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Game Hack

Josephine Starrs

It has became common for game hackers, designers and artists to modify commercial computer games by altering the software to make mods, patches and plug-ins. Commercial computer game companies occasionally offer patching software with their product and the internet provides a network for instant distribution and feedback from on-line gaming communities. Players become co-creators of the modified game, often using humour and parody to subvert the existing gameplay. Finnish theorist Erkki Huhtamo has likened this phenomenon to the scratch video movement of the 80?s which was ?simultaneously a reaction to the ubiquitous television environment, and a tactical attack against its role as the mouthpiece of conservative politics?.1

The huge success of the global gaming industry over the past decade has inspired many artists to incorporate various types of gameplay into their practice resulting in new hybrid artforms. Following are descriptions of some of those artists? works.

Feng Mengbo

Feng Mengbo is a Beijing artist, who chooses the game medium to make work about contemporary Chinese society. In an early work he recast the popular Nintendo character Mario as Mao Zedong. More recent is a patch he created for the popular first person shooter game, Quake, where the artist puts himself inside the game with a rifle in one hand and a camera in the other.


Mongrel is a group of artists from the UK who make work about institutionalised racism. In 1998, they created Blacklash, with Macattack, at fairly simple, low resolution game for Macintoshes. In the Mongrel version of the game, the internet is infected with icons representing Nazis, Ku Klux Klan and bad cops which the player must destroy.


In 1999, Dutch net artists, Jodi made SOD, a patch for Castle Wolfenstien, an early carnage game where the player battles Nazis and their dogs. The artists stripped the game of colour, characters and guns, creating a minimalist aesthetic, while leaving the sounds intact.

Josephine Starrs & Leon Cmielewski

In 1999 Leon Cmielewski and I used Bungie Software, to create a patch for Marathon Infinity, a fairly standard 3D shoot-em-up game where the player has a choice of guns and basically has to kill as many aliens as possible. In our version players clean up the kitchen laboratory of a home bio-tech enthusiast using weapons such as dish cloths and egg flippers. The player is attacked by nasty mutant vegetables which are the product of genetic nouvelle cuisine, and learns throughout the game of a world wide corporate conspiracy to take over the entire food chain.

Natalie Bookchin

Intruder is an online, browser based game, drawing on retro computer games like Pong and Space Invaders in style and gameplay. In Intruder, US artist Natalie Bookchin adapts a short story by Jorges Luis Borges about the life of two brothers who fight for the woman they both desire. Intruder can be found at:


Quilted Thought Organ is a modification of the Quake II game engine by Melbourne sound artist, Delire. In qthoth, objects and actions in the 3D game environment trigger sound samples, allowing the game to be played as a musical instrument.

Anne-Marie Schleiner

Counter-Strike, a modification of the video game, Half-Life, was initially released as free software. Building upon Counter-Strike?s success, Sierra Studios and Valve Software released a retail version of the game in 2000. Counter-Strike allows the user to play on a team as either a terrorist or counter-terrorist and enthusiastic gamers have created hundreds of new game maps for Counter-Strike. US artist Annemarie Schliener?s recent project, Velvet Strike is described as "Counter Military Graffiti" for Counter-Strike. She writes on her website:

Velvet-Strike is a collection of spray paints to use as graffiti on the walls, ceiling, and floor of the popular network shooter terrorism game Counter-Strike. Velvet-Strike was conceptualised during the beginning of Bush?s "War on Terrorism." We invite others to submit their own "spray-paints" relating to this theme.#2 "C" spray by Pau Waelder ake
first prize winner
The project ran a competition for the best spray graffiti and the various entries can be downloaded from the Velvet Strike website and uploaded into the players own games:

Incident spray by K.R.N.



1 Game Patch - the Son of Scratch?, Erkki Huhtamo 1999,
2 Velvet Strike, Annemarie Schleiner 2003,