The popular Elder Scrolls game, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, is known for being rather graphic. There is violence of all sorts in the open-world RPG, including threats of a sexual nature. That content can be especially upsetting to some gamers with a history of sexual abuse or sensitivity to the topic — people who just want to play without being forced to relive jarring memories.
As a remedy, a gamer that goes by the name JaceyS created a Morrowind mod to make the title more accessible to gamers who might be affected by some of its more disturbing content. The idea of the mod, dubbed the Sexual Harassment Remover (SHR), is to "remove and replace several instances of sexual harassment aimed at the player character," JaceyS notes.
Not everyone is into this — Despite good intentions, the mod has been met with mixed responses. On the Elder Scrolls subreddit, critics and fans are debating whether political correctness has gone too far — while many players seem supportive of the move. At the end of the day, though, the SHR is not going to overhaul the industry — which seems intellectually unable to move beyond the tired and overused plot devices of sexual abuse, harassment, taunts, and violence. But using an optional mod to swap out the more graphic elements of a story can provide temporary relief to an individual player.
In Morrowind, remarks from characters like Anhaedra, Nels Llendo, and Crassius Curio range from lecherous requests for kisses or demands for stripping naked to full and direct rape threats. With the SHR, JaceyS' mod will give a player the option to remove and replace these exchanges. For example, instead of Curio demanding a strip show, he will give a copy of his erotic fiction to the player to critique. Yet another modification setting involves Anhaedra who no longer threatens to assault the player's corpse but makes another graphic threat without the sexual violence element.
A bigger issue — The Morrowind mod comes amid reports of sexual abuse in other gaming communities, like the Super Smash Bros network. That community is currently under scrutiny for allegations of sexual abuse and emotional manipulation by various popular and influential gamers. It isn't exactly a #MeToo moment for the gaming world — the scale is fairly limited to certain communities — but it reflects a shift among some players who desperately seek accountability and safety in their environment.
A single mod for a single game alone can't necessarily impact the widespread issue of sexual violence used for plot or character depth in a plethora of gaming series. But hopefully, this mod nudges game creators to consider expanding their plot creativity beyond the contrived and trite concepts of sexual violence for plain shock value.
Like the debate currently swirling in the world of film and TV about what the limits of storytelling should be (and the relationships viewers have with said art), JaceyS' mod raises questions about the malleability of a piece of art, and what rights a viewer or player has to the work. Only time will tell if this kind of tweak is a momentary experiment, or a trend studios and creators might adopt as an evolution of the form.