Lab 4: Modding

Later this semester we will read sections of Anna Anthropy’s influential manifesto Rise of the Videogame Zinesters (2012). Throughout the book, Anthropy argues that amateur game designers are reinvigorating the meaning and purpose of videogames. One way everyday people are doing this is through mods. Anthropy shows how hacks and mods can “subvert or comment on” a videogame, or even “correct what the modder feels is an oversight” in the game.

In this lab we’ll experiment with modding Passage, a small game by the renowned indie developer Jason Rohrer. This lab is heavily inspired by Zach Whalen’s own work modifying Passage (but don’t read Whalen’s account yet!).


  1. Working in a small group, begin by downloading Gimp, a free image manipulation tool. Note that Gimp is already install in the classrooms and computer labs on campus.
  2. Download Passage and play through the game at least once. Passage will not run on the latest Macs without a bit of hacking. Here’s a step-by-step guide for getting Passage working on MacOS Sierra. If this doesn’t work or you don’t want to be bothered, you can download the game onto the Windows side of any classroom or lab computer. You can run the game without having any kind of administrative access.
  3. Open up the folder that contains Passage, and then open up the graphics folder. You’ll see a number of graphic files. Take a few quick guesses in your group about what each file is. What sort of assumptions are embedded in the file names themselves?
  4. Make backup copies of the characterSprite.tga and spouseSprite.tga files. Then swap names. That is, rename characterSprite into spouseSprite and vice-versa.
  5. Play Passage again. What’s happened?
  6. Try other renaming variations.
  7. Open up characterSprite.tga and spouseSprite.tga in Gimp. What are you looking at? Now try editing the files in Gimp. When you save or export your changes, be sure to deselect the compression option.
  8. Now go crazy and try your own mods of Passage. Can you make a mod that subverts, challenges, or comments upon the original Passage? Can you make a mod that subverts, challenges, or comments upon the same themes as Passage?

Lab Report

The 500-word lab report is due Thursday, March 1, shared as usual as a Google Document. Before you write it up, (1) read Zach Whalen’s thoughts about modding (and teaching modding) with Passage; (2) think about your own mods of Passage; and (3) recall Stuart Hall’s three approaches to decoding cultural messages (Dominant, Negotiated, and Oppositional).

For the report, put these elements into dialogue with each other and try to draw some tentative conclusions about modding as a form of cultural expression. Be sure to include especially interesting screenshots of your own Passage mods.