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From mods to mashups, video games and music hacker culture aren’t so different

July 17, 2014

Not every link shared between music and games has to be explicit. In the past, we’ve explored everything from weird artist tie-ins to a Kanye West inspired JRPG, but on a purely symbolic level both world share far more than simple crossovers.

ROMs and remixes are like second cousins; once removed, but surprisingly similar. ROMs are files that utilize a game’s read-only memory, allowing them to be emulated and played across platforms. More than that, they’re a major part of an ever-present underground culture that uses access to those files to tweak and tinker with games, turning the mushroom sprites in Mario into pot plants or completely tearing apart a game to make an entirely new one.

Similarly, music has albums like The Double Black Album or Danger Mouse’s infamous Grey Album, the former mixing Jay Z’s Black Album with Metallica’s eponymous commercial breakout, the latter mixing Hova’s 2003 classic with the Beatles White Album.

Far more than with ROMs, which often survive in a legal grey area, these unofficial albums are often immediately cease and desisted. They can’t make money, though that’s rarely the point. Sure, Danger Mouse’s hard work was quickly relegated to the skeevy underbelly of IRCs and P2Ps, but its controversy—and masterful execution—kickstarted his career. Before long, the Rhode Island producer had the attention of everyone from Damon Albarn to GQ, and within the year he’d found himself working with the Gorillaz and MF Doom.

In video games, the success stories are different. It’s rare that someone known for diddling around a ROM makes it big, though it’s impossible to suggest it hasn’t happened. Instead, their ties to the big leagues often come from the modding community; original Half-Life tweaks have been spun off into new franchise, and an enterprising Skyrim modder now finds himself at the infamous Bungie studios.

Ultimately, the parallel is this: Sometimes you’ve got to tear something apart to make it special. Watch us explore that up top for the latest This Exists.

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