Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2014

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Mass Communications

First Advisor

Berry, Venise

First Committee Member

Perlmutter, David D

Second Committee Member

Ekdale, Brian

Third Committee Member

Sunstein, Bonnie

Fourth Committee Member

Brock, Andre


The influx of new digital media technologies and platforms have made it possible for consumers of media products to more easily create and distribute their own works, which breaks away from the traditional production of culture of media by established, professional creators. Consequently, there has been a rise in the immaterial labor of digital media creators, as well as a formation of online communities of disparately connected users through commonly held interests.

Within the medium of video games, this convergence between user and producer of content, the tension between control and innovation of media content and form, online communities and immaterial labor is most clearly seen in the practice of modding, here defined as using legally authorized software to modify video game content.

Modding for computer games has been occurring since the early 1990s, and has grown considerably due to the expansion of the internet's capabilities for connecting people and distributing large bands of data. In 2012, Skyrim developers Bethesda Softworks released a free software development tool called the Creation Kit. The Creation Kit allowed computer users to modify the game content, at which point the user could publically release their mods through the authorized Steam Workshop Channel. The Creation Kit was distributed via Steam, an electronic digital games store operated by Valve Corporation, Inc. Because Bethesda required users to play Skyrim through Steam, the Steam Workshop Channel was intended to be the primary distribution and gathering location of the modding community for Skyrim. However, most existing modders already had many previously established third-party modding databases and websites for distribution, which meant that the Steam Workshop Channel was a new and forced entry into the modding community.

Using a combination of ethnographic methods (participant observation and interviews) and textual analysis of message board data, and in research gathered between September 2013 and January 2014, this dissertation explores the community dynamics of the modders on the Steam Workshop Channel for Skyrim to help locate the identity politics of the community, as well as navigating the tension between innovation and control within the community. It also explores how a digital media producer attempts to control a space of fan-made production, and what that means for the existing community. I participated and observed conversations on modding community dynamics in specific forums on the Steam Community Workshop for Skyrim. There, I gathered textual data from a diverse sample of conversations located on discussion boards and a diverse set of mods ranging in user-defined ratings (high-rated to low-rated) to highlight the conversational dynamics and implicit and explicit structuring of the community.

I gathered materials from over 403 relevant conversation threads on the Steam Community Workshop for Skyrim. I also conducted telephone, web and email interviews with a purposive sample group of 15 modders based on their ranking in the community in order to gather their personal motivations for participating in the group and perceptions of norms, rituals and values in the group.

Results indicate that modding communities are hierarchized by historically locating the user within the practice, as well as through extensive technical knowledge and frequency of communication. Heavy users and mod creators separate themselves from "non-modders" or mod users through these practices, defining their identities through discourse and the values of creation. The Steam Workshop Channel was a collision between mod creators and non-modder users, sometimes with clashing ideologies that dissuaded heavier users from fully embracing the Steam Workshop. This study illustrates how Bethesda and Valve were perceived by existing modders, and suggests that companies need to pay attention to how historically located communities of users respond to the actions, policies, membership, and moderation of professional media consumers.


immaterial labor, Modding, online communities, Skyrim, user-generated content, video games


vi, 167 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 153-167).


Copyright 2014 Kyle Moody