Length: ~1200 words.
Note: Near the end, this post briefly mentions some serious topics. Please bear this in mind when reading.
A subject that I have recently delved into is fandom. Fandom is the classification given to a collective of individuals who all share a similar passion or fondness for a particular entity. Some of the more prevalent fandoms of modern media include: Whovians (Doctor Who), Bronies (My Little Pony) and Trekkies (Star Trek), as well as many more.
Whovians, Bronies and Trekkies respectively.
What I would like to discuss is not about why fandoms exist or their purpose, but about their influence on those who have not experienced the original media. Fandoms create a community and provide a sense of belonging amongst its members. Furthermore, they provide avenues for people to express themselves creatively. This creativity comes in many forms, the most common being: art, cosplay and fan-fiction. Video games, however, have an additional avenue called modding and it is this avenue I would like to further explore.
While I wouldn’t say that I’m apart of any fandom, I have certainly benefited from them. My first experience of fandom comes from the Skyrim modding scene. Mods are modifications to a video game that adjusts, alters, adds or removes content to/from the original work. The content of these mods can range from Dovahbit of Caerbannog (a pet rabbit that can carry your stuff, harvests ingredients and can wear hats) to Falskaar (a fully voiced, 20-30 hour mod with its own quests and music).
Bethesda, developer and publisher of Skyrim, has the top six places in NexusMods’ database, with 130,244 mods and 1.618 billion downloads in total, across six of their titles, as of this writing.
As a developer, it is unbelievably flattering to see so many people who are willing to put in time and effort in order to change the game however they wish, regardless as to whether they are changing your game because they hate a decision you made or because they want to improve or add something that they feel is missing. Mods can even be a selling point to some people because it is seen as a way to further increase the value of the product. I personally have seen comments saying that they bought Medieval 2: Total War purely because of the mod Hyrule: Total War.
Games with modding potential provide so many benefits, not only to the game itself but to the people who play them. The benefits include, but are not limited to:
- People who creates mods are able to express themselves and their skills, as well as share their creations with other people in the community.
- People who bought the game are able to access additional, fan-made content, thereby extending gameplay.
- The developers can potentially increase sales through the popularity of their modding scene.
- The game itself can improve via modders improving the base elements of the game that the development team didn’t have either time nor money to fix before release.
- With YouTube and video streaming in general being so popular, channels such as MxR Mods exist and allow someone to make a living from mods, or at least advertising mods.
- The mod Tamriel Online adds multiplayer into an entirely single-player game. Quite an astonishing feat!
- Some modders are even offered employment from game development studios because of their creations
However, there can be adverse affects from having such an openly adaptable game. Mods that add things such as: nudity, mutilation, slavery and rape exist, though they cannot all be found on the NexusMods website (due to their nature, I won’t link to these mods). This leaves me feeling rather conflicted. While I don’t have any interest in using these mods, I don’t believe that they should be taken down nor do I feel any offence from them. If the cathartic hypothesis regarding violence in video games is to be believed, then allowing people to express these kinds of fantasies inside of a fake world may lead to real world benefits.
*A point that has to be made here though, is that Skyrim is a single-player game. I feel perfectly comfortable defending the more obscene mods that are available for Skyrim because of this. The actions that one takes within the world of Skyrim effects no-one but the single person who is playing. As soon as multiplayer is introduced, however, the existence of these mods become entirely detrimental. Take this article (NSFW) on Kotaku for example. The article details how some players in Grand Theft Auto V (GTAV), with the help of a mod, have been able to simulate sexual activities with other players through animation manipulation and position locking, regardless of the other players’ willingness to witness or perform these acts. So, rape, essentially. It is bad enough that people suffer such a tragedy in the real world, so why bring this into a fake world? It may seem like I am contradicting myself; I defend Skyrim but reject GTAV?
*I can absolutely understand condemning both games but, as a game developer and designer, I can’t help but emphasize the differences in the source material. Skyrim is designed as a fantasy world where one can go to experience a world unlike our own, with: Khajiit (sentient cat people), Argonians (sentient lizard people) Dragons and magic in abundance. On top of that, all actions taken in Skyrim effect only the player because there are no other human players. GTAV, on the other hand, is designed to emulate some aspects of real life and parody others. It gives the player almost everything that the real world has, complete with cars, guns, drugs, airplanes, mobile phones, skyscrapers and explosives. The game allows for multiplayer, meaning that a players’ actions can effect not only themselves but other people as well. It is this, the addition of multiplayer, that completely changes the situation. It changes it into an action that requires consent from two parties but provides no avenue to do so.
I believe it is important to discuss such extreme situations because fan collaboration, such as the mods discussed, is not always controllable, nor is it instigated, by the developers. At the moment these types of mods are fairly hidden from the general public, meaning that only those who seek them out will find them. Which is perhaps for the best. These mods have the potential to severely damage a products’ image, the gaming industry’s image and possibly society as a whole, considering the popularity and demographic of gaming . Personally, I find it a little difficult for me to imagine what it would be like if a game that I made enabled this kind of material, nor would I know how to react. Should I allow my future products to be open to people’s freedom of expression, thereby potentially adding additional gameplay or improving graphics at no cost to me, or should I limit my game to my expression only, thereby potentially decreasing the value and popularity of my product?
*Edit – 10/12/2016
Do you have any insights or opinions? Then please leave a comment below or tweet at me at @m_vonwil.