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Where the battlegrounds meet moral grounds.
November 27, 2008 8:18 AM   Subscribe

World of Warcraft's Wrath of the Lich King expansion involves a quest titled The Art of Persuasion. Richard Bartle, co-author of MUD (and pioneer of MMO gaming), speaks out against this: "Basically, you have to take some kind of cow poke and zap a prisoner until he talks. I'm not at all happy with this. I was expecting for there to be some way to tell the guy who gave you the quest that no, actually I don't want to torture a prisoner, but there didn't seem to be any way to do that..." (via)

"...I did zap him, pretty well in disbelief — I thought that surely the quest-giver would step in and stop it at some point? It didn't happen, though. Unless there's some kind of awful consequence further down the line, it would seem that Blizzard's designers are OK with breaking the Geneva convention."

"If you do decide to shock people, you need to flag up that you know you're shocking them. This is so they know it's an artistic statement and not that you think the shocking thing isn't shocking. This gives the impression that Blizzard thinks it's OK to torture prisoners, and that torture actually works."

What would Jonathan Blow think about this?

This has also been taken up at the WoW Forums, with somewhat less literacy.
posted by tybeet (167 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
1) It's a game.

2) There's a quest in the undead start zone where you poison a captured human

3) Jumping Jesus on a Pogo Stick, It's a Game!
posted by Mick at 8:21 AM on November 27, 2008 [10 favorites]


Oh, the things people complain about just to get their names in the news..
posted by scarello at 8:28 AM on November 27, 2008


"I was expecting for there to be some way to tell the guy who gave you the quest that no, actually I don't want to torture a prisoner, but there didn't seem to be any way to do that..."

Holy shit...

You don't HAVE to do the quest, dummy! Just abandon it. No one is holding a gun to your head. You're the one that accepted the damn thing, if you don't feel comfortable doing it, just drop it.

FFS, you can level through the whole game without doing a quest if you like.

Breaking the Geneva convention? Yeah, right. Talk about exaggerating. So I guess Vladimir Nabokov supported paedophilia, and countless authors support wanton murder, rape, genocide, what have you.

Some people are just too much...
posted by splice at 8:29 AM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Theres also a quest in the Blood-Elf start zone where you have to murder a Dwarven diplomat suspected of spying for the Alliance.

I think this is proof that Blizzard supports badly-written spy novels -- which does count as a type of torture, I suppose.
posted by Avenger at 8:29 AM on November 27, 2008


I'm no WoW follower, nor do I like to think of myself as an apologist for torture (to put it mildly), but I'm suddenly struck with the image of all these realism-seeking settings having medieval torture rooms full of equipment with absolutely no use.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:31 AM on November 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


I remember this one time I totally left a landmine out for someone playing on xbox live and it killed him but then I thought that it means Microsoft is OK with breaking the Geneva Convention!!!1
posted by Jairus at 8:32 AM on November 27, 2008


Its.... a game?
posted by TravellingDen at 8:35 AM on November 27, 2008


I'm a long-time WoW player and I must agree I find the Lich King expansion noticeably darker than the original game. This centers around the new death knight characters that players may use, which begin life as level 55 characters. There are several disturbing quests, including the first death knight quest where you kill an imprisoned dwarf woman and another where you torture an Avalon citizen until they talk.
Now, WoW is a battle game where the whole point is to kill or be killed. But the narrative has always been that you're battling for your race's survival or your faction's survival.
But these more intimate, one-on-one torture quests perhaps go too far. I think the new expansion death knight character itself -- for the first two levels -- is disturbing because you're basically an agent of evil. Even the Horde (the uglier and nastier of two factions in the game) didn't think of itself as evil.
But between level 55 and level 57 as a death knight, you're basically a stone-cold killer who exterminates a village of innocents on the Lich King's orders. (About level 57 the death knight rebels against the Lich King and basically switches sides to fight him.)
I welcome counter arguments.
posted by capilano at 8:38 AM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Fuckin' crap, man. It's not like we'd ever let this happen in the real world.

...what?
posted by Tbola at 8:38 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Rendition is also a game....right?
posted by honest knave at 8:38 AM on November 27, 2008


Actually I think you do have to do the quest, as it's part of the Death Knight questline, and required to move on to the next quest, which is required to advance the storyline, which you have to complete to move out of the Death Knight starting area, etc etc.

However, one could also complain that--as an undead servant who's basically mind-controlled by the Lich King, arguably the greatest villain Warcraft has ever seen--you must also kill many many unarmed civilians, and to do so you may poison them, freeze them, suck the life out of them, and many inventive and fun combinations of the three. That you end up breaking away from the Lich King's control and redeem yourself through heroic acts through the majority of the game seems to be lost on many commentators of this part of the game's content.

