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The Esoteric Beat: Remixes, Mods, Retro Goodness

Welcome to ‘The Esoteric Beat’, the weekly column that provides new and unusual ways to think about game and culture. This week’s stories look at Wired Magazine’s Remix P...
Welcome to ‘The Esoteric Beat’, the weekly column that provides new and unusual ways to think about game and culture. This week’s stories look at Wired Magazine’s Remix Planet, Half-Life 2 modding, and the retro collection we all want to own. - William Gibson, the former spokesman of cyberpunk and longtime fan of thinking differently, recently wrote an article called ‘God’s Little Toys’ for Wired Magazine in which he talked about remix culture and the shift towards remixing throughout digital technology. He mentioned, briefly, that games have their own remixes – such as the machinima film reels. Elsewhere in Wired (also part of their 'Remix Planet' theme) they mention the capacity to import custom avatars into Unreal Tournament, an example of the ease with which games allow users to remix their variables, just as DJs would remix a record. Both these articles are thought provoking in their own way, but they perhaps miss the point when it comes to the nature of game development itself: games are the ultimate artifice of remix culture, and their palette is wider than anyone, even prophets like Mr Gibson, could have foreseen. - Just to add our own twist to Wired’s Remix Planet, we’d have to point out that games themselves are increasingly becoming remixed, not in any abstract way, but in the palpable way of modern music – games are becoming ‘remixes of old favorites’. The Half-Life 2 mod 'Substance' is a fantastic example of this. The mod amps up the original campaign by having City 17 at war from the outset, as well as throwing in dozens of miniscule references, such as a quote from cult TV program The Prisoner: “I am not a number. I am a free man!” Hoho. Substance lays new melodies over HL2’s familiar symphony of violence. Conversely, the impressively abstract Garry’s Mod allows players to mix up the environment itself, playing with almost every variable in the game’s complex physics engine. It is, perhaps, the embodiment of what Burroughs and Gibson are talking about when the use the phrase ‘Gods Little Toys’. - Also in remix territory are the deeply disturbing player-made skins for The Sims 2. The site, Very Strange Sims, is definitely not for kids, and features gimps, giant babies, naked hermaphrodites, Satanism and see-through abdomens, to name but a few of its remixed aberrations. Was this really what Will Wright meant when he talked about 'the future of content'? - Lastly, we’ll close with a little nugget from the retro realm. There are lots of interesting and beautiful image-sharing gamer groups over on Flickr, but this collection of old-school electronic games is simply delightful. Perhaps you could utilise the efforts of another clever coder to browse it on your Xbox. Nothing to do with games, it seems, can stay untouched. [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his progressive games journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times, to name but a few.]

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