When Doom was released by id Software in 1993, the landscape of game modification was greatly impacted and was the entry point for one of the first artistic interventions in video games. id Software was aware of an enthusiastic modding culture that grew from their previous game, Wolfentstein 3D. Though the process in creating and loading the mods for that game were more difficult. With the community in mind, lead programmer John Carmack, a known advocate for copyleft and John Romero, who had hacked games in his youth, had the idea to simply give players the tools required to mod via WAD files.
Short for “Where’s All the Data?”, WAD files contain levels, graphics, and sounds stored separately from the game engine. Which allows players to create their own visual and audio data without making any modifications to the engine itself. WADs modify Doom by replacing graphics and audio, but the customization is somewhat limited as the game’s behaviour is hardcoded. So even if the game looks and sounds new, a Doom mod will feel like Doom.
Game Mods vs Art Mods
The early artistic interventions with FPSs were not so different from hacks and mods by the gaming community. Though there is artistry in creating game mods, the distinction between artist and modder as defined by Anne-Marie Schleiner is that modders “remain innocent of previous artistic tactics which foreshadow their creative processes.” Also, most modders wouldn’t consider themselves artists nor do they have the artistic training. It is often the intention behind the mod, and who the mod was made by, that distinguishes a game mod from an art mod. Art mods are often a means to a critical end, shedding light on the FPS genre and as a critique on the artworld itself.
ArsDoom conceived by Austrian artist Orhan Kipcak is often considered to have opened up the conversation amongst art mods. Exhibited in 1995 at Ars Electronica, the interactive artwork was a modification of Doom where players could run and gun in a reconstruction of the Bruckernerhaus’ exhibition all. A concert hall and significant venue for exhibitions and events related to Ars Electronica.
Inside the simulated exhibition space, players take on artistic player characters such as Joseph Beuys, Arnulf Rainer, Georg Baselitz or Jeff Koons. Weapons of choice, a colour gun and a water hose. The virtual space is filled with original digital works by computer artists invited by Kipcak and players played out the role of curator and critic. Deciding which artists would be destroyed and what would be kept for public display.
Kipcak admitted that Doom was used for its availability. “The Doom Engine was an open-source solution, easy to handle and very popular at the time. It made our life so much easier!”
Doom’s Lasting Influence in Media Art History
Doom’s relevance to media art histories was particularly highlighted when the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karsruhe, Germany, included it in their Media-Art-History exhibition in 1997.
The Doom game itself was included in the exhibition. Not any specific art mods to have been built using the software. The impact of the open-source solution Doom provided through WAD files is assigned cultural meaning in this case. Giving recognition to Doom, and it’s engine, as something more than a commercial application.