Tuesday, July 23, 2013

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This Skeezy Skyrim Mod Makes Me Question The Ethics of Enslaving NPCs

Paradise Halls Skyrim Mod 1
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

With practically everyone on my Steam Friends List dipping their toes into Skyrim once more, its siren song has become irresistible, and I've been updating the plethora of user-created mods I use to keep the game fresh before diving back in myself. There's a lot of amazing content out there, including entire user-made expansions to the world, but there are a fair share of questionable mods too... Or, to be fair, mods that personally make me very uncomfortable.

Paradise Halls is a good example of what I'm talking about. Paradise Halls started out as a single mod, simply adding slavery (with obvious sexual overtones) to the world of Skyrim. Over time fans of the mod have contributed their own additions to it, and now Paradise Halls is something like a mod suite for the aspiring slaver. I try to avoid "yucking" anybody else's "yum" when I can, but something about these mods just creeps me right out...

Paradise Halls Skyrim Mod 2

There are a slew of plug-ins for Paradise Halls including animations, slave trading, mind control spells and poisons, a dungeon hideout, and of course lore-friendly storylines. It's still Skyrim, after all. These mods allow you to capture and collar just about any (non-vital) NPC. You can defeat them in combat, Roman-style, then order them to accompany you on your adventures and carry things for you. Just like an NPC companion. Unlike an NPC companion you can also train them, whip them (which leaves marks), order them to strip naked and... The rest depends on what other Paradise Halls extenders you've installed. The deeper you go, the creepier it gets, and it's the mind control spells and potions that make me the most uncomfortable.

I like to think of myself as a fairly open-minded person, even when things fall on the wrong side of my own tastes. I can appreciate, for example, that this mod isn't overly biased towards female slaves. It's gender-equal slavery. So... That's nice, I guess? As far as mods and mod extensions go, these ones also seem well-made, and together they make a very comprehensive little package to augment the game whether you're interested in BDSM or just making the game world a little grittier and more "realistic".

Of course "Realism" and "historical accuracy" are terms that get brought up when discussing classic fantasy worlds (like that of the Elder Scrolls franchise) far more than they really should be. They're often used to explain why women in deliberately crafted worlds of magic and dragons and alchemy often remain in super shitty, two-dimensional roles ("because that's how it was historically") so this is a pill I sometimes have a hard time swallowing. Fantasy is fantasy. It can be whatever you want. You don't need to use it as a crutch to excuse lazy tropes. I'm just saying.

For that matter, on the subject of BDSM there seems to be one thing missing that might make these mods far more palatable: Consent. While that may not mesh with the very real history of slavery, consent (and trust) are absolutely crucial in the BDSM community. Even the option to have random NPCs seek you out to knowingly and willingly enter into that kind of relationship with you would make this mod a million times more respectful (and less unnerving).

But can an NPC even actually consent? Does it even matter? I'd say it does. It creates a relationship between two characters that mirrors some real-life relationships far better than marrying that NPC through the vanilla game's mechanics would. Most importantly, it would change the tone of that interaction to something far less sinister.

Then again, maybe that's the point.

At the end of the day, though, this mod simply isn't for me. Something about it just makes my skin crawl in all the wrong ways. Maybe I even wish it didn't exist, yet I can comfortably say that if I was given the chance to erase it from the internet at large I wouldn't take it. I can be an adult about Paradise Halls and recognize its place in the scope of what people want to do in their own personal, boundless fantasy sandboxes... But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

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Mixed reality iris 2013Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Timesand has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan andwith pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.

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Wolf Baginski

I'm reminded of an infamous book by John Norman, Imaginative Sex. It managed to both argue that it was OK to be imaginative, even kinky, and to demonstrate John Norman's own lack of variety in what he could imagine.

In the end, this sounds like another batch of bondage porn, with the same rather superficial attitude to people as people. At least in Second Life you are dealing with real people behind the avatars. This sounds to sit uncomfortably between SL's active meeting of minds, and the wholly passive storytelling of written erotica.

And it isn't because of the graphics. I get the same feelings in pure text, ranging from Fifty Shades of Gray through Leather Goddesses of Phobos to the still-running multi-user games such as Tapestries.

A good author can show us the characters, and the multi-user games have us interacting with real people, but the fake people of interactive fiction can be so totally inadequate.

Jimbo

What's next? Maybe people will even start enslaving other people in second life with collars, chains and loincloth OH WAIT.

zzpearlbottom

John Norman's vision is as basic as human instincts are, see Muslin religion!

Cicadetta Stillwater

@zzpearlbottom: There's a religion centered around a particular sort of cotton fabric? Who knew? (All hail the plain weave...)

Pussycat Catnap

"What's next? Maybe people will even start enslaving other people in second life with collars, chains and loincloth OH WAIT."

Heh...

Yeah basically this.

This brand of power-trip fantasy is pretty disturbing, but at least in Skyrim the only person involved is the lone individual. In SL, you have a perfect storm for abusers, enablers, and victim-personas that overlay and disrupt any attempt at a community fantasizing around lines of 'consent'. With real people's emotions on the line, but not real physicality: its is easier to fall into an abuse cycle than in 'the real world'. In the real world, the physicality of it can be a check for people that never occurs in a virtual world.

So on a scale of things, long before I went on a rant about solo-player Skyrim, I'd be, and have, looked at SL.

Arcadia Codesmith

I'd be a little concerned about anybody who didn't have any ethical concerns about people owning other people as property.

That said, NPCs aren't people. And even if there's another person on the other end of the line, it's not slavery if you can turn off the computer and walk away.

We ought to be doing more to fight real-world human trafficking without worrying about computer geeks in consensual scenarios playing make-believe.

CronoCloud Creeggan

The name Paradise Halls is a reference to Paradise Falls, the outpost of Slavers in Bethesda's post-apocalyptic RPG Fallout 3.

I don't know about you, but the first time I entered Paradise Falls in Fallout 3, I left it with slaver corpses littering the ground.

And I wiped out the slavers in the Lincoln Memorial immediately upon discovering they were slavers.

Emperor Norton

Enslaving Skyrim NPCs is just pure justice. Almost all of them are jerks, yes I am looking at you "Do you get to cloud district often?" Nazeem.

Anyway, why are you wallowing in the sewer of the modding community? They do much better stuff than this.

Emperor Norton

and while I am at it, how about Ulfic "may I kiss your south end Mistress Elenween" Stormcloak? (yes, for those who don't know THAT Ulfic has a BDSM relationship with the arch-Thalmor herself) They might mask it but there is a lot of hooky pooky in Skyrim.

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