On the surface, video game culture exists as a singular mass. There isn’t much more to see than what someone can take in at a glance. There is, of course, what people expect of game culture: subsets to genres of games and consoles, but most people do not bother to look further. If someone were to look closer, they would notice that beneath game culture lies another culture that, while created by and connected to game culture, stands on its own remarkably well with only the slightest of aids. What I’m speaking of is the culture of video game modding. Modding is the alteration of content from a video game, generally on a PC platform, to make it behave in a different fashion than it was originally designed to do. But why modify an already finished project? Surely if gamers believed there were too many problems with the original, they would just create their own game instead? No, they wouldn’t. Gamers are a group of people, who, upon seeing something they don’t agree with in their favorite content, will simply fix the issue themselves. Gamers don’t mod games because they have to; they do so because they enjoy improving what has already been created, and I want to explain the skill and dedication modders all share.
First off, what is modding? As I stated above, a modification or mod is the alteration of content of a video game in order to make it operate in a manner different from its original version. The act of modding can be traced back to the early 1980s, when it was more for aesthetic purposes than actually improving the original game content. Currently, mods can be created for any genre, but they are most popular with first-person shooters, role-playing games (or RPG), and real-time strategy games. Mods themselves also have genres, such as a total conversion, which is a mod that replaces virtually all of the artistic assets in the original game, and sometimes core aspects of gameplay; a total overhaul, which changes or redefines the gameplay style of the original game, while keeping it in the original game’s universe; an add-on, a typically small mod which adds to the original content of a specific game, such as a new weapon or racing track; an unofficial patch, a mod of an existing game that fixes bugs not fixed by an official patch or that unlocks content present in the released game’s files but is inaccessible in official gameplay; and art mods, a mod that is created for artistic effect. For example, a game such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an RPG while “Moonpath to Elsweyr”, one of its corresponding mods, would be considered an extremely large version of an add-on mod.
While mods can be made by the original developer of a game, most are made by the general public. Many of these mods are extremely complex and have beautiful results, but don’t be fooled by what you see. Mods are not stand-alone software; to function, they require original game platform to be in use before the mod can be activated.
I have been playing video games for over ten years and have been modding for nearly two. That is why, for this paper, I chose both an exceptional game—The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim—and compatible mod—“Moonpath to Elsweyr”—as discussion items. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Skyrim for short came out in November 2011, and it quickly began collecting awards (VGX Award for Best RPG, VGX Award for Studio of the Year, Satellite Award for Outstanding Role Playing Game, Kerrang! Award for Best Video Game, etc.) for its gameplay, graphics, and soundtrack. “Moonpath to Elsweyr” is a mod created by MuppetPuppet (the developer’s Nexus Mods screenname) in which the player travels with a Khajiit caravan into the Khajiit homeland of Elsweyr. Once in Elsweyr, the player has the option to help free the Khajiit from the invading Thalmor’s oppression. The mod itself is a work of art; it is beautifully crafted in a way that is normally only seen in professional work and fully voice-acted (though not up to professional standards, which is expected seeing as mod voice-actors are not specialists), something hard to come by in mods for RPGs as extensive as Skyrim. The mod not only adds more quests for the player to complete, but also monsters and creatures for the player to fight along the way like the original game does—all of which are lore-friendly (something fans of the games appreciate since many modders tend to just do their own thing instead of adhering to Skyrim’s laws).
(A comparison between Skyrim’s landscape and “Moonpath to Elsweyr”)
Of course, while I can sing this mod’s praises, there are a few details I want to mention that could irritate some of the more nitpicky modders. The first is the age of the mod; this mod was created soon after the game’s release (2012) and has not been updated since its release, mainly because the creator of “Moonpath to Elsweyr” made it for fun instead of a career choice. Another problem that stems from the age is some players may feel the gameplay is a bit boring since it focuses more on traveling rather than action-packed fighting. The final problem I really noticed was the multiple misspellings and grammar mistakes, both in names of items and the subtitles during speaking moments.
But my viewpoint on the mod is not what truly matters. What matters is what the mod represents as a product of modding culture. “Moonpath to Elsweyr” came out almost exactly a year after Skyrim itself was released onto the market; the mod explores a section of The Elder Scrolls world that has so far been untouched by its creators. There are original characters, creatures, and quests that were never thought of by the original creators. “Moonpath to Elsweyr” is a world within a world, built in such a way to stand alongside professional DLCs (downloadble content). The effort put into making MtE shows more about the dedication and talent of modders than any singular review ever could.
Modders refuse to be contained by current parameters, instead choosing to forge their own paths into the great beyond of video game coding and modification. If given a choice between settling and doing it themselves, they will always choose the latter option. Video games will continue to evolve over the years, and modders will be right there alongside them. There will always be problems to fix, and thus, modders will always exist. And in their existence, modders will continue to do what they do best: improve the creations of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Download link for MtE: Nexus Mods