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An Anthropological Look Into The Case Modders Domain
Author: Mike Kitchenman
Date Posted: December 6th, 2001
URL: http://www.slcentral.com/articles/01/12/casemodding

An Anthropological Look Into The Case Modders Domain
Editors note: some profanity

As everyone in the country is aware, there is a huge culture of people out there who use computers. From enthusiasts, to businessmen, to teachers, lawyers, and everyone from all walks of life above, below and in-between. While this is a really cool thing and is helping out people with education, informational access and all kinds of other abilities they would not normally have, it also poses an interesting problem. There is no accurate way to classify the group of computer users. This mainly falls to the fact that this category of people spans more layers of society than most other descriptions can. This means that to talk about computer users in detail, you need to look at a smaller portion of the group. One such subculture of computer users would be power users, or people who are dedicated users and know a lot, if not close to everything about their hobby. Well, this part could get somewhat long here, so I'm going to break it down here:

Kingdom: Humans
Phylum: Computer Users
Class: Power Users
Order: Dedicated Hobbyists
Family: Power Tweakers
Genus: Case Modders
Species: Dedicated Case Modders

The culture I plan to write about here is one that I am very near and dear to, and that is the "Dedicated Case Modders" culture. In my effort to look at this I spoke to some old friends in the field, who are all experienced, skilled and all around cool people. They are:

- Kitty: One of the few females dedicated to the hobby and passion. She has a true artistic flair and has a lot of very good abilities. She has an eye for what looks really cool and what isn't quite as cool.
- Ultragooey: One of the 'fathers' of the culture. He was one of the first on the scene with one of the best-known, and best-done Case mods. This was the Unreal Case, and it is truly a marvel of construction.
- Cold Dog: A definite old-schooler here. He's been chillin' in the forums for longer than most, and has done more cool things with cases than most other people have dreamed of. The Atomic Case springs to mind as one of his cooler projects.
- Echo42: Not a new guy to the scene, or an old timer. Echo was among the earlier influx after it took off. He is also one of the more knowledgeable modders as he keeps up with what's happening in the field.
- AllUrBaseRbelongUs / TKitch: A.K.A. me! I'm a long time case modder and have learned from the best and have thrown a lot of curves into the field of my own, just to make it more interesting.

Now what exactly is a case modder? Well, I'm going to have to go into a fair bit of background here and while some of it may sound a bit demeaning, it isn't intended to be. Case modding isn't any specific thing that can be nailed down with as definition so much as it is a hobby that constantly changes its form and meaning and value standards.

Case modding is actually a very recent creation, as it is only about 2 years old as far as active participants are concerned, however the roots extend much farther into the origins of the computer field. The first case mod isn't really something that's very important or critical information; all that is known, and needs to be known is that this has been happening for over 20 years now. Kitty specifically had some feedback on this part here:

"I began modding when I bought my first home computer about ten years ago. I hated beige so I had to paint it. It all went from there."

- Kitty

This is likely how it all started for modding. Someone found something they disliked about their case, and did the work themselves to change it. I have heard many people who had problems with the older systems that they had to fix. They had to either add a fan to keep it cool, or change something about a case to make their hardware fit, or any number of possibilities. Then about 2 years ago or so, some people who were really tired of the annoying beige boxes that PCs shipped in decided to change them drastically. This was first evident when "The Unreal Case" came onto the scene, and once it hit, the floodgates opened.

Done by Ultragooey, A.K.A. John Young III Systems Administrator in real life, it was the first major project to ever really be seen publicized. It hit the net on Feb 15 2000, and when it did, it hit with a Tidal wave of force. Here are a few pictures of "The Unreal Case" in action:

That's the UT case in its splendor, one of the first, and still one of the best-done case mods ever. Many refer to Ultragooey as the Father (occasionally grandfather) of case modding. Since this time, much has come and changed the world of modding, but its all still there.

Now that my little history lesson and introduction here is completed, lets get a little more in depth into what a modder actually is. A case modder is someone who modifies their case, either for performance reasons or aesthetic reasons. While this may sound rather trivial a description, it is the only inclusive one available. However, to this definition, it does come with a strongly opinionated caveat. Kitty stated it best, but it is something I agree with whole-heartedly:

"In my opinion, the modding community is becoming more and more divided. There are those who are happy with all having the same mods as the other 95% of the group. To me, they are no better than those who are content with plain beige boxes. In fact, I see them as being worse. I call people like that "clusterfucks" - people who think they are being different, when in fact their work is no different from other modders. In my opinion, such things as biohazard window etches are long since passť. If one guy does it and others like it, the rest of the sheep herd themselves together and do the very same thing. That's not modding. It's copying. It's right back to another level of status-quo, i.e., one massive clusterfuck."

