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Remixing the Interior Ideologies of the Game Space
by Survey of Interactive Media

Two instances in which artists have harnesses the powerful ubiquity of vernacular culture by remixing popular games. --Sarah Brin

We can discuss the rich art history of games, as well the institutional stumbling blocks that have obfuscated the communication of their relevance, but not enough is being done to situate contemporary art/games within the discursive world of contemporary art, especially if we accept the characterization of current and future decades as distinctively and unprecedentedly networked. But what is the nature of these networks and how far do they reach? It’s clear that we’ve yet to reach the apex of this networked expansion, and that there are still acres of digital horizon waiting to be homesteasded. But what are the implications of the sudden inclusion of demographics who’d never before identified themselves as “gamers?” In his text Remixing and Remixability, Lev Manovich argues that this constant stream of information has encouraged users to pick out discrete elements of digital culture (videos, RSS feeds, tagging, etc) and to remix them with other elements of culture to create something new. The theorist points out that there are clear databases of what is and is not appropriate for sampling. However, the most powerful instances of remixing do not draw from those libraries of material that is pre-authorized to be sampled, but rather those that incorporate a kind of reorgzanization is not so much recycling as it is a creative act, as the reassembly of modules can facilitate meaningul and subversive exchanges.

I'm reminded by two art/games, Zach Gage's Lose/Lose, and Brody Condon, Anne-Marie Schleiner, and Joan Leandre's Velvet Strike. Both projects demonstrate that remixing is a useful tool that helps artists use vernacular forms in order to communicate new and potentially subversive ideas. Take Lose Lose for example. Skinned to identically resemble the classic arcade game Space Invaders, the piece unplays and problematizes its predecessor’s embedded Cold War anxieties, speaking to issues of territorialzation, otherness, subordination, and oblivion. By isolating the aesthetic and mechanical modules of the game, Gage creates an artwork that means something entirely different than the arcade original. Further, Lose/Lose’s unique mechanic of deleting a random file off the user’s hard drive for every invader killed lends real life consequences to in-game actions, thereby pressing the question, “Why do we assume that because we are given a weapon and awarded for using it, that doing so is right?”

Another noteworthy example of redefining meaning through remixing is Velvet Strike, a Counter-Strike mod that remixes a game originally about millitarism to servce as a guide for online civil disobedience. In the months immediately following the September 11th attacks, Schleiner, Leandre and Condon became fascinated by Counter-Strike, an MMORPG in which players could either choose to play as terrorists or counter-terrorists operating within an urban center.1 The game’s chat networks became flooded with anti-Muslim sentiment, and it became quite clear that Counter-Strike’s interior rhetoric was brutally unidimensional. Working together, the three artists modified the game’s source code to create a software patch that, when voluntarily downloaded, caused players’ guns to shoot anti-war graffiti instead of bullets. In order to accomplish this, the three artists re-articulated the game's source code in order to alter the construction of the game, subsequently calling Counter-Strike's original narrative and objectives into question. While the primary mechanic of the game is to shoot, Schleiner, Condon, and Leandre's remix calls players' attentions to the fact that something might be inherently flawed within the game's core ideological frame.

Individuals who had not equipped themselves with the software modification were still able to view the graffiti as part of the gamescape. Further, those with the Velvet-Strike patch were encouraged to partake in acts of passive resistance, including staging virtual protests and gathering “in a heart-shaped formation while repeatedly sending out the chat message ‘Love and Peace.’”2 Schleiner, Condon, and Leandre's intervention is particularly poignant because it is not its own autonomous game, and that it utilizes an MMORPG as a platform for public engagement. This means that the games' message of tolerance and pacifism was not only shared by the artists and those who had willingly downloaded the Velvet Strike patch, but a network reaching to millions of “normal players.”

 

Artists’ games possess a capacity for exposing the subjectivities embedded within formal, political, and otherwise ideological forms of institutional rhetoric. My interest in artists’ games lies within their ability to deconstruct procedural rhetoric, and their capacity to reveal the nature of our role within entities we don’t usually see as organizational systems of power. By drawing our attention to these structures, artists intend to provoke audiences’ interrogations of instiutional validity, universality, or desirability.3 Considering digital games and their connectedness to the military industrial complex and the United States Government, the medium uniquely expresses an ambivalence towards technological innovation and the utopian aspirations associated with web 2.0.  

 

3 Bogost. 57-59.

Lose/Lose by Zach Gage (2009) Artist Zach Gage's "Lose/Lose" employs vernacular imagery and mechanics to convey a subversive message.
Velvet Strike by Anne-Marie Schleiner (2008) Brody Condon, Anne-Marie Schleiner, and Joan Leandre modify the MMORPG Counter-Strike to subvert the game's interior ideology.