As more of us welcome personal computers and games consoles into our homes, what was once the exclusive realm of hackers, programmers and enthusiasts is now a burgeoning global industry with Nintendo and Sony ploughing budgets the size of Hollywood movies into their flight simulations, racing games and shoot-em-ups. Naturally, the internet has become one of the main forums for computer gaming gossip and merchandising, as well as a massive resource for the download of free additions to games, bug fixes and countless ways to cheat your way through the toughest parts of any given scenario.

In a bid to prolong the life of their products, some manufacturers even distribute game-patch software allowing players to reshape the look and sound of an original release. This has led to countless reproductions of work places, schools and home towns as levels in games such as Doom and Quake, where peers, friends and families can be blasted and blast each other into red puddles of pixels.

At the same time, the game-patch is gaining popularity as a way for artists to alter what happens at the end of the joystick, becoming the latest in a long line of available strategies for Appropriation and Subversion in Art. This is not at the expense of a slowly growing number of artists' games developed from scratch, but a distinct way of infiltrating existing game architectures -environments that have already been zealously marketed into the shallows of our consciousness.

From illusory 'hacks' of the picture-plane in paintings such as Velazquez's, Las Meninas to Sadie Benning's irreverent use of Fisher Price's toy video camera as a cinematic tool, artists have always been questioning conventional uses of technology long after their passing into the wake of the corporate avant-garde. Whether it is Piero Manzoni canning his own faeces or The Duvet Brothers satirically re-editing broadcast television onto video, new technology will always be politically tried and tested as it becomes part of life's mainstream.

The last twelve months have seen a seemingly endless stream of symposia and exhibitions exploring the cross over between Art and Games Culture. The Doors of Perception held last Autumn in Amsterdam focused on Play, followed earlier this year by the Synworld conference and exhibition at Public Netbase in Vienna. June and July saw Los Angeles play host to Interactive Frictions and Zurich's Design Institute stage their Game Over exhibition. And towards the end of July, Cracking the Maze was uploaded as a sub section of the Art & Games issue of Switch; an on-line publication hosted by the Cadre Institute in San Jose.

Version 1.0 of Cracking the Maze, curated by Anne-Marie Schleiner, is a collection of fifteen downloadable and on-line games described as, "Game Plug-ins and Patches as Hacker Art." A neat package of work and contextual essays addressing certain issues already raised on the conference bandwagon. In some cases, the user is required to own the game on which a patch is based whereas others download as self contained applications and can be played immediately. A handful of these games choose to explore formal, historical and technical aspects of the genre, although many others focus on the ubiquity of violence and sexual stereo-typing that continues to prevail in an industry aimed predominantly at heterosexual teenage boys.

Possibly the oldest piece in this collection is Tina-Bob Shapes by Loren Petrich. This patch pre-dates the release of official female heroine games like Tomb Raider, and is a simple modification of the shoot-and-splatter maze game Marathon. Rather than controlling the typically muscle-bound Bob (the hero), PetrichÕs version is navigated through the eyes of Tina, "whose bodily dimensions are intentionally toned down as a conscientious reaction to the cartoon proportions of other female patches." Consequently, Petrich provides us with a more mundane physique through which we can blast our enemy and solve various puzzles. Robert Nideffer's Tomb Raider I and II Patches also make changes to the central character, but instead of replacing the ludicrously proportioned Lara Croft with someone or something else, Nideffer makes alterations to her sexual-orientation presenting us with, "Transsexual Lara", "Butch Lara" and "Lara in Drag." In so doing, Nideffer erodes the somewhat absurd status of Croft as a heterosexual sex symbol, while acknowledging that there are people already fantasising about her polygons.

Similarly, rtmark's SimCopter Hack also takes a critical look at heterosexual stereo-typing although in this case, rtmark suggest that their modifications were actually shipped as part of the original release. Working in league with one of the programmers of the SimCopter game, rtmark suggest that they sabotaged, "its heterosexist reward system" by replacing "bikini-clad babettes" with "homoerotic boy bimbos." According to rtmark, the game sold 80,000 copies before the alteration was discovered, but as there was no trace of the game on their website and as well known purveyors of disinformation, it is possible that rtmark may be attempting to propagate a myth.

Los Disneys by Jason Huddy is also a patch for Marathon, but unlike Nideffer and Petrich who have only modified specific elements of the game, this patch offers us a more immersive scenario. Set in DisneyworldÕs Magic Kingdom, the player is at liberty to shoot a selection of Disney characters wandering amongst tourists armed only with their cameras. The game remains characteristically bloody and you can even hear the crowdÕs panic and the cries of children as you blast your way through the inevitable queues for the various rides. As the game unfolds it becomes clear that you are there to stop some apocalyptic Disney conspiracy but the horror of gunning down harmless pleasure seekers is the most disturbing and poignant aspect of the game. During these moments, Huddy makes us acutely aware of the meta-massacre we are enacting. A vision that is both cynical and tragic, reminding us of the mass-shootings we see reported more and more frequently via the global news feeds.

An older science fiction arcade shooter provides the basis for MongrelÕs Backlash. A straight forward shoot-em-up where the graphically crude alien monsters of the original game are transformed into comic representations of British police officers and members of the Klu Klux Clan. Described as, "a wake up call for young black youth under threat by ignorance and racist fools", Backlash makes pertinent use of the gameÕs old fashioned look and feel to reinforce the obsolescence and absurdity of racial prejudice. Unlike the graphic violence of Los Disneys where you are often the irresponsible perpetrator of atrocity, Backlash forces the outnumbered player to defend him or herself against the myriad evils of institutional racism. The game is full of morbid humour, and by identifying the enemy with such a realworld evil, it becomes all the more satisfying to play. So it is a shame that Backlash is the only work in Cracking the Maze that downloads as a limited demonstration copy designed to increase sales of their full commercial release. This seems to contradict the whole ideology of, "Game Plug-ins and Patches as Hacker Art", and by mixing such candid political subversion with commercial interest, the game's message is somewhat diluted.

Cracking the Maze can be reached by visiting: