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The Strange New World of NSFW Video Game Mods

It’s a sexually liberating, judgment-free, kink-friendly space for people of all stripes to express themselves. Still, I can’t help but feel a little dirty after my hookup with an orc

It’s tough to describe what it’s like to get fucked by an orc. Its dick was certainly smaller than I expected, given its hyper-muscular, dark-green frame, but its stroke game was smooth and consistent (not too fast or slow). And while I’d expected its spit and slobber to get all over me, my body remained clean throughout. Then, when the orc was finished, it helped me get up, gave me a thankful nod and respectfully walked away. As I stood naked in the stone brick tavern where we’d just hooked up, two things ran through my mind: 1) Did the orc come inside of me? (I didn’t see any evidence it had); and 2) Who was the person who made the mod, and were they jerking off to me while watching?

Whatever the case, we were both playing — me as a “tribute” — a modded version of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, one of the world’s most popular online role-playing games. Set in a fictional medieval world, players can battle each other, wage wars and/or build empires. But as anyone who has played Skyrim knows, referring to it as a mere game is really selling it short. Modders have evolved it into an ever-expanding digital universe, consisting of thousands of communities and worlds — and one of the most popular (and controversial) is Loverslabs, a mod that allows players, regardless of gender, race or species, to fuck.

It has more than 1.5 million members and hundreds of mods itself, many of which are designed to reflect non-normative forms of sexuality (e.g., “Devious Devices” and its arsenal of BDSM tools). Other popular Loverslabs mods give female characters giant penises and turn characters into giants. “Sex mods are a way for people whose sexuality isn’t always represented well — or is always fetishized — to express themselves,” explains Lily, a pseudonymous trans woman who goes by Forgetful Hatter on the Loverslabs forum.

Emily, whose character I briefly inhabited during my encounter with the orc, adds, “There isn’t actually a lot of sex in these games. And when there is, it’s almost entirely from the perspective of a cisgendered, heterosexual guy, who is either the hero or the villain of the game. Whichever one, the cisgendered woman is usually treated like a prize or trophy. Or she’s treated as something that develops the character arc of the villain.”

Wanting to see video-game characters naked, or making them fuck, isn’t anything new. Among the most popular video-game myths in the 1990s was the existence of “nude codes” for Tomb Raider that would have allowed gamers to play the entire game with a nude, albeit extremely blocky, Lara Croft. Later, in the early 2000s, games like BMX XXX featured playable characters in bikinis, while the God of War franchise, the storylines of which were rooted in Greek mythology, featured nude characters, leading to a moral panic and demands for game studios to create mods designed to remove nudity entirely.

Yet, as games have become more interactive, social and hyper-realistic, issues around sex, sexuality and sexual ettiquette have become central to conversations about the medium’s future. This was best explored in the Black Mirror episode “Striking Vipers.” In it, two heterosexual male friends take on different bodies and form a romantic relationship within a video game, prompting questions about whether gaming could provide straight men with a more sexually liberating environment than they could achieve IRL.

So while Ana Valens, a reporter at the Daily Dot who specializes in NSFW communities, explains, “Sex mods all come from the same place: ‘I’m horny and want this game to scratch this itch,’” she also believes sex in video games should be taken seriously — especially in an industry where game developers are being criticized for creating titles that casually depict sexual violence and “encourage” rape. “Sex modding can do a lot of good for people,” says Valens, who includes herself in that category. “Fooling around as a giantess Samus [in a game] played into my leatherdyke identity years later, as a kinkster, a D-leaning switch and a trans woman,” she tells me.

Of course, that isn’t to say that sex modding is always progressive. As gaming journalist Steven Messner notes, because some sex mod communities are left unregulated, and Skyrim’s developer, Bethesda Studios, doesn’t view itself responsible for monitoring modding communities, bad-faith mods are still very much alive and well. In some cases, these mods can give characters of color white skin or create environments that encourage fascist slogans. And in the sexual realm, this has resulted in mods that encourage people to act out “rape fantasies” or sell sex slaves.

When I ask Emily if she’s ever experienced any such problems, she tells me that gamers who use mods like Loverslabs, which prioritize consent and affirming sexual boundaries, often do so after bad experiences with other, more permissive sex mods. “It’s a problem that’s been in the games community for a long, long time,” she tells me. “As players or indie creators, we can’t do much to stop it. All we can do is call out bad behavior if we see it, and create a comfortable, judgment-free environment.”

I point out to Emily that while I’d consented to getting fucked by an orc, neither of us knew who who created my sexual experience or what they were doing behind the screen. In other words, matters of sexual respect and consent are still very ambiguous in the virtual world. She doesn’t really have an answer for me. But then again, no one does.