Tuesday, March 5, 2024
Opinion

Video Game Mods: The Good, The Bad and The Downright Homophobic

Video game mods. You either love em, hate em, or you’re a console player. For a rather long time, I was the latter and it sucked. I first discovered mods because I was small, gay and wanted to romance Morrigan in Dragon Age: Origins. Even at a young age, I was aware that the internet usually had all the answers I needed. So, you could imagine how upset I was at finding out that Morrigan was romanceable after all! If you played on PC and used mods.

My family wasn’t exactly rich and in all honesty, I enjoyed my PS3 a lot and was more than happy to go back to Lothering and fetch the same-sex romance option, Leliana than go out and get a gaming PC. Instead, I just sulked and moved on. I wasn’t exactly clued in at the time that no straight person would be upset at not getting to kiss other ladies, so you as you might imagine, this time in my life sticks out like a sore thumb. The time I found out what mods were while being an innocent, ignorant, gay disaster.

Despite my not being able to enjoy mods, I was always curious on just what players could make with them. Because you see, for the most part, mods are good. Some make UI easier to understand, diversify a stale, boring world, or even make another game from within the game. There are so many different mods out there, created by extraordinary people who want to give options that weren’t there before.

Of course, modding also opens up a lot of questions, and it really does go beyond the realm of ‘are mods good or bad?’ Mods are just another way to say modification, aka messing with something until it comes out different than it was before. As you may have figured out already, different doesn’t necessarily mean improved, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so. Especially when mods in video games are usually used to help benefit your experience with the game, to make it more exciting or give it that little ‘oomph’ that’ll make it feel new. Alternatively, mods can make the game you’re playing feel more personal, more targeted towards you, and your playstyle.

That’s fine for the most part, but what about mods that completely erase marginalized identities?

I didn’t come across such mods until I’d got around to checking out the Dragon Age 2 scene back in 2011 on the modding website, Nexus. Nexus was a place where I’d grumble at seeing all of the cool mods that would let my party wear whatever they wanted. It was there that I really got my first taste of how utterly loathsome some mods were. I don’t just mean the ‘make female character prettier’ mods, I mean mods that enabled rape, encouraged assault, and in some cases, changed the ethnicity of characters that had been established as very much not white. In Dragon Age 2, the character Isabela is Rivaini pirate who has dark skin and, when browsing through modding websites such as Nexus, has an utterly repugnant amount of mods dedicated to whitewashing her. Vivienne, a character from the sequel, Dragon Age: Inquisition also received this treatment too. As a white woman, I won’t talk about issues that do not directly affect me as though I hold all the information necessary – that is simply not true. Instead, I urge you to read just why whitewashing, no matter if its ‘just a mod,’ is beyond despicable.

It isn’t just whitewashing that’s a problem. If I tried to count on my fingers how many times I’ve seen homophobic video game mods, then I’d need at least seven other hands. The main offender is, unsurprisingly, yet another Dragon Age mod – this time, just for Inquisition.

In Inquisition, characters Dorian Pavus and Sera identify as gay and lesbian respectively, but due to some mods, it has allowed female and male characters to romance them. As you may expect, this plays awkwardly, especially for Dorian, whose story is about trying to escape his father’s influence and clutches so he can be out and proud. For mods to go around and ‘reverse’ him into a bisexual man, when his backstory vehemently denies that reality, is abhorrent. Likewise with characters such as Sera, also in Inquisition, as well as Samantha Traynor and Steve Cortez from Mass Effect 3. These characters were specifically made for queer players.

It can easily be argued that ‘it’s just a mod, don’t download it’, but that doesn’t address how mods, like most things, are influential in their own right. While I doubt very much that installing a Thomas the Tank engine mod to bulldoze you while you’re playing Skyrim means you want that to happen in real life, installing a mod like that is entirely different from straightwashing a storyline and/or character that doesn’t conform to heteronormative readings in any single way. Furthermore, it says you’re willing to erase marginalized identifies for your own benefit, and that, in my opinion, goes against what modding should be about. Again, that changes with perspective, but by definition modding is improving something from the original. With that in mind, changing a queer character’s sexuality in a medium where LGBT+ characters still aren’t as well-represented as their heterosexual counterparts? It stinks, and in all honesty, shouldn’t be allowed to be promoted on any sort of modding website. Something which, funnily enough, Nexus agrees with if their file submission guidelines are anything to go by. Yet the mods are still up. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

As far as I’m concerned, the desire to get rid of homophobic, racist and predatory mods have nothing to with censorship, but the need to squash the thinking that this behavior is acceptable. It isn’t. Allowing these mods the space to exist encourages dangerous ideals and to take off my professional cap for a moment, deserves to be yeeted into the dustbin.

Ultimately, only we can take the steps to get rid of these sort of mods by reporting them to the powers that be. So do your bit today, and report racist, homophobic and transphobic mods. Because that? That isn’t welcome in any community.

Aimee Hart

[She/They] Aimee Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Gayming Magazine. She specializes in queer fandom, video games and tabletop, having started her career writing for numerous websites like The Verge, Polygon, Input Magazine and more. Her goal now is to boost LGBTQ+ voices in the video games industry.