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Video games are responding to the strange challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic in a multitude of ways, whether slashing sale prices, offering double XP weekends, or hosting memorial processions. In Fallout 4, the pandemic has prompted an act of charity. A player by the name of Radbeetle is behind one altruistic mod aiming to give a helping hand to healthcare workers.
It's called COVID-19 Coronavirus Outbreak, and it's available right now on popular modding website Nexus Mods. The package features two files to download. One changes the names of all six diseases in survival mode to 'COVID-19' (these, for the record, are fatigue, infection, insomnia, lethargy, parasites, and weakness). The second renames several other in-game items to mirror the cultural zeitgeist: antibiotics become 'toilet paper,' herbal stimulant becomes 'disinfectant,' anodyne becomes 'bleach,' and antimicrobial becomes 'hand sanitizer.' Assets and effects stay the same, making this mod an inessential method of injecting some morbid reality into Bethesda's wasteland.
Transforming the game isn't Radbeetle's intention, though. Rather, this download represents more of a philanthropic gesture, one made possible by Nexus Mods' donation system. "I remembered the donation points system on the Nexus and I thought, hey, this quick little mod might be able to translate into at least a bit of assistance, however small," says Radbeetle. "And because it was fairly quick to put together, I figure even if it just raises ten bucks, that's a decent time/money ratio."
The mod took less than a day to make, but thanks to Nexus' donation points system, the benefit outweighs the cost.
Set live in May 2018, the donation points system offers a way for mod authors to profit from their hobby. Authors receive donation points, or DP, based on how many unique downloads their mods receive. Depending on the amount of DP banked, they can put it towards Steam keys (XCOM 2, for instance, costs 10,500 DP), PayPal payouts, and premium memberships entitling perks such as forum access and ad removal.
If authors are feeling particularly giving, they can choose to donate their DP to one of six charities. These are the Wildlife Conservation Society, Child's Play, The International Committee of the Red Cross, Make A Wish, Against Malaria, and Doctors Without Borders. "Some of them are not super relevant," says Radbeetle. "As important as, say, the Wildlife Conservation Society's work is, they're not a particularly fitting choice for this to go to. So I had it narrowed down to Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross. At the time I put it up I was very aware of how things were going in Italy (very seriously), and a cursory Google search showed me that DWB was doing work there so... they won out over the Red Cross."
Doctors Without Borders is an international humanitarian organisation focused on providing medical aid. It relies heavily on contributors, with private donors making up to 90% of its annual budget. Radbeetle is one of them, although it's slow going. "As many views as the mod has (over ten thousand at the time of writing), that's not translated into a lot of downloads," says Radbeetle. "Under 200 downloads and even fewer unique downloads." Nexus only counts unique downloads for DP, so you can't exploit the system by having friends download it thousands of times.
"The monthly report hasn't rolled in for March yet so I don't have the exact numbers but given the ratio is 1000 DP to $1, the answer to 'how much' is... probably just cents at this point." As with all acts of giving, it's not really about how much, but that you give in the first place. And besides, there's another benefit to Radbeetle's charity drive: signal boosting.
The hope is that exposure will raise awareness, and prompt people to donate to the charity directly, giving Doctors Without Borders more than the modest sum their download alone would generate. Radbeetle's page features a tab showing, in percentages, just where all those DPs are going. Anyone who visits it can clearly see Doctors Without Borders are getting 100% of the proceeds.
Not All Charity Mods Are Honest
Not every mod author is so forthcoming about where proceeds go to. Dishonesty has bred distrust in some corners of the modding community. In the comments section of Radbeetle's page, one user writes: "On a totally different board a similar action was taken and we were told ALL DONATIONS would go to charity. But, after the owner was given a PM asking for verification/validation, it was found, sadly, to be a scam, and was QUICKLY TAKEN DOWN. (I was one of the many that were fooled into this.)"
In a bid to stop the spread of disinformation, Radbeetle's disclaimer is hard to miss, stating in bold directly underneath the download tab: "All donation points from this mod have been opted into charity donation to Doctors Without Borders (this is, in fact, the entire motivation behind this mod's creation and upload)." Radbeetle doesn't actually take any monetary donations directly. It's all managed through the Nexus system in relation to unique downloads, reducing the chance of misuse. "None of it ever passes through my hands," Radbeetle says.
Of course, even factoring in potential donations on top of the money raised by DP, some may see the whole exercise as trivial. This is, broadly speaking, a quick and easy mod raising a comparatively miniscule sum for charity. But it's a case of someone with good intentions offering what help they can, and that shouldn't be overlooked. "I'm in a situation where there's not much, if anything, I can do personally to help. I don't have enough of an income to donate to organizations, whether local or not, though I've tried to help out some personal friends who have been affected more than I have." When it comes to charity, every little helps.
It's not the only unofficial coronavirus-themed content in Fallout 4. GlennCroft's Commonwealth Crisis mod slaps surgical masks on all humanoid NPCs, bringing the concept of social distancing to post-apocalyptic Boston. These masks are more than fashion accessories, giving the wearer protection from rads and poison. Walking into a settlement and seeing every inhabitant sporting face coverings, just as in supermarkets across the world, really does drive home the bizarreness of current events.
Meanwhile, in Fallout: New Vegas, creator JotunYmir made a mod that gives you coronavirus after eating the bat soup food item. The dreaded disease actually saps your health over time. Outside of a little black humor, it's hard to argue these mods hold the same importance as Radbeetle's, but it's a testament to the Fallout series that it continues to cultivate such an active and creative fanbase.
"It all comes down to the fact that Bethesda allows us to make this our world in whatever way we see fit," says Radbeetle. "The Fallout universe is ripe for stories, and there's so much to explore further, and the fact you can put those new stories in the game is really something. Bethesda has given us what I think is a wonderful game in a fascinating universe, and then given us the bricks to keep building up on it." For some, this means making a mod that helps a charity fight the worst pandemic in a hundred years.
Where Radbeetle's modding career goes from here is anyone's guess. "I'm tempted to retexture things like surgical masks, hazmat suits maybe. I'm kind of cautious because I am always a little worried people will think I'm not taking this seriously, I'm making fun of it, or somehow that I'm trying to profit off a pandemic, which is not my intention." This mod, simply, is one person trying to make a difference in the way that makes sense to them.
"I'm taking the whole situation quite seriously (and am in fact quite worried about it), but a touch of humor has always been part of my coping method. If I can laugh, even just a little, it keeps me from crying."