As developer Dave Villz and the team behind the popular VR FPS Pavlov VR wrap up their most recent patch, the title’s tight-knit modding community is pulling together to give representation to LGBTQ+ modders and players.
As with all modular games like Pavlov VR—a title which celebrates and nurtures its homegrown community of diehard modders—it’s common practice for the developer to occasionally release an update that reiterates their game’s core design so much that every instance of community-generated content ceases to function.
In response to Pavlov’s latest update, which brings the title up to par with Unreal Engine 4.21, its modding scene is capitalizing upon what it views as a perfect opportunity for some much-needed spring cleaning. Likewise, by openly flavoring one of the most popular custom maps in the game with trans-friendly messaging, one modder has captured the support of the community during what she believes is the touchstone moment to immortalize LGBTQ+ representation in the title’s legacy.
Jane (informally known as ZZZ—a handle that she mentioned wanting to abandon at some point) is both a transwoman and an up-and-comer within the game’s official community Discord channel. In order to get a clearer understanding of how Pavlov’s modding community has grown since this last major update
“I think when I got started [in August 2018], the average daily player count according to VRLFG.net was around 100. It ballooned to over 1000 at times during the holiday
“My choice of map was important,” she continued. “Nuketown and Facility are the all time most popular maps, and [the older versions were] very poorly optimized. They both got reworked by me from scratch for the latest update. It was a gift to the Pavlov VR community.”
Before dedicating her free time to revitalizing popular Pavlov creations for Unreal Engine 4.21, Jane trained (and continues to train) under the likes of Jhett and Mark Dey, two prolific modders who have worked on some of the most thoroughly trafficked custom maps in the game—and who were later hired by Dave Villz as first-party developers. That said, what many of Jane’s soon-to-be fans may not be aware of is how her identity as a transwoman has inspired much of the excitement and passion that she’s poured into her work.
“The ideas had been brewing for a while,” Jane wrote. “I had been adding rainbow graffiti to my Battle Royale work that was barely noticeable in the past. I wanted to make just one map that was a sort of monument to gamers like me.”
But rainbow graffiti was just a starting point for Jane, who moved progressively forward into including more overtly LGBTQ+ content into her maps. “I used some of my newfound skills to cross political lines that are usually forbidden for people trying to remain neutral,” she noted. “I started animating a rainbow flag, a trans flag, and sourcing other ideas for ways to add wholesome messages to the map.”
Having discovered that she could break what she previously considered a sociopolitical taboo in map design, Jane then turned her newfound confidence towards addressing the predominantly masculine social stigmas held towards both competitive first-person shooters—and by close association, the military.
For her, it’s not “just about flags or background scenery.” Jane was open about the fact that her current partner is a trans military vet, and that the two of them live with another trans military vet. “The current regime of the USA has recently placed a ban on trans people from serving in the military. This affects me, my partner, my friends, and my community directly.”
Jane’s message comes at a time when the Supreme Court of the United States, the Pentagon, and various branches of the United States Armed Forces are still scuffling with President Trump regarding a new policy (effective April 12) which enforces that troops must stick to their ‘biological sex’—a proverbial slap in the face to any individual who would like to serve, but never identified with their ‘biological’ designation in the first place.
When asked about her acts of resistance within the modding community, Jane noted that she “just wanted to produce something that says ‘Hey. We exist. We’re awesome. We’re a part of this community—and our rights (to serve in government) matter.’”
I asked Jane to clarify exactly how the core Pavlov VR development team and other members of the community have helped her develop her modding talents while cultivating her high esteem. For one, she credited her mentors above, Jhett and Mark Dey, for working personally with her for hours at a time. Jane noted that “they taught [her] the skills necessary to produce something of AAA quality.”
“Dave’s decided to at least partially shape his business around this phenomenon of community-generated content,” she continued. “He’s produced tools and patches ‘for me’ and for others at times to support our mods.”
It wasn’t just the support of the development team that was instrumental in Jane shaping her creative direction, however. The community also provided direct tips and workarounds for things like optimization snags—offering feedback that armed her with more ammo to make content of increasing quality as time went on and she became more involved with Pavlov.
“I had long conversations with the core dev team after they’d spent several hours enjoying [Nuketown],” Jane wrote. “They would share code snippets with me, saying things like ‘This dithering temporal anti-aliasing code will make your ground blend better with the cement and you won’t see straight lines there.’ This might be a bit technical, but when making things for VR, you are often trying to balance hardware demands with your desire for a pleasing visual aesthetic.”
With each consecutive update, Pavlov VR has become more friendly to modders like Jane—especially as Dave Villz, his team, and the broader modding community have developed a more symbiotic relationship over time. One thing that Jane was particularly impressed with, and credits part of her success to, is that she had a pool of testers within the community “who provided constant feedback and beta testing,” and is thankful about how beneficial that was for all parties involved.
“At times [Dave] provides tools like ‘better access to the core game’s variables’, so that we can make more clever mods such as Battle Royale,” Jane explains. “This requires significant work on his end. He’s not just opening up code; he’s abstracting it so that someone like me can just call functions and stuff that we’d need to get a system working.” It’s clear that the connection between the core team and the modders isn’t a one-way street, and it’s not just Jane who recognizes the time and effort that Villz has personally invested in making the title accessible to people in her position.
In fact, it’s likely fair to say that other modders and community members were emboldened by this, and some even followed in Jane’s footsteps. “Other modders and mappers saw what I did, and some of them showed their support by licensing the assets I created for incorporation into their own maps,” Jane wrote in the closing moments of our conversation. “My goal is to be wholesome. Supportive. Inclusive. And to show the best that any gaming community can offer.”
Hopefully, Jane’s work in the modding community manages to leave a lasting impact throughout the VR industry, proving that inclusion is more than welcome among VR gamers.
Update #20 is now available to all Pavlov VR players, including vastly improved visuals (ala Unreal Engine 4.21) as well as Steam Audio spatial processing and an entirely new weapon attachments system alongside remodels of all existing weapons. You can find Jane’s remastered versions of Nuketown (here) and Facility (here).