Architecture of Pop Culture

It is no great irony that lack of maturity resides at the origin of content so often mislabeled as “Mature.”

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Published in: on January 9, 2013 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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What’s the deal with this Morrowind Game?

Newcomers to Fessic’s Blog, especially those unfamiliar with video games and computer Role Playing Games, may look around for a bit and find themselves wondering…

Just what is it about this Morrowind game anyway.  My favorite game of all time perhaps?  Was I once affiliated with the developer or the publisher?  None of these actually.  Maybe we should start with the basics to give you a better idea of what it’s all about…

Back in 2002 Bethesda Softworks released the third installment in a series – The Elder Scrolls, called Morrowind.  It’s a fantasy themed Role-Playing Game which came out for the PC (then later for the XBox).  In or around 2005 I discovered this game and was immediately hooked.  Now, if you don’t already know I’m an avid ‘gamer’ who grew up playing, and still very much enjoy playing video games. And as you’ll easily discover I enjoy quite a wide range of games.  But there was something about this particular game that had great appeal for me.  Actually, it was two things.  First, Morrowind was designed as an open-ended world meant to give the Player Character virtually unlimited freedom to explore, engage NPCs (Non-Player Characters) and follow (or not follow) the main storyline.  Furthermore, the game world is populated with a broad range of factions, each with their own agendas.  The disposition of faction members shifts relative to your character’s relationship with each guild – and it isn’t always obvious to which faction a given NPC belongs…which makes for an interesting dynamic.  The second, and probably most significant thing about Morrowind is that the creators included a built-in Construction Set, enabling players to create their own content for the game.  It was around this feature that a vibrant and active community quickly evolved into something quite remarkable.  Modders, as they were called, were able to upload their creations to a central repository where they would remain freely available to other players – who could then download and add the new content to their own game.  This model opened up immense possibilities for virtually limitless variations (and expansion) of the already expansive core game.  Given the previously mentioned non-linear way in which your character is engaged with the game world this made for an amazing degree of potential customization.  And that, for me, was the true appeal of the game.

In a way it became a kind of exercise in crafting (through the work of so many talented modders) my own idealized version of what the Morrowind world should be; the result being a near fully realized virtual fantasy world.  As it turned out I spent far more time browsing through, downloading and testing user-created mods than actually playing the game.  All along the way I kept thinking that once I’d assembled just the right combination of mods the game would be ‘complete’ and I could finally embark upon the main quest.  But in reality it was the process itself that held the greatest appeal.

And so my own version of the game continued taking shape.  Along the way I had spent many enjoyable hours cataloging various well made user-created mods, quests and other custom content that I soon felt compelled to share it with others.   The “Morrowind” folders you see here are the fruits of that energy – and hopefully a small but worthwhile contribution to the community spirit of fellow gamers who have enjoyed the same fascinating game world.

While it may seem so when you first arrive at this blog Morrowind isn’t actually my favorite game – or a significant part of my life. In fact, I haven’t played it in some time and probably wouldn’t even recommend it for most gamers.  But it was, for its part, a special game that for a brief period became a whole hobby unto itself, and one example of what makes video games such an enjoyable pastime for those wishing to escape to another world (for a time).

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A Special Note to Parents and Casual Gamers:

While Morrowind does, in my view, deserve a place among the more innovative titles in video game history I am reluctant to recommend it to newcomers for the following reasons.

1) The game is technically challenging, even for those accustomed to tweaking a computer game installation.  For this reason many have recommended the Xbox version of the game, but for me this defeats the purpose entirely as it is the player-created content of the PC version that so sets this game apart.  By ‘technically challenging’ I mean that to play a fairly stable version of the game requires much more than the usual download > patch > play routine of most modern PC games.  And to get the user mods working properly and in relative harmony requires a great deal of study, trial & error (something best left to the geekiest RPG aficionados among us – yours truly included)

2) Morrowind bears a “Teen” ESRB rating for mild violence, a common aspect of Fantasy Adventure games.  The manner in which it’s implemented is acceptable (in my opinion) for sufficiently mature gamers.  What I would draw your attention to are some other aspects of the game that I personally try to avoid.  These include things like deliberately pursuing a path of evil or engaging in vampirism (which was introduced in the Bloodmoon expansion).  Being a fan of Fantasy Fiction it can sometimes be difficult to discern the point at which a game, novel or movie crosses over a certain line in terms of content or emphasis.  In these cases I’m usually left to follow my gut.  With Morrowind, it comes down the core of the game itself.  Being ‘open-ended’ means a player can choose how to engage this fictional world given certain constraints, and opportunities…as in real life.  With the Moral Imperative shifted to the player one must then try to discern the intent of the game’s producers, to see if they have focused primarily on elements that are ‘fantasy by nature’ or whether they’ve chosen to promote things that are morally objectionable such as obscenity, extreme violence or occultism.  In my view Morrowind passes this test.  Though sadly, one can still find plenty of this with some of the user-created mods out there.  Cautious parents needn’t be shy about passing on Morrowind, if only to avoid some of the third-party content floating around – or even the game’s core content if it doesn’t pass muster.

3) In reference to the above mentioned rating for Morrowind, Bethesda made the unfortunate decision to release the sequel (Oblivion) with content that earned it an “M” rating for heavy violence and hidden nudity.  Given that I do not believe any game ever needs to contain M-rated content, I cannot endorse The Elder Scrolls canon beyond the specific installment that is Morrowind – and only then for experienced and mature gamers.  Consequently, if your kids are playing any M-rated games (Bioshock, Mass Effect, Bully, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Fallout 3, Fable II, Metal Gear Solid 4, Gears of War) they really shouldn’t be.  And you might consider paying closer attention to their hobby.

I hope this post answers the question about this Morrowind game (and why it occupies such a large space on this blog).  If you have further questions or comments please don’t hesitate to post them below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Published in: on December 31, 2008 at 11:35 am  Comments (1)  
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On the State of User Created Content

Since discovering Morrowind back in 2005 I have immensely enjoyed discovering and playtesting the many wonderful user-created mods released by the community, adopting many of them into my own game.  In the midst of this, I must admit that it has been disappointing, though sadly not surprising, that so much unhealthy and unnecessary content has also emerged from within the Morrowind modding community…for a game that never needed it. You could probably say it was inevitable that some users would take things in this direction.  Whatever your feelings about it, I hope you will find it worthwhile to screen out mods that drastically alter the spirit and intent of Morrowind’s original game world, and ESRB rating. I believe that in the long run, if you really enjoy playing this game, you’ll find it a much more rewarding experience without prurient and immature content.

When you stop to consider the original definition and intent of the word “Mature” (as expressed in rating systems) it becomes easy to see how this word has become twisted around in an almost ironic sort of way.  The team over at Game Maker Games has, I think, articulated it best…

We also don’t use silly terms like mature to represent games that are most likely to be enjoyed by an audience whose maturity level is inversely proportionate to the level of so-called ‘mature’ content in said games.”

Since I believe there is a strong correlation between pornography, and the tendency to create this sort of content, you may also be interested to read some of my thoughts and observations about A Man Addicted to Pornography.

Published in: on September 5, 2006 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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