Ecomods: an ecocritical approach to game modification

Abstract

As systems that model complex relationships, digital games encourage players to enact Morton’s “ecological thought” through the actions players perform within the game world. Yet these representations, as Alenda Chang (2011) has noted, “commit at least one if not all of the following missteps in their realization of in-game environments: relegating environment to background scenery, relying on stereotyped landscapes, and predicating player success on extraction and use of natural resources” (58). In other words, the flora and fauna players find are often reduced to non-interactive set pieces, thereby stripping actions of the ecological and environmental impact they could have. Despite these problems, ecocritical approaches to digital games have sought to re-assert the significance of connections between game ecologies and their environmental representations by tracing cultural associations (Bianchi, Barton), and by investigating problems with materiality and waste (Apperley and Jayemanne). This essay builds on these approaches by considering “modding,” short for “modifications,” as an area for ecocritical intervention in the flattening of games’ environmental representations. Specifically, this essay examines the thriving environmental modding communities around Bethesda Softworks’ “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”. Although some of the mods released for “Skyrim” emphasize visual enhancements, others re-connect players to the game’s ecology and environment in meaningful ways.

Written by Kyle Matthew Bohunicky.


Bohunicky. 2017. Ecomods: an ecocritical approach to game modification.