To mod means to modify. The desire to modify rises from being dissatisfied with the way things are. It can be seen as a creative and expressive urge. We want to modify what we cannot allow to remain the way it is. In the context of gaming, a mod celebrates and acknowledges an existing game. This game already has a community of people who know it and understand its finer points; it usually also has some historical significance.
Can this idea be extrapolated further? For example, what is this urge or desire linked to in a social context? Not all societies have historically had groups interested in taking upon themselves the responsibility of repairing the infrastructure and the environment. But regardless of this, actors have existed here as well as in other contexts and societies who have wanted to tinker with the status quo. These actors may or may not be organised as a group but they exist, nonetheless. An actor can be called one when he has no precedent. If a precedent exists, then the actor is only acting out a role or a template.
How do such actors emerge? We do not know. We first become aware of the actor through his or her action, which in this case is an act of play.
The act of play is not motivated by one particular feeling but, instead, by a complex group of them. It is not simply a desire for joy. We don’t play just to steer ourselves out of our boredom but also to develop freeform expressions of our neuroses, to create new situations for ourselves to consider. We consider the act of play when what we see everyday confounds us with its lack of poetry, emotion and alternative narratives. Play can even be a way for us to renew our perception.
We also play because we do not know how to deal with our unstructured time, or moments when we have nothing to do. In this scenario, we do not have any clear desire or intention but still experience a compulsion to seem busy. This compulsion attracts us, and we give in easily. We slip and fantasise about seeming busy. We engage in an activity that is ultimately unproductive, but will keep us busy for hours without seeming irrational, strange or out of the norm. We decide to make play.
As we do this, we begin to mod something. We mod the system that we inhabit. Soon, we notice that everything and everyone has decided to redraw their relationships with us because we have decided to become an active modder. Through this redrawing, the world remains in sync with our actions and responds when we make our move. Our moves are on chess-boards inside our heads and their moves are on chess-boards inside theirs. Sometimes the board inside our head and the board inside their head are in sync. Our moves could also change the game itself.
This is because making a move sets off a whole set of chain reactions. These chain reactions become the play, which shakes the status quo. The game itself emerges from the conflicting interaction between us and the field. The terrain of the field is not flat and level. It has irregularities because it is set up to encourage conflict. If we do not conflict with it and vice versa, the game does not move.
If there is no movement in the game, players seek pleasure outside the narrative of the game. All games exist in the wider setting of the actor’s life, wherein numerous sources of pleasure are available. For instance—conversation, cooking, gardening, reading all offer an immediate respite from the frustration of chasing and pursuing a vague objective. This disengagement from the game produces dissonance, which weakens the game. The players lose focus on the objectives of the game. They lose faith in the fact that there ever will be a decisive moment of judgment within the game. Atheism reigns, cynicism widens its grip.
The mod has power because it remedies this situation. It disrupts the familiar frame that exists around a known game, by rendering it in a new format. Through the novelty that a mod offers, it forces us to examine it closely and produces intimacy. Mods provide cultural momentum; they mount society in a r/w mode. Nothing is a given anymore.
Modding society alludes to a specific mode of intervention in the context that we live in. This intervention might be explicit, direct, suggestive or aesthetic. The mode or nature of the intervention does not matter as much.
In a modded game—a familiar format with a newer set of symbols and meanings mapped onto it—our experience is instantly refreshed. We have to stop and reassess our experience. We wonder how the familiar format is able to produce such a surprising and enjoyable effect. The wonder lasts only an instant, after which we move on to assess the experience that the game presents.
The act of modding is a transgression but it is also a catalyst for dialogue. Once the dialogue has started, the modded fact (the newer symbols or narratives that have been mapped onto the game) of the game recedes into the background and only specific aspects of the mod (the interface, the situation, the tokens, the mechanisms) remain in the foreground. These specific aspects of the game colour our experience and deliver the set of propositions that the game designer wants to put forward. The set of habits that the player has formed from their previous experience of playing a game are critical for the game designer, who uses these to speed up the players’ adoption of the game so that the interface can communicate faster.
The game designer here can be anyone. There is interest in modding games in education , art practice, research, marketing, as well as management. For the artist, the first motivation to mod a game is to layer poetry over an ordinary surface. Very much like found footage, found sounds, and found objects, the modding practice in art refers to a found game which is then re-contextualized to become a very specific intervention.
Of course we can interpret modding in a much wider context than just games. For instance T & T have also been modding paintings for them to occupy a space that is somewhere in between a painting and a sculpture. Generally, a sculpture is 3D and a painting is 2D – but this distinction can be too simple sometimes.
The accident that makes it possible for an artist to find a game—which is then appropriated and gifted with a narrative—is an interesting story. They may even come as jokes. As we now segue into the specific projects that T & T made by modding existing games, we will analyse some such jokes and hope not to kill them while delivering them. The following joke makes an equivalent of Jarvis Cocker of the band Pulp singing, “I am not Jesus Christ, though I have the same initials.”
Did T & T mod table tennis tables because they are TT tables? We will find out as we speak to them.
2 Moshirnia, Andrew. “The educational potential of modified video games”. Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology 4 (2007).