Mods, or modifications, are changes in the code or graphics of a video game which change the mechanics and/or visuals of the game. There are limitations to the abilities and content available in video games which exist for a variety of reasons. Mods allow users to overcome these limitations. For instances, mods can add new clothing or other items to a game. In other cases, mods can be used to give players an advantage in competitive games. Additionally, some games are crafted to be in accordance with certain boundaries set by the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), so that the game receives a desired rating. For example, The Sims franchise has the "Teen" rating, which is content suitable for players 13 years and older, so the code of the game doesn't allow graphic nudity or inappropriate themes for children. Using downloadable mods, however, players can alter the game's code to allow such prohibited behaviors as teen pregnancy or graphic nudity. Finally, some mods are hardly modifications at all, and are, instead, completely new games. Because mods can enable explicit content in games with lower ESRB ratings, and they can enable some players to cheat, modifications raise some ethical concerns.
This type of mod replaces nearly all of the artistic qualities found in the original game. This type of mod is sometimes created in hopes of being able to sell the end product, which is why nearly all of the original features of the game are replaced. Essentially, in these instances, the mod is a completely new game and may have no connection to the original at all, besides using the same game engine.
- Counter Strike
- Team Fortress
- Day of Defeat
An add-on is typically a smaller modification that changes some slight aspect of the game. Examples include a new weapon in shooting oriented games and a new type of vehicle in racing games.
A total overhaul shifts the gameplay style, sometimes increasing the overall pace of the game and typically including a large amount of additional add-ons.
An unofficial patch fixes game bugs that have not been addressed by the game's original developers. These are often created by one or more game community members and released for free.
Modifications, especially those of the total conversion type, can be seen to infringe upon copyright issues and in some cases, different add-ons can be seen as a way of cheating in online environments. These mods provide ethical challenges for game users and developers and raise the question of whether the ethical systems are different in an online environment. If multiple users are employing these mods, is it so bad?
Mods have also become common in first person shooting video games such as Microsoft's Halo series. In Halo 2 and 3, many players discovered how to create mods that would give them unfair advantages over the other players. These modifications would provide them with new weapons, allow them to be in normally inaccessible areas of the playing field, grant them invulnerability, and other exploitive features. Due to this unfair advantage that users would receive from mods, more players began to use them, and thus players without modifications soon could not play the game without encountering cheaters. This ruined the game for many people and eventually led to a decline in active users on Halo 2 and 3. Although Bungie and Microsoft worked together in an attempt to minimize cheating, the hackers usually prevailed and could bypass the anti-cheat tactics in order to create new modifications.
Breaking ESRB Rating
Another consideration is with regard to the ESRB rating system. As discussed earlier in this entry, mods in games like The Sims can add back features which were deliberately removed by the developers. If a game is designed with a particular rating in mind, and then users mod it, so that more violence is added, for example, should the developers be held responsible? In nearly all cases, the answer is no. But what happens in cases like the Hot Coffer incident, where the sex game was left on the game disc and users unlock it? Then, the developer is certainly more at fault. Then there are examples of developers being wrongly accused of misdoing, such as when Electronic Arts was sued by a lawyer named Jack Thompson with regard to The Sims. Mr. Thompson claimed that "The Sims 2, the latest version of the Sims video game franchise ... contains, according to video game news sites, full frontal nudity, including nipples, penises, labia, and pubic hair" and that mods could unlock such features.
Notable Mod Controversies
Hot Coffee mod
Among the most controversial game modification cases was that of the "Hot coffee" mod for the 2004 videogame Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, developed by Rockstar Games. Originally an inaccessible minigame, the mod allowed the main character of San Andreas to engage in sexual intercourse with his in-game girlfriend. The name of the mod derived from the girlfriend asking to come over for "hot coffee," a euphemism for sex. While there was no nudity involved, the actions of the characters in-game clearly portrayed intercourse-like actions, including oral sex .
The resulting aftermath saw the modification taken down, along with all available copies of the game being pulled from major online and store retailers. The Entertainment Software Rating Board also re-rated the game to Mature 17+ . Political action saw the passage of the Family Entertainment Protection Act, which called for addition enforcement of the ESRB ratings system. Rockstar Games was also privy to a number of federal and civil class action lawsuits, all of which were settled for significant sums of money .
- GAMESPOT. "Sims 2 content "worse than Hot Coffee."" 
- Rockstar Games. "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" 
- GAMESPOT. "FTC Hot Coffee ruling scalds, but doesn't burn Take-Two" 
- Reuters. "Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. Announces Settlement of Securities Class Action"