Content warning: this article discusses upsetting content. Reader discretion is advised.
In the past few weeks, the problem of sexual harassment in the games industry has entered public conversation once again, provoking serious questions about the underlying culture enabling this sort of behaviour. While vital, the discussions involved in the Me Too movement can often be painful for those who have experienced sexual abuse or harassment by re-surfacing memories of past trauma. And now, someone in the modding community has identified this as a problem within games themselves - and has created a mod to help sexual abuse survivors enjoy Bethesda's 2002 fantasy RPG Morrowind.
Made by US-based modder JaceyS, Sexual Harassment Remover is a Morrowind mod that seeks to "remove and replace several instances of sexual harassment aimed at the player-character". As explained in the description, the mod changes multiple voice lines threatening acts of sexual violence against the player, re-names inappropriate items, and generally tones down some of the language. As an example, the Scroll of Manarape has been renamed to the Scroll of Manaleech, while Crassius Curio no longer asks the player to strip for him in return for sponsorship, instead handing the player a copy of his erotic play and asking for an opinion. The Dremora Anhaedra no longer threatens a sexualised form of violence against the player's corpse, should you decide to taunt him.
"I got the first inkling of this mod from a Discord conversation about how Morrowind would be received if it were released today," JaceyS explained to me. "Some thought that the slavery depicted in the game would not fly, but I consider the game's handling of that subject to be fairly good. What would cause outrage, I thought, was Crassius Curio, a character infamous for his sexual harassment of the player character, regardless of gender."
JaceyS kept the idea on the back burner, until she spotted a "shocking line" from an obscure quest that was posted to the Morrowind subreddit. "Someone else made a mod to remove that line, but it was ham-fisted, and I am not sure it was actually done in good faith. In any case, the usual suspects showed up to complain, and I thought 'I could do this better.'"
Alongside the discussions on Morrowind, JaceyS said the wider Me Too movement had informed her thinking on the mod. The Daedric lettering in the mod's cover art spells "believe women", while the original title had actually been Me Too Nerevarine (the player-character's title in Morrowind). "I decided to go with the more descriptive, and less overtly political title of 'Sexual Harassment Remover', because I think the mod could actually be useful to a lot of people, and not just those who agree with me politically," JaceyS said.
After JaceyS came up with the mod idea, she found that many of the alterations needed to remove sexual harassment were actually rather straightforward. The easiest required a simple tweak to the dialogue triggers so female player-characters would get the same response as males. Changing some of the lines to tone down the language or fully replace the lines was more challenging, however, as JaceyS wanted to maintain "the distinct personality of some of the characters involved". As explained in the mod description, "Anhaedra still gets really angry, Nels Llendo is still charming and polite, and Crassius Curio is still way too horny on main. Curio's behavior probably still constitutes sexual harassment, but at least it is toned down."
Unfortunately (and somewhat predictably), JaceyS has received a lot of online backlash for the mod, to the point where a Nexus Mods moderator was forced to lock comments to prevent further name-calling and clean up "unacceptable comments". JaceyS attributes the backlash to "people who cannot stand the idea that their favoured game might be made more accessible to vulnerable people, especially women". The mod's defenders have countered criticism by highlighting that installing the mod is optional, and there to help those who need it.
More positively, it seems a fair number of people are truly grateful for the mod, and among the trolls there are plenty of appreciative comments. JaceyS said multiple people had told her the mod would be useful to them, or others who had wanted to experience Morrowind but had been put off by the sexual harassment. "I always avoided the quests the mod tries to improve as they made me feel uneasy," said one Nexus Mods user. "If some power is given back to the player to let their character deal with those situations how they like it, I think that's a great thing to do."
Thanks to the positive feedback she received, JaceyS has since added modular options so players can choose how sexual harassment is dealt with "ranging from complete removal, to reduction, to leaving it unchanged but with new options for player response".
"It is kind of silly that this mod, which was much less work than some of my others, has received a lot of votes for Mod of the Month," JaceyS added. "But it's a good thing it's getting visibility, so it can find its way to those who would find it helpful."
As JaceyS previously mentioned, her mod isn't the only one attempting to tackle these problems: Less Triggering Morrowind last year removed the word rape, while another released this month lets players remove Anhaedra from the game or alter his lines. Yet JaceyS's work on removing sexual harassment seems to be more comprehensive than previous attempts, covering several different instances and keeping the changes in-line with character personalities and Morrowind lore.
Given Morrowind is now 18 years old, perhaps it comes as little surprise that certain sections of the writing now feel dated. JaceyS certainly feels the sexual harassment lines used by Curio and Anhaedra are "played for humour", although she notes that in some cases - such as the use of rape in the 36 lessons of Vivec - they are at least used to deepen the portrayal of a specific character. Now the Sexual Harassment Remover mod is complete, JaceyS is working on a request to add content warnings to the books of Morrowind, which should also be portable to other Elder Scrolls titles. As a Morrowind modder, JaceyS doesn't have any plans to make similar mods for other games, but she "encourages other people to do so". Perhaps JaceyS's work will inspire others to mod older games and give sexual abuse survivors the option to skip sections that remind them of painful memories. And if a mod allows more people to experience a great game for the first time - it's important work in my book.
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