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Modded video games: a guide for parents and caregivers

Posted on 14 June 2017 by Paul

We came across an interesting question in our information unit inbox the other day that we thought was worth sharing.

It asked whether it would be illegal to allow a child to play a restricted game if they used a mod to take out all of the restricted content from it.

Slow down – what on earth is a mod?

A mod is a modification that is made to a game by changing aspects of the game’s coding. They are files that are easy to download and install. These changes can impact games in various ways: these can be minor changes, such as adding more sophisticated lighting effects into the game; major changes, such as changing the entire story of the game; or somewhere in between. They are a long-standing part of the PC gaming experience, and have recently been brought to gaming consoles as well.

So what’s the issue?

The Classification Office classifies the original game submitted to us by the distributor, not the modified version or versions. This is because mods are created after a game is released (usually by players themselves). What this means is that a modified version of a game can effectively turn it into a new ‘publication’ and is therefore a different version to the one we have classified.

The email mentioned above asked if it would be illegal to give a modified version of an R18 title (GTA V) to someone under 18 if all the restricted content had been removed. Our answer? If the game has been changed to such an extent that it’s no longer the same game we classified, and if the game no longer had any restricted content, then no, it’s not illegal for a child to play it.

page of website with popular computer games with many mods available

…So mods are safe for kids right?

Not necessarily. In most cases mods don’t change a game significantly, such as adding high resolution textures or the addition of costume options. However it’s important to keep in mind that just as mods can take restricted content out of a game, they can also add restricted content into a game. Some common adult mods are nude mods and mods that add sexual animations into games, and sometime mods might up the gore. This is a significant part of the modding community, so keep an eye on the modded versions your kids are playing.

number of threads and responses in an adult mods subforum for a game

In general, if a game has been classified as restricted, it’s not going to be suitable for someone under the age on the label, regardless of whether it’s been modded. However if you’re considering allowing a younger person to play a ‘family friendly’ version of a game we’d encourage you to check the modified version and make sure that the restricted content has actually been removed, and to ensure that they don’t have access to any restricted versions of the game.

Paul works at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not necessarily represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

A mod that changes Cammy's model in Street Fighter 5 to one of Tracer from Overwatch
A mod changes Cammy's model in Street Fighter V to one of Tracer from Overwatch

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