Creativity Homogenized & the Power of the Coin-less Community
Well, it's about that time I turn to a lighter topic, one that, once again, involves the
Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
. The purpose of this post is two-fold: the first objective is to bring the awareness to the "
" development team and their remarkable endeavor to reincarnate -- yes, pun intended -- the fantastic story and world of
inside of the
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
engine; the second objective is a short analysis on the homogenization of creativity inside the worlds of interactive art and its direct connection to modern economics.
But before all of that theoretical, sociological and economical mumbo-jumbo, let's get excited about this
project -- a MOD (modification of an original game) that is a completely organic mission spurred by the fans for the fans that accepts no money for its efforts whatsoever (though this is largely due to legal issues, I'd suggest that such an undertaking is not interested in money at all, a point we will address shortly). Now, one might see this as a fruitless mission. Why bring back a game that was made over a decade ago? Aside from the fact that it will
amazing, this project brings to light an incredible idea often tried but not as often successfully implemented: the re-release of a video game.
We can even draw a parallel to that in the film world with the re-release of a movie on BluRay (or whatever the next big resolution leap is called); the movie itself stays perfectly intact, while the only "changes" are the visual clarity and auditory robustness. So far, such a task would seem purely insane in the world of video games. It's hard enough to create a new game with stunning graphics and a solid engine, let alone port in an old game from an outdated engine. For the most part, video games that have had re-releases -- The
being a prime counter-example -- were done in the form of recreations of the original game.
are all great examples of past games being completely remade from the ground up at some point in time, all of which have been received with mixed reviews from their critics and audience alike. Furthermore, the trend seems to extenuate into the continuation of a storyline in the addition of sequel after sequel, and what we end up with is not a true updated game but rather a never ending story that ends up boring the audience entirely (anybody caught in the
Call of Duty
series knows precisely what I'm talking about). This endless series is a fad that I wish would go away, or at least diminish into irregularity, because it forces the game's storyline and world into an unoriginal, stale, and fragmented state by the time one picks up, say,
. And although I very much enjoy the
series, I also admit the game grows stale in all of two months, instantly leaving me hungry for a new version. The cycle creates a sort of insatiability in the audience, one that is comparable to that of a junkie waiting for his next fix. A bit dramatic, I know, but the point is very much intact. When is a series done? Who else would like to move on and explore areas of human imagination that have yet been utilized? Why must we stick within the same, over-stretched storyline?
Alas, all of this is not to discount the joy of picking up a new story inside of an amazing universe, a reason why
just never seems to go away. And although I may stare at a poster of
in heated contempt, I can't diminish the fact that people sometimes just love seeing a new story within a complex and intricately crafted universe -- the only differentiating factor here is that my taste lies within the bounds of the
universe (yes, I've even read the fiction pieces by Gregory Keys). So it seems I have reached a point of hypocrisy; on one hand, I abhor stories and worlds beaten to death by its makers, and on the other I advocate the practice of bringing old games into new skins. But there is a difference here I'd like to point out, one that makes
Call of Duty
 seem much less significant than Skywind's porting of
into a vastly improved game engine.
Taking on such a task as re-releasing a game in an updated engine is one reserved for games that have truly unique stories. Clearly, if that were not the case, then we wouldn't have sequels to games but rather new iterations of the same thing, which if done overzealously can also deter one from ever picking up
Shadow of the Colossus
is one of those truly unique games -- the story, gameplay, and design are all unlike anything I've ever seen in a commercial release -- and we're lucky enough to see the developer recognize its timelessness as an amazing experience. Equally so, what makes Skywind's mod different from the over-used sequel is the fact that it is a purely visual and auditorial revitalization of an already complete, amazing experience. After all, who wouldn't want the BluRay version of their favorite movie? Again, I'm not discounting the greatness a sequel may achieve (so long as the creator of the art remains wary of over-producing within a story world), but I am trying to make it obvious that the Skywind developers (er, "modders," really) are that much more patient, tenacious, and daring in their work. They're resurrecting an aged game, yes, but also a completely timeless story in its wholeness (well, that's the plan, anyways)
, at least for no more of a reason than their reputation in the modding community.
Now here is an interesting thought: given our assumption that modern markets dictate people act within their self-interest, why should such a community of modders exist? In fact, the antithesis should be happening, where modders would create their own underground market in which they'd sell their amazing work -- well, so one would think when placed inside the limited scope of Smith's invisibly handled market. But, remarkably, what takes place is the opposite. Should one even try to sell their mod, the entire community would scoff and disown the modder -- why buy something when somebody else is offering an equally, if not greater, piece of work for nothing? Such a community is actually incredibly similar to gift economies that anthropologists like David Graeber and modern thinkers, such as Charles Eisenstein, write about. Given that there is a community (players of the game, in this case), a general and common interest in furthering their well-being (the desire to change certain aspects of the game as a player would like, in this case), and a non-existent form of currency (the legality behind modding makes it strictly impossible for an individual to be paid for his or her work on the mod created, as per copyright law), then we would have a special opportunity to view how the community delivers goods on the common interest of the people.
