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...
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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Iris 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.