Also? WHAT THE FUCK MR. BARTLE ARE YOU TRYING TO TAKE JACK THOMPSON'S PLACE?
posted by WolfDaddy at 8:38 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, just to be clear, you're all ok with torture as presented in 24?
Are all of metafilter's liberals off cooking their tofu today?
posted by Richard Daly at 8:46 AM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


This sort of thing came up awhile back because of the representation of torture on the television show 24.
posted by The White Hat at 8:51 AM on November 27, 2008


The fact that they don't give you a waterboarding option is what sucks here. And I didn't know that WoW or Blizzard were signatories to the Geneva convention. Who knew?
posted by cjorgensen at 8:52 AM on November 27, 2008


It's "just" a game. And 24 is "just" a TV program.

Bartle nails this one; it's not just that there's torture in WoW; it's that the game design endorses it. Blizzard designed this quest in a way that encourages players to think of the infliction of severe pain on prisoners is justified by the greater good.

Yes, the player could choose to refuse, but everything about the quest is engineered to obscure the moral choices involved. The quest is presented in the same "go do a good deed" framework as the usual "X is preying on helpless victims; go kill it" quest. Avoid the quest, and you'll stay stuck at level 71 forever (in a universe where progression through levels is the "natural" order of things). There are no further consequences from making either choice; there's no voice inside the game pointing out that there is a moral choice at all. And look at the way the quest is framed: our lawful-neutral code of conduct won't let us do this, but you, the player, are free to ignore the quant restrictions of the Geneva Conventions, I mean the Kirin Tor.

There's plenty of room here for good gameplay, and Richard Bartle has long been on the front lines of arguing that game designers should be able to explore all sorts of difficult topics. But this design renders torture banal; it's an Eichmannian part of the grind.
posted by grimmelm at 8:52 AM on November 27, 2008 [16 favorites]


On one hand, yeah it's a game, on the other hand would it be as "meh" if the idea was to convince NPCs to be suicide bombers or to rape a character? The issue isn't content alone, it's in the context of the whole game- people play WoW for a mostly PG-13 experience content wise.

I'm not going to say it's any MORE disturbing than the general trend in US media of "Torture: We do it because we must, because we can", but yeah - when I go play games/watch movies/read books about elves and dwarves, that's because I want a break from thinking about the evil of real life- I want a big dragon that I can beat down as opposed to massive complex problems that simple minded people think get solved with bombs and waterboarding.
posted by yeloson at 8:54 AM on November 27, 2008 [7 favorites]


Actually I think you do have to do the quest, as it's part of the Death Knight questline

No, this quest is not part of the Death Knight starter quests. If I recall it's part of the quests for the Wrathgate. You don't need to do them.

Your point stands that the Death Knight quests can be equally horrible. However if you're roleplaying an evil character you've got to expect that you'll do evil things in the game. You don't play Manhunt to pick roses and watch some birds, and you don't roll Death Knight to pet puppies and give lollipops to children.

It's just a game.
posted by splice at 8:55 AM on November 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


Seconding WolfDaddy. I recall doing the quest chain (and yes, the quest in question is required), and it is pretty clear throughout that you are under the direct control of the Lich King, and have little or no free will of your own, and virtually no recollection of being anything other than a undead killing machine. You're told fairly clearly to "fight his [the Lich King's] control" by an NPC you eventually have to kill.
And for the record, I don't have any problems with protraying torture in film or on TV, by Jack Bauer or anyone else. Because sensible people know damn well it is fiction, and will be inspired to think hard about the moral problems raised by it. And if we shut down every mode of expression which might touch off decidedly unsensible people, then we would have to go back to painting on cave walls.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:59 AM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


So, just to be clear, you're all ok with torture as presented in 24?
Are all of metafilter's liberals off cooking their tofu today?


Well I'm not really ok with monarchies, either, but I'm probably not going to complain too loudly about them in medieval period pieces, am I?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:00 AM on November 27, 2008 [12 favorites]


Ah, splice, I stand corrected. There is a similar quest for Death Knights that you MUST do, and I obviously confused the two. Rant retracted for now.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:01 AM on November 27, 2008


The only way to win be a conscientious objector is not to play.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:02 AM on November 27, 2008


"There are several disturbing quests, including the first death knight quest where you kill an imprisoned dwarf woman and another where you torture an Avalon citizen until they talk."
"I recall doing the quest chain (and yes, the quest in question is required), and it is pretty clear throughout that you are under the direct control of the Lich King, and have little or no free will of your own, and virtually no recollection of being anything other than a undead killing machine."

These do not refer to the quest in the article, which is why lots of people are saying the quest is not required. The one in the article isn't.
posted by edd at 9:02 AM on November 27, 2008


They should have gone for more interesting commentary when your torture victim gives up falsified information to stop the torture, and later on you find out he was in fact innocent.

That would require storytelling skill, though.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:03 AM on November 27, 2008 [14 favorites]


it's not just that there's torture in WoW; it's that the game design endorses it.

This has long been part of the conversation regarding violence in film, but it's rather difficult to draw a line between glamorized or sympathetic (or idealized) perpetration of violence and other kinds (unless you like heavy-handed moralistic tales). Not to say there isn't a place for that objection, but in all the time that conversation has been going on, I've never seen a sensible answer to the question how sympathetic can the perpetrators be? I mean it's not something you can quantify.

