Twitter is abuzz with today’s awkwardly wrong gaming take, this time focused on modding, after disparaging thoughts about a recent Witcher 3 mod led to debate over whether modders are harming the games industry. Which leads me to present the other case: modders are not harming the games industry.
I should elaborate: For historical context, all art for tens of thousands of years has been created on the foundations and inspirations of the generations before it. From Bach’s greatest concertos to Dali’s most beautiful paintings, from Shakespeare’s most influential plays to Calvino’s finest novels, artistic creation is a towering palace, the most recent turrets built upon centuries of craftsmanship. So, given that, it’s going to be OK if someone makes a mod, probably.
This latest worry about the End Of Art is driven by the recent Witcher 3 mod that impressively/creepily manages to use AI to include original lines by the original Geralt voice actor, despite Doug Cockle’s having not been involved. Now, of course there are huge questions to be asked of such technology, most especially what happens when people start using it for evil. It’s fair to say that from... well, right now, we can’t trust any audio recording we hear of anything by anyone. Which isn’t exactly great. But while it hints at how things could soon get awkward for voice actors on the main games themselves, it seems to have very few implications for modding’s harm on the total existence of video games.
A point rather succinctly summarized by, er, a Witcher 3 developer.
In my 200 years of games criticism, I’ve yet to see a scrap of evidence that demonstrates mods having any negative effect on the sale of a video game, the availability of jobs, nor the potential destruction of interest in later editions of its (nrrrgghhh) IP. Not least because, well, you need to buy the game to play its mods. One might be able to construct some sort of argument that mods could, you know, have a positive effect on the sale of the game required to play it.
Now, I’m very happy to be proven wrong, but I have an inkling of confidence that were there to be a The Witcher 4, it’d likely still sell quite well despite the existence of A Night to Remember. In fact, I’d go so far as to venture that the exquisitely good 1958 Roy Ward Barker film of the same name has also gone unharmed in the incident. (Seriously, watch that movie, it’s amazing, and you’ll apologize for ever having even considered Titanic as a decent film after.)
I’m being ever-so facetious, but the reality is, every time the argument boils down to “sharing bad,” humanity is further wounded. All of art, for all of time but for this awful recent blip, has been created within a culture of sharing. Modding is, if anything, an extraordinary compromise—publishers/developers tolerate it, even enthusiastically encourage it, within boundaries of their own defining. Usually that prevents the creator from selling the mod. At its best, this allows extraordinary creations like Black Mesa to see its artists receive payment for their work. It leads to so many amateur developers getting noticed, and then getting hired by the companies that make the games they modded for. It creates communities around a game that give the game itself a far longer life, far more sales, and enriches everything around it.
People have decried the end of art at every turn, and never more so than in the latter half of the 20th century to this very day. As musicians sue each other into oblivion because a riff sounds a bit like a riff they once presumably created from the ether of primordial existence, and photographers rush around the internet threatening to slaughter anyone who dare adapt their picture they’d posted to Twitter anyway, can we maybe do our level best to keep as much of this wildly spiteful and greedy attitude out of video games?
We’ve managed to somehow create a culture where (at least where Nintendo isn’t involved) modding is a beautiful artform that allows people to be inspired by and build on the works of others, and that’s something we should preserve like the vanishingly rare magic it truly is. Not least when, as with all other art, allowing derivative works only embellishes and elaborates, and doesn’t take away.