- Kitty

Yes, this is an opinion I agree with, and am extremely irked by whenever I go to the fan-sites and look at the work displayed. While I'm glad people are stepping outside of the realm of beige boxes, they're not grasping the true feel of the spirit of case modding. Sorry about that little tangent there, its something that really peeves me sometimes, and I am somewhat embittered about it. Still the general description of a case modder is:

"Someone who modifies a computer case for functional or aesthetic reasons or both"

- Cold Dog

Now that we have an understanding of what qualifies someone as a case modder, lets look at why they are one. For this part, both Kitty and Ultragooey said it was for need of "Self Expression", and I would totally agree with this. The case modding experience shouldn't be one that is done because you're looking to impress someone, or any other self-serving reason like this. Case modding is done because you want something other than what you have, and you want to make something different than what is out there now, there really isn't any other way to put it. It may sound like some kind of religious or spiritual thing, and in some ways it is, but its not, really. Kitty had some great feedback on this part:

"You just can't talk modding to the average Compaq owner. They are happy with their tacky plastic face covers and don't understand that need for change and personal expression. I mod because I can."

- Kitty

The biggest part of the modding community that we see in case modding is the reaction factor that people give us to our projects. While I did say case modding shouldn't be done in order to impress other people, there is the undeniable fact that whenever a case modders work is shown in general view, the reactions are obvious and frequent. They aren't used to what they're seeing and they have all kinds of questions and comments about it. When people react positively, it really makes the modder happy. Obviously on this aspect, as it is very dependant on the individual, opinions vary greatly. Here's a bit of the feedback I got:

"9 times outta 10 others judge it and say good things. And I am always confident and happy with my work. I did it to the way I like it, so to me it will always be great, not matter what anyone else says."

- Echo42

"It makes me feel good that others share appreciation for work that goes against the status quo. Some of my earliest work inspired others to do things to their computers too. I haven't shown any of my latest work to anyone other than close friends and family. My sister used to pishaw my work; she was happy with average. Now she wants to mod her own computer."

- Kitty

And as always, with the positive, comes some negative criticism. How this is handled is always more important than the way positive feedback is handled. With the group I spoke to, they've had much experience on both sides, so they know how to deal with it:

"Negative responses, I usually wait to hear it from 2 or 3 sources before I think they might be on to something............"

- Cold Dog

"When people comment on how things should look, or how this and that should have been done this or that way... beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and art shall always remain subjective."

- Ultragooey

The last really notable area to cover here is one that is completely subjective to my modding friends, and is completely subjective by them. I was curious to hear how other people viewed the mods they did and what they came of from them. This is a major aspect here, because without influencing those around us, the case modding passion would most likely die out quickly and quietly. Well, here's what the brave warriors fighting against the darkness of the night are saying:

"At first, people were in awe of the transformations (the Unreal case was among the first few to be displayed on the internet), then it became sort of a stepping stone for their own mods as ideas were shared."

- Ultragooey

"Their reactions have varied from high excitement, to comments that they didn't like my choices of colors, to even fright. "You spent a WEEK painting your case??? Why?" If you have to ask why, you just wouldn't understand. But I have to say that most people react positively. My work is my art. Art is subjective. Either you get it or you don't; either you like it or you don't. I don't care if someone doesn't like my work. It's *my* work and if they don't like it, it's their problem."

- Kitty

"The other case modders look at it in reverence. Or not. They look at it as an application of the communal ideas with some new things to it. As far as I know I'm the only one with wood contact paper on my case ;) as far as "outside" people, most of them think it looks really cool and more than 1 have gotten dragged into case modding after seeing it."

- Echo42

Well, there you have it. This is my look into the subculture of dedicated case modders. Attached after this will be an unabridged copy of the interviews with my friends. I know this paper went a bit beyond the legal limits for the paper, but I hope you enjoyed what you read about here and I also hope you learned something about us and why exactly we do what we do.