What happens is a dynamic and organic interaction between modders and users. A modder has an idea, say creating a brand new sword in the game. The modder then creates their own 3D mesh, textures, and completely original model then imports it into the game with instructions for how the user can get and enjoy that sword. Now, say another modder has the idea of basing an entire complex quest on the other modder's sword. All one must do is contact the other modder, ask if it is alright to use their work (which is almost always a "yes") and then they may create their own epic quest, based on the original sword, all the while giving the original modder nothing more than a "thank you" and a stellar reputation. And then, of course, the user enjoys both an awesome sword and an awesome quest. What's the gain on either end? People download the modder's work like there's no tomorrow -- he or she becomes a sensation within the community, thus giving them a sense of purpose to create a new mod and fulfillment after having received high praise. The user then has access to a multitude of new, amazing mods -- he or she then has fun with the game. The gains here -- and this is the important part, so pay attention -- are
, thus they cannot be homogeneously understood. One's feelings on a mod will be different with each individual, therefore placing a monetary value on either end's net gain will always be arbitrary and presumptuous. Don't believe me? Take a dive into the amazing work above being done by the Skywind team. Almost all of these modders do their work
in their spare time
-- they're literally
users products, the only exchange being a sense of purpose/fulfillment and a desiring/quenching of fun. This is very much a modern example of "economic" interaction in which no use of money takes place; it is a gift economy.
Thus what we see coming from the modding communities are a plethora of amazing, original pieces of artwork -- new weapons, armors, spells, areas, and on the list goes. What we see coming from the commercial market are products that are increasingly unoriginal, stale, and fragmented largely due to the side-effects of an economic system that places faceless values on its products. What's going on here, I'd argue, is that due to Bethesda's explosion in popularity (
was nowhere near as famous as
, as one can observe in just how hard
is to play -- no fast travel, a complex quest system, and a tumultuous amount of skills are just a few examples of how small the game's niche was at its release) they have been inadvertently forced to make aspects of the game simpler for the purpose of delivering fast, high-quality content in the interest of maintaing a much larger fan base. And because of Bethesda's sudden surge into the mainstream market, the aspects in the game that reflect the very same homogenization that occurs in markets we are familiar with today are incredibly more apparent when compared to its predecessor,
. An example of this that drives us
nerds crazy is the lack of unique armor and weapons from
, where the amount of time Bethesda has been exposed to a larger market has greatly influenced the games as a result. One would imagine that with all of the computing power and teamwork put into the latest installation of America's best RPG, Bethesda would bring forth an amazing amount of in-game content that would be utterly unique and amazingly better than the games preceding their newest title. This, however, is not the case at all. Where there is an entire
dedicated to finding treasure in the game
, one need not even try to embark on such a journey when looking for unique items in
(partly because they are much easier to find, but primarily because so few pieces exist when compared to its predecessor). Yes,
has a vast amount of pieces of armor and weapons, but one will quickly notice how homogenous all of these pieces really are; they're everywhere and are very commonly used, and in the extremely rare instance one finds a completely unique item (one that looks and functions uniquely
of which only one in the game exists) the item is instantly devalued in the "realistic" monetary price it is given. The contrast, as we see in
, is the multitude of unique artifacts within the game as well as the pricelessness assigned to each artifact. Not only are there pieces of armor and weapons that are
unique, but those pieces are
over-priced -- they're literally an item that would require all the money in the world for any level-headed person to let go of. And even then, who the hell would let go of a priceless item? Nobody, unless you've become bored with the item after enough time.
So far this is all taking place inside of the game world. Let's extrapolate it now into what we see in our own market place. It shouldn't take much of a stretch to see that "unique artifacts" could be anything somebody deems as invaluable in their lives, something incredibly unique. Such an item truly is a "treasure," as many would love to have it simply for the enjoyment of having it for some amount of time. A perfect example would be an original Picasso. Nobody would dare sell an otherwise priceless piece of work by a famous painter such as Picasso, yet such valuing does occur, which then brings up a means of comparison in our awareness. Should I pay five million dollars for this painting when I can buy so much more with that amount? What does value then mean? We've all heard the phrase "money can't buy you happiness," yet this is exactly what we're trying to do day in and out. The effects of homogenization occurring in this so-called free market are multiplying every day: we no longer value the Earth as providing for us but rather as capitol to be gained when its trees are uprooted; we no longer value clean and free air and water when we value the products made that pollute our environment in which we cannot exist without; we place emphasis on money rather than feeling, placing pieces of art next to a coin and equating the two; the
series (as well as all games and movies in general) begin to become watered down pieces of art, offering us a lot of shock, little awe afterwards, and no prolonged sense of wonder. All of this gets boiled down to something completely smaller than the more important whole -- the lack of uniqueness in my favorite game series -- but it is indeed the offspring of a faceless system of value.
The economist would then say, "But what else is there to use if not money? Barter?" Bartering is, in fact, what we do today. We've simply switched out individual goods with coin. What barter is not is the actual historical methods of trade found throughout the world -- credit and debt is. However this is beside the point; gift economies in which one values another based on how much he or she provides for the whole (just as we see with modders) are very much real and have been the basis of small human tribes throughout our evolution. However we now find ourselves in a world that has been hypnotized with this notion of an everlasting, ever-growing means and end to survival: the coin based on debt. What would benefit humanity would be a re-evaluation of what currency can be and how it shapes the society in which it is used. This, however, is outside of my observational jurisdiction. I'll leave such research and findings to more dedicated and learned people than myself (David Graeber's book
and Charles Eisenstein's
are just two of many books I highly,
recommend you read).
To return to my original prompt (one that I bet you did not see sliding into the economic rabbit hole I just led you through), the development being done by the Skywind team is an incredible one that should not go unappreciated. If you or anybody you know is a modder or a programmer, please go the
site and ask what you can do to help. I've done my part (I hope) in giving clear reason as to why this team and project deserves full respect and homage for what it aims to do, so now hopefully those with
skills (what can a writer do but write?) can aide the team and complete something truly amazing. I'd love to see my favorite game,
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
, on BluRay. Come on, Sony, Microsoft, and Bethesda, what say you? Help out your fellow modding community and make something spectacular!