Modding seems to be in rude health in 2021, as industrious players crack open game eggs to whisk and scramble their insides whether developers release tools to help or not. There’s no shortage of player-made tweaks and fixes, of modest additions, or even of total overhauls.
This is cause for celebration, but more importantly, it’s cause to argue. I ask you: what PC game has had the best modding community, past or present?
When I say that, I want to clarify that I’m thinking purely in terms of creative output. “Best” as in “created the largest or most interesting or most inventive body of work.” Because modding communities are often made up of insecure young people battling for control, respect and seniority, and that leads to a lot of gatekeeping, fighting, and drama. So let’s set that aside.
To my mind, the obvious candidate is Skyrim, which after ten years is still going strong. Nexus Mods currently houses over 65,000 Skyrim mods, and there’ll be more originals among the 33,000 Skyrim Special Edition mods, or those found solely via the Steam Workshop. It looks like over 50 new mods came out for Skyrim over the past week. Not bad for a game that’s ten years old this November.
I’d argue for a different contender: Half-Life. Maybe it’s my age, but Valve’s first-person shooter was a revolution not just in modding but for gaming as a whole. It gave us Counter-Strike, most obviously, which remade multiplayer first-person shooters in its image (and inspired Valve to create Steam).
But the community was vibrant and inventive far beyond just its most famous name. Science & Industry, Day Of Defeat, Action Half-Life, Frontline Force, Natural Selection; not to mention dozens of singleplayer levels and mods like They Hunger and Someplace Else that expanded and improved upon the ideas of the base game.
Skyrim’s modding community has lived longer, but despite a few game-sized total conversions, its creative output is still defined by Better Grass Textures and Now Your Companions Look Like Instagram Models. There’s no Skyrim mod that has reshaped our perception of what is possible, in modding let alone in gaming.
There are other contenders, of course. Arma 3 gave us DayZ and much more. Stalker is a great, messy game rejuvenated by its mods. The Mount & Blade series? GTAIV? I dunno – you tell me, in the comments below.