Interviews

Kitty A.K.A. Kitty Bergman
Age: NOYFB
Occupation: Web Mistress and Marketing Consultant

What do you think a case modder is?

A case modder is somewhat self-explanatory. They modify computer cases. However, a number of us go beyond simple things such as repainting a case to get rid of the ugly stock beige colour with various addons and other modifications, ranging from mild to wild. To me, case modding isn't just limited to the actual case, but interior parts and peripherals as well. Overclocking isn't a necessity, but for some of us, it's having bragging rights that we took a CPU and hopped it up; it's like doing an overbore on a car engine. For many of us, it's an addiction. It's like owning a pretty cool car that we just have to make look different. Psychologically speaking, perhaps it's the need to be different so that we stand apart from the status quo. For some it's a matter of self-expression; for others it's because others are doing it. See my rant below concerning my view of the current state of case modding.

Why do you case mod?

I mod out of necessity for self-expression. I use my computer quite a lot. I began modding when I bought my first home computer about ten years ago. I hate beige so I had to paint it. It all went from there. Eventually I found an online modding community and expanded my horizons even further and it brought me back to my artistic roots, as well as helping me to learn more about electronics for modding and meeting some pretty great guys. You just can't talk modding to the average Compaq owner. They are happy with their tacky plastic face covers and don't understand that need for change and personal expression. I mod because I can.

What do you get out of the case modding experience?

Sometimes it can be frustrating, but overall it's a way to enjoy a hobby (more like obsession). If I've had a rough day, there's nothing like grabbing my Dremel and making serious sparks fly while cutting something new on a case. It gives me the satisfaction of having done it myself - no pre-fab crap for me. No way. And again, it also gives me the freedom of self-expression. I don't mod to please anyone but myself. After all, I'm the one who has a case or two staring at me for 12+ hours a day. In some ways, it's an extension of my personality. So I get a lot of out the experience.

How do you think people look at your work?

Their reactions have varied from high excitement, to comments that they didn't like my choices of colours, to even fright. "You spent a WEEK painting your case??? Why?" If you have to ask why, you just wouldn't understand. But I have to say that most people react positively. My work is my art. Art is subjective. Either you get it or you don't; either you like it or you don't. I don't care if someone doesn't like my work. It's *my* work and if they don't like it, it's their problem.

How do you feel when people judge your work:

Positively?

It makes me feel good that others share appreciation for work that goes against the status quo. Some of my earliest work inspired others to do things to their computers too. I haven't shown any of my latest work to anyone other than close friends and family. My sister used to pishaw my work; she was happy with average. Now she wants to mod her own computer.

Negatively?

It depends on in what manner they react negatively. If they say something like "I think it sucks" or "You have too much time on your hands" that's fine with me. They are entitled to their opinion and I just mentally write it off that they have no artistic appreciation or understanding for the need of self expression. If they react in a way that they insult me personally, that's another thing. I usually have choice words for people like that and I don't back down. In short, you can have your opinion but don't try to shove it down my throat or you'll end up with it stuck somewhere that hurts.

Add any other random comments, concerns, rants, etc here.

Ah, yes. Thank you for this opportunity. In my opinion, the modding community is becoming more and more divided. There are those who are happy with all having the same mods as the other 95% of the group. To me, they are no better than those who are content with plain beige boxes. In fact, I see them as being worse. I call people like that "clusterfucks" - people who think they are being different, when in fact their work is no different from other modders. In my opinion, such things as biohazard window etches are long since passť. If one guy does it and others like it, the rest of the sheep herd themselves together and do the very same thing. That's not modding. It's copying. It's right back to another level of status-quo, ie, one massive clusterfuck. The modding guys I still stay in touch with occasionally are those who always have pushed the limits in ability and creativity. Your average guy is not going to drop $200+ for a custom airbrush paint job. Some of "us" will, or buy a cheap airbrush and learn to do it ourselves. A lot of "us" are never fully content and have to keep doing newer and better mods. Maybe it's ego, or maybe it's that strife to be different. Sure, some of "us" love to awe the sheep with what we've done, and yes some of those guys will try to do the same thing. Or worse yet, they'll ask if we'll do the same thing for them. Most of "us" share ideas with each other and occasionally copy another's idea or concept. But that's usually where it ends. Even if we copy a concept, there's usually something inside us that wants to personalise whatever it is. Say, for instance, one of us does a really wild job on a case, using EL cable. Sure, a lot of the little sheepies are using it now, but most of them are happy with just slapping the stuff on a case. Not the other 5% of us. We need to utilise a *design*. You can toss all your money at your case, but it won't make it pretty. It takes heart, spirit and yes, blood, sweat and tears. Getting a piece of a Dremel cutting wheel lodged in your body is like a rite of passage. Having to redo a small painted area because we got a drop of sweat on it is a chore, yet a labour of love. Tears may and do fall when we fail to reach the high standard we have set for ourselves. But we always pick ourselves back up again, and call, email or otherwise contact one of our modding buds from that 5% of the group who will understand and offer condolences, laugh at us, mock us or all the above. It's all in fun and competition between us. We're still friends and we do help each other out.

