Who Wrote the Elder Scrolls?: Modders, Developers, and the Mythology of Bethesda Softworks


  • Rob Gallagher King's College London
  • Carolyn Jong Concordia University
  • Kalervo A. Sinervo Concordia University


This paper considers the part played by modders in shaping Bethesda Softworks’ The Elder Scrolls series of roleplaying games. It argues that Bethesda’s stewardship of the franchise over the course of its twenty year history has been characterised less by an unwavering creative vision than a willingness to make use of the resources to hand - not least the inventiveness of modding communities. Charting how Bethesda employees and the games’ modders have performed and discussed their respective roles, we track shifts in the tools, vocabularies, aims and approaches of both parties. We find that while the practices and priorities of modders and developers have, in many respects, converged over this period, crucial legal and conceptual distinctions continue to separate professionals from amateurs. Valve’s abortive attempt to introduce paid mods to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim threw this division into stark relief, emphasising the need for studies of modding which address the performativity of intellectual property, showing how conceptions of authorship and ownership develop over time within specific studios, cultures and publics.

Author Biographies

Rob Gallagher, King's College London

Rob Gallagher is a postdoctoral researcher at King’s College London, where he is part of Ego-Media, a European Research Council project addressing the influence of new media on ideas of identity and forms of self-representation. His work on digital aesthetics, gaming and the networked self has appeared in journals such as Games & Culture, G|A|M|E and Film Criticism.

Carolyn Jong, Concordia University

Carolyn Jong is a graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Humanities PhD Program at Concordia University, and a member of the Technoculture, Art and Games Research Centre, where she works on various projects related to gender and games, toxic cultures, immaterial labour, and videogame modding.

Kalervo A. Sinervo, Concordia University

Kalervo A. Sinervo is a PhD Candidate in the Interdisciplinary Humanities Program at Concordia University, where he primarily studies the intersections of also works at the Centre for Technoculture, Art and Games, and as a researcher with the Interactive Multi-Modal Experience Research Syndicate (IMMERSe). His work largely focuses on the intersections of transmedia, authorship, and intellectual property, appearing in journals such as Widescreen, Amodern, and First Person Scholar.