The modding of the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim offers a unique opportunity to observe all three types of modding as described by Anne-Marie Schleiner. As described by Schleiner in “Game Modding: Cross-Over Mutation and Unwelcome Gifts”, modders have a parasitic relationship with game designers which comes in three forms. The first one, “noise in the system”, exists purely to disrupt the intended experience of a game. (36) We see this in Skyrim mods that radically change the tone of the game from serious to comical, like the much beloved dragon to Thomas the Tank engine conversion mod. While this is perhaps the most famous example, other mods take it even further, such as one that overhauls the game’s graphics to give it the feel of a Pixar movie. There are also plenty of examples of the second parasite type of “biological infiltration”, meaning a change of the core gameplay. (ibid) Over the years a plethora of mechanic mods of been created, ranging from role playing additions like more complex religions to converting combat to resemble that of Dark Souls. The third type of parasite is one which Schleiner describes as one which takes advantage of and feeds off the wealth of the game creators. In the case of Skyrim, however, there’s a twist.
In the years following its release, the relationship between Skyrim’s modders and creators fit Schleiner’s description to a T. Bethesda generously gifted modders the wealth of resources that is the Creation Kit. It was a typical example of “a symbiosis of reciprocal, circular, cultural gift-giving.” (37) With the resources shared by Bethesda, modders fixed un-addressed bugs, created new lands, and updated graphics, just to name a few. This lush modding community also lured in new players for years after the game’s initial release, extending its lifespan and popularity more than many other games. I myself first played and fell in love with Skyrim in 2018, 7 years after it’s original release. Modders found that they had turned the tables on their so-called parasitic relationship with the game’s creators. In 2017 Bethesda released the Creation Club, a collection of paid mods for Skyrim and Fallout 4. This marked a turning point. Now it is the creator who is obtaining wealth from the modders in the form of both inspiration and producers (several pieces of Creation Club content were made by well-known Skyrim modders). While this new development in the modder-creator relationship has come with some controversy, it’s was not totally unexpected. Mods have kept older games relevant and interesting to new and old audiences for decades. It was only a matter of time before creators attempted to reap the wealth they sowed by gifting modders the power to alter digital creations.
“ASO – Artistic Skyrim Overhaul.” Nexus Mods, https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/81221.
Bethesda Creation Club, https://creationclub.bethesda.net/en.
Burger, Charles. “Skyrim: 12 Creation Club Mods That Are Worth It.” GameRant, Nov 2, 2021. https://gamerant.com/skyrim-creation-club-mods-worth-arent/.
“Dark Souls Combat System SE by TheDriedFinger.” Nexus Mods, https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/28567.
Evans, Liam. “Did Bethesda’s Creation Club Live Up to the Hype?” CBR.com, Jul 6, 2021. https://www.cbr.com/bethesda-creation-club-skyrim-fallout-controversial/.
“Locations – New.” Nexus Mods, https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/categories/89/.
“Models and Textures.” Nexus Mods, https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/categories/29/.
“Really Useful Dragons.” Nexus Mods, https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/48593/.
Schleiner, Anne-Marie. “Game Modding: Cross-Over Mutation and Unwelcome Gifts.” The Player’s Power to Change the Game. Amsterdam University Press, 2017.
“Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch.” Nexus Mods, https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/266.
“Wintersun – Faiths of Skyrim.” Nexus Mods, https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/22506.