To me, that is what modding is.

/rant
/end

[Authors note: Kitty is a great gal and good friend of mine. She is really cool, just don't piss her off.]


Ultragooey A.K.A. John Young III
Age: 33
Occupation: Systems Administrator

What do you think a case modder is?

someone who modifies a computer case with the intention of optimizing the environment that computer parts operate under. There is also the aesthetics issue for someone like me who wants to set my systems apart from what is commercially available.

Why do you case mod?

I mod my cases to improve cooling properties for my systems, as well as a form of self-expression that is reflected in the uniqueness of their end design.

What do you get out of the case modding experience?

a feeling of satisfaction and individuality, as well as pride when other people comment on my work.

How do you think people look at your work?

At first, people were in awe of the transformations (the Unreal case was among the first few to be displayed on the internet), then it became sort of a stepping stone for their own mods as ideas were shared.

How do you feel when people judge your work:

Positively?

So far, responses and critiques have been favorable towards the mods that I have done, so no problem there.

Negatively?

when people comment on how things should look, or how this and that should have been done this or that way... beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and art shall always remain subjective.

Add any other random comments, concerns, rants, etc here.

I'm just glad to be among the fore-runners of this whole casemodding thing, and am not pressured to impress anyone with my casemods.


Cold Dog A.K.A. Barry Collins
Age: 48
Occupation: Lab Technician

What do you think a case modder is?

Someone who modifies a computer case for functional or aesthetic reasons or both.....

Why do you case mod?

It's fun, challenging, creative.

What do you get out of the case modding experience?

It is fun to go for a look that no one has ever seen before. I mod for myself but I'm thinking about the reaction it will receive all the time I'm doing it......... Sometimes when I finish a long drawn out project (casemod), I sit back, look at it and start laughing...

How do you think people look at your work?

Most of the time it receives positive responses. If I did a crappy job on something, I know it.

How do you feel when people judge your work:

Positively?

Yes, when the judgement is positive, I like the admiration.

Negatively?

Negative responses, I usually wait to hear it from 2 or 3 sources before I think they might be on to something...


Echo42 A.K.A. Josh Fohrman
Age: 19
Occupation: Owner of OverClockers Intelligence Agency, IT Support Agent and Student

What do you think a case modder is?

A case modder is me :) Its any person who changes or modifies their case on purpose with the intent to make it look or perform better.

Why do you case mod?

I Case mod because i can. Its a fun hobby, distincts me from others, and its like an extension of me. Its my art form.

What do you get out of the case modding experience?

I get a lot of good friends out of the case modding experience. Along with the friends, its something unique to me. I enjoy looking at my case and coming up with new ideas...inventing new things more or less. K, maybe less, but lets not worry or focus on that. The point is, I get to do new shit no one's done before and impress people/

How do you think when people look at your work?

The other case modders look at it in reverence. Or not. They look at it as an application of the communal ideas with some new things to it. As far as I know im the only one with wood contact paper on my case ;) as far as "outside" people, most of them think it looks really cool and more than 1 have gotten dragged into case modding after seeing it.

How do you feel when people judge your work:

positively?

Yea, i think so. 9 times outta 10 others judge it and say good things. And I am always confident and happy with my work. I did it to the way I like it, so to me it will always be great, not matter what anyone else says.

Add any other random comments, concerns, rants, etc. here.

Only real rant is some major ass ran around forums flaming everyone, was never helpful, and just a general pain! He got banned a couple times, changed his name to some fad thing, and was a real loser :-P Too many freaks like him running around.

[Authors note: Echo is making a cheap shot at me with this mini-rant.]

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