gameshow: Past Exhibition, Building 4 & 5, June
2001-May 2002." Visual Arts. Available from http://www.massmoca.org/visual_arts/past_exhibitions/visual_arts_past_2001.html.
Accessed December 6, 2006.
Hertzfeld, Andy. "Alice." Folklore (1982). Available
Accessed December 3, 2006.
Wolfgang Mieder, ed. A Dictionary of American Proverbs.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Paul, Christiane. Digital Art. World of Art, New York: Thames
& Hudson, 2003.
Pearce, Celia. "Games as Art: The Aesthetics of Play."
Visible Language 40, no. 1 (2006): 66-89.
Margaret Sundell, "Jodi - New York - Internet Art
of Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans," ArtForum (September
2003). Available from http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_1_42/ai_108691821.
Accessed December 5, 2006.
Terdiman, Daniel. "Roomba Takes Frogger." C/Net
News.com (2006). Available from http://news.com.com/Roomba+takes+Frogger+to+the+asphalt+jungle/2100-1043_3-6049922.html.
Accessed November 30, 2006.
GAMEOVER 2005 performance of Pong
GAMEOVER 2006 performance of Space Invaders