Micro Essay: How much ‘Play’ in Playbour?

by: Alexandre Huot

In Julian Kücklich’s article “Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry”, the modding community is examined in the light of its political and economic relationship with the games industry. It is no secret that studios and the industry can benefit greatly from this free, and often highly-skilled form of labour. Despite this, modders themselves are often left with nothing more than recognition or potential employment for their hard work. Furthermore, beyond mentioning a handful of mods which reached high-levels of fame, the article felt lacking in the perspective of players regarding mods. I’m curious to know how much of the average modder’s motivation comes from their experience as a player and the player community, rather than their particular impact on the industry as a whole. In other words, how much of the play in playbour is what truly drives the modder?


Although I’ve never published any, there have been times where I’ve “modded” (term used very loosely) games to make them more enjoyable for myself. Simple things such as changing the art and stats for weapons to create my new custom versions were enough to keep me playing a game just that much longer. For me, the ‘play’ is what’s important. And part of the pleasure comes simply from being able to mod a game; the satisfaction of creating something new.


For some however, although an element of play may lie at the core, when does the playbour shift to labour-heavy? The term is meant to describe the very complex nature of any such ‘free-but-enjoyable’ labour, yet I feel there must exist some spectrum from leisure to labour on which each modder lies. Consider for example the Nexus Mods community, where modders create endless new content for games like Skyrim, Oblivion and Fallout 3 to name a few [2] . The scale and complexity of some of these mods requires immense skill and organization from the community. I’m no expert on the industry, but I have to imagine the workload behind some of the larger mods must rival that of certain studios in the industry. So why engage in what must be very difficult work for no pay? Is it hopes to move into the ‘legitimate’ game industry? Or is it simply the recognition of the community? Is the mod enough reward in itself?


To gain insight into these questions its interesting to look at the perspective of one disgruntled modder: Hayssam Keilany, creator of several GTA IV mods. He decided to call it quits, at least for a time, after receiving too much backlash from the modding community about his work. He states that he was just doing it for fun, releasing mods in hopes that other players might enjoy the modifications he liked himself, but too many people “… kept spitting on [his] work…” [3]. It seems that although he may have been doing it for his own enjoyment, that reaction of other players was enough to get him to stop. It’s not clear from the article, but does that mean that without external recognition, he would no longer make mods from himself?


Suffice it to say, I’m mesmerized by the implications of the term ‘playbour’.  Kücklich’s article raised several questions for me surrounding the nature of modding, particularly on the motivations of individual modders. More questions: does it belittle those modders who have spent months and years on their craft, working with countless other modders to create exceptional new content, to call their work ‘playbour’? Does it bother them that their skill is often equated to a hobby? Perhaps I’m still missing the meaning of the term, but in my opinion, organizations and communities such as Nexus Mods have very similar skill sets and motivations than those game developers working under established brands. Yet due to the fact that they take part in this activity in their own time, it may not be recognized as ‘legitimate’ work. I don’t necessarily disagree with the use of the term ‘playbour’; volunteering such vast amounts of time to a project with no remuneration must mean there is some pleasure or benefit to be derived from it. However I feel the term might skew our view of those individuals who take modding outside the realm of hobbyists into something else altogether.



[1] J. Kücklich, ‘FCJ-025 Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry | The Fibreculture Journal : 05’, Five.fibreculturejournal.org, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://five.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-025-precarious-playbour-modders-and-the-digital-games-industry/. [Accessed: 09- Apr- 2015].


[2] Nexusmods.com, ‘Nexus mods and community’, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.nexusmods.com/games/about/about/?. [Accessed: 10- Apr- 2015].

[3] L. Plunkett, ‘Famous Modder Walks Away After Too Much Abuse’, Kotaku, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://kotaku.com/famous-modder-walks-away-after-too-much-abuse-1611845103. [Accessed: 10- Apr- 2015].


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