The Art of the Virus

There’s still no worse feeling than getting a computer virus. You know that it’s more or less your fault for having been tricked into installing it, and it’s actively ruining your computer. Although advances in digital security and virus protection, a computer virus can seem like a thing of the past. We often forget that something as simple as opening an email attachment from Grandma could result in the reformatting of a hard drive. These days, the ill-willed authors of mayhem who write viruses have to try other methods to enact their digital malice.

If you’ve ever sat in front of a recently infected computer, you may have wondered to yourself “Why?”  The history of the computer virus is an interesting one. In essence, a computer virus is a self-replicating program, often passed from computer to computer through file exchanges. They were theorized as early as 1949, by University of Illinois’ John von Neumann in his lectures on “Theory and Organization of Complicated Automata.” The concept was first put into practice in the 1971 in the form of the Creeper Virus. Using an early predecessor of the internet, ARPANET, Creeper would infect computers, leaving the message “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can!”

When they’re not happening to your computer, however, a virus can be an interesting item to look at from an aesthetic point of view. Many viruses of a bygone era reflect the visual culture of the 90’s hacker scene. At times they can feel like a sort of malicious, unsolicited performance art, a visual treat for those sitting in front of a soon to be bricked computer.

YouTuber danooct1 has created a series in tribute to these relics, videos in which he installs a number of fan-submitted viruses on old Windows 95 and XP virtual machines. If you’d like the see the effects of some interesting viruses from the safety of your own computer, I highly recommend them.

About William Enders

A sophomore Design and Technology major at Parsons School for Design, focusing on interactive media and video games.