What Does Artistic And/Or Literary Inspiration Have In Common With Computer Game “Modding”?

2016 Artwork Modding and inspiration

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from talking about webcomics to talk about creativity in general. Although I’ll start by talking about computer games for a while, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

If you play a lot of computer games, then you’re probably familiar with the concept of “modding”. If you aren’t, then this is where fans of a game create alternative files for the game (which might change the graphics, add new levels, alter the “rules” of the game etc…) and/or programs that alter the game in some way or another. If a game has a good modding scene, then it’s pretty much infinitely re-playable since there are so many different ways to play the same game.

An example of a mod that I’ve been playing a lot recently is probably the famous/notorious “Brutal Doom” mod for the classic 1990s “Doom” games. Although this mod is only truly fun to play for a few weeks at a time (since the novelty value wears off after a while), it turns a familar game into something entirely different.

The combat goes from being an almost chess-like game of fast-paced, but careful, strategy, to being a much more aggressive, immediate and hyper-violent thing. The military themes from the original game (which are nothing more than a background detail) are also brought to the fore in “Brutal Doom”, lending the game a totally new atmosphere.

Far from being a silently enigmatic lone space marine fighting for survival against hordes of monsters in the distant future, the main character in “Brutal Doom” can shout insults at the monsters, he can meet (and rescue) other space marines etc.. Although most of these changes are fairly small, they lend this altered version of “Doom” a much more militaristic atmosphere when compared to the original game.

And, yet, it’s still very much recognisable as a version of “Doom”.

So, why have I spent the past few paragraphs talking about computer games? What does any of this have to do with art, fiction, comics etc…?

With the possible exception of fan fiction/ fan art, there has never really been that much of an overt tradition of modding in more traditional creative mediums. But, that’s not to say that modding is an entirely new thing. In fact, it’s existed for as long as stories and art have – it’s just done in a slightly more covert and abstract way in traditional mediums these days.

Back in the really old days, stories didn’t really “belong” to anyone. So, storytellers often told their own versions of the stories that they had heard. There wasn’t really the concept of a “modification” for the simple reason that there often wasn’t an “original” version – just lots of different versions.

Although, after the development of the printing press and of relatively modern ideas like copyright, we now have the idea that a story “belongs” to someone. Art, on the other hand, has often either been totally anonymous or it has “belonged” to the artist in question. Still, “modifcation” can only really exist if there’s an “original” to modify.

But, due to modern things like copyright, we can’t just re-tell the same stories or make slightly different versions of someone else’s artwork. These days, such ancient creative traditions are considered to be acts of unoriginal plagiarism rather than merely someone telling a story or making a well-known painting. And, yet, “modding” things is still a very central and essential part of creativity. After all, it’s nearly impossible to create an entirely “original” story or work of art.

So, how do artists and writers “mod” their favourite things these days? Simple, they tell new stories and make new works of art that evoke the thing that they’re trying to “mod”, but without actually copying any specific parts of it.

Since they can’t directly copy their favourite things, they have to take a careful look at them and work out which general elements (rather than specific details, like character names, specific plot details, an artist’s exact style etc…) make these things so good. Then they use these general elements to make something totally new.

To use a public domain example, if an artist is a fan of Caravaggio then they would look at as many Caravaggio paintings as they can and see which generic elements – that aren’t specific to any one painting- make them so appealing. Caravaggio’s paintings often play with light and darkness (with large parts of many of his paintings shrouded in darkness), his paintings often contrast religious themes and everyday life, his art uses a very realistic style etc…

So, an artist inspired by Caravaggio wouldn’t just copy a Caravaggio painting (even though said paintings are out of copyright). Instead, they’d find a religious story that interested them and try to find a way to make it look like a scene from everyday life. They’d add a lot of gloom to their paintings. They’d try to paint in a more realistic way. Their painting would probably look very different to an actual Caravaggio painting, but it would still be a new interpretation of Caravaggio’s art.

This is, of course, called “inspiration” rather than “modding”. And it’s an essential part of creativity.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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