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Infectious pleasures: Ethnographic perspectives on the production and use of illicit videogame modifications on the Call of Duty franchise

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This article explores the phenomenon of illicit modifications known as ‘infection lobbies’ that are created for the Call of Duty (CoD) franchise and deployed on the Xbox 360’s Xbox Live (XBL) gaming network. These modifications have the unique ability to ‘infect’ unmodified systems, altering the settings that control the CoD game space following contact within a multiplayer match, spreading the modification far beyond the reach and control of its instigators. Infection lobbies necessitate the use of hardware hacked Xbox 360 consoles, such as a ‘JTAG’ or ‘Reset Glitch Hack’ (RGH) console, the creation and utilization of which are in violation of access control technology circumvention clauses within the European Directive 2001/29/EC (2001) and the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998) (DMCA). Infection lobbies therefore violate the legal and contractual contexts of play, the rules of the game, and the emergent social contexts of play. As a result infection lobbies constitute illicit modifications, forbidden by law, rules or custom, yet despite this configuration a significant body of players are willing to engage with and utilize them, whether orchestrating and deploying them or by opportunistically utilizing the infected alterations that they contain. Through the conduct of interviews with and participant observation of both those that play within and those that deploy infection lobbies in Activision’s CoD franchise, this article explores not only the process of deployment but what it means to play against the infected, to play alongside the infected and to infect others. In doing so the illicit modification is seen to be interpreted by players in various ways: as egalitarian game-extension, as temporary inversion, as a method of antagonistic dominance, and as a tool for protecting the very core of the game through targeted vigilantism. Through these explorations, this article contributes to contemporary research in the contested space between producer and consumer, and the discourses of legitimization and victimization that surround play.
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Keywords: copyright; ethnography; hacking; modding; social structures; videogames

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Canterbury Christ Church University

Publication date: 01 March 2013

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