The Narrative of Labours of Love

One of the greatest advantages that video game and other interactive forms of entertainment have over more passive styles such as books or movies is the extent to which they allow for the end-user to adopt and mould the base level experience to more completely meet their individual tastes and requirements. To further our needs, it is best to divide the manner in which an end-user applies his own personal touch to any given game, whether it be internal to the game, typically in the form of player-based narratives more commonly found in multiplayer games, or external to the game, more commonly presented in the form of 3rd party modifications or “mods” that modify the base state of the game itself. For the sake of this paper, we will focus mainly on the aforementioned external examples and how they can create an entirely unique experience that shares no relationship with the base material apart from requiring it to access the mod itself. It should also be noted though that the vast majority of mods currently extant do not fall within this category, being limited instead to either “graphic mods” that merely replace the superficial visual experience with no impact upon the actual mechanics of the game to the more extreme end within the realm of “total conversion mods” that change a large amount of the baseline assumptions of the parent game, though retaining enough of the original features to be easily recognized as existing within the framework of the base game and not presenting itself as a completely separate entity that merely uses the original game as anything more than a framework of code and engine functionality.

The aforementioned “super-mods” that are created in an attempt to completely supersede the parent games goals and intentions, are best considered as the ultimate mechanical form of player expression and narrative within the framework of video games as an art form and industry. These mods exist as modifications to a game and not as a separate entity from the game is solely a matter of practicality, with this aspect being in some cases the key feature that keeps mods separate from being considered as indie or art-house games instead. These mods, created with the foreknowledge that little to no material remuneration will follow from the creation of the piece, should not be classified as any sort of “labour” as defined in the article written by Mr. Julian Kucklich, but as works of art and labours of passion, though it should be noted that the more successful mods do typically become commercialized and do return some form of financial return. However for the vast majority of a mods life-span, it continues purely as a work of love, with the best example being the WarCraft 3 modification “Defense of the Ancients”, with the most recent maintainer of the mod “Icefrog” working on the mod and providing consistent updates and refinements to the project without any official remuneration beyond  the possible existence of donations from the community for a period of approximately 4 years before it was announced that Valve, itself a company known for its openness towards 3rd party modifications to its games via the Source SDK and the existence of projects such as Day of Defeat and Counter-Strike, announced that they were beginning work on a commercial sequel to the mod and hiring Icefrog himself to lead development.

Modding for the most part is a form of labour, but it’s not precarious or “playbour”, it’s a labour of love. All modders enter the scene fully aware of the lack of financial support and in most cases retreat from any sort of commericialization of their pieces. This is best exemplified in Tarn Adams and his company Bay 12 games. Though his game “Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress” is not a mod in any sense of the word, it best exemplifies the modding zeitgeist. The entirety of his company survives uniquely from community donations, with repeated statements to the effect of denying any and all attempts to commercialize the game and its associated content, thus cementing it as a labour of love in the vein of any other freely available mod that can be found for free on websites such as moddb, Nexus or even github.

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