In video games you also have the, for lack of a better word, cartooniness factor. So "Destroy All Humans" gets a pass, while Manhunt does not.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:05 AM on November 27, 2008


I recently played Fallout 3, and had a similar experience. Spoliers follow.

I said, spoilers follow.

SPOILERS FOLLOW
SPOILERS FOLLOW
SPOILERS FOLLOW
SPOILERS FOLLOW
SPOILERS FOLLOW


I'm talking to this one shopkeeper, who it's clear is a real jerk. At one point, it comes out in conversation that his bodyguard was brainwashed starting from infancy that he had to unquestioningly serve and protect whoever held his "contract". Essentially, this guy was brainwashed into thinking that he must be a complete and utter slave. The shopkeeper offers to sell me his contract, for the right price, and warns that that price is very high.

So I think to myself, great, I'll buy the contract, and then give it to the brainwashed guy.

The price that the shopkeeper wants is an absurd amount of money, the likes of which I've never seen or had use for before. So I spend hours and hours explicitly searching for money and things I can sell. Eventually, I get enough, go back to the shop, and buy the contract.

I walk up to the brainwashed guy, and tell him the situation. He says "excuse me for a moment", walks over to the shopkeeper, and slaughters him, which I kind of expected would happen. The brainwashed guy walks back over to me, and tells me something like "OK, I'm ready to follow you around now."

At this point, I expect to have some sort of option like "Here, take your contract. You're free, man. Bye."

But there is none. I am only given options like "Let's talk about tactics", "Let's trade equipment", "Follow me", and "Wait here while I scout ahead". Plus, "You're fired."

So I think, uh, I guess "You're fired" is the way to go?

I try it out. He tells me that I still hold his contract, and that he will therefore wait right here in this very spot until I come back to tell him to start doing stuff for me.

Hrm. So, I try "Let's trade equipment" - maybe the contract is listed in what I can give him.

It is not.

I back out of the conversation, and look in my inventory. His contract is present in it. So I think maybe I just missed it when I was trading equipment with him. I try "Let's trade equipment" again. The contract is not listed. I double check. I triple check. It's not there.

So I back out of the conversation again, and think "maybe if I just drop the contract right in front of his face". I look in my inventory again, select the contract, and push the "drop" button.

The game tells me that I "cannot drop a Quest Item". I assume this is the same reason it wasn't listed in the "Let's trade equipment" dialog.

So, because I wanted to free a slave, I am now a fucking slave owner, and I have no way to stop myself from being one. Gee, thanks, game designers.
posted by Flunkie at 9:07 AM on November 27, 2008 [24 favorites]


No, this quest is not part of the Death Knight starter quests. If I recall it's part of the quests for the Wrathgate

Whoops. He's right, I was thinking of a different quest: How To Win Friends and Influence Enemies. That'll teach me not to read the links thoroughly.
Similar concept, though, and (in Bartle's eyes) similar issues, I'd imagine.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:07 AM on November 27, 2008


I'm still waiting for Gandhi: The MMORPG.
posted by naju at 9:08 AM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Just to add: this was one of the first comments made after a second viewing of The Matrix when it was new in the theatres: wow, that bank scene was really violent. I mean really. I mean, simply not permissible in the 80's kind of violent. But the plot sets it up so: a) this is not the "real" world, and b) all these people could at any instant become an Agent. So... you must kill them all. Now. Quickly. It's pretty convenient, but I don't recall a lot of handwringing about it, partly due to how awesometastic they made it look.

This conversation taking place after the 2nd viewing because, of course, all we could say after the first viewing was: "Whoah."
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:09 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


The quest being talked about is actually a questline in the Borean Tundra at Amber Ledge, not a Death Knight quest. I believe if this quest isn't accomplished, you won't unlock the Coldarra flight point through questing, but would have to be summoned to The Nexus in Coldarra and then run up to grab the flight point yourself. (I'm a little iffy on that.)

I happened to be in the Beta for Wrath of the Lich King and, unlike most people, I took my responsibilities as a beta tester seriously. I commented on just about every quest I did. For this particular one, I wrote a scathing review, explaining that, as a paladin, there is no way to justify this sort of distasteful act and that either the quest should be removed or redesigned so that we can say "I'd really rather not". Or something. Clearly, they didn't listen to me. ;)

It's one thing to be working as one of the Lich King's minions, a Death Knight. I don't really have issue with that, because afterwards, you basically come to your senses and stop doing "bad" things. But the quest in question really struck me as being anti-WoW. Sure, it's a game and sure, there are a million other things wrong with the world that people should be upset about, but to be expected to torture someone, even an NPC, even virtually, really didn't sit well with me.

Bloggers are mentioning it as they level, too.
posted by juliebug at 9:09 AM on November 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


And for the record, I don't have any problems with protraying torture in film or on TV, by Jack Bauer or anyone else. Because sensible people know damn well it is fiction, and will be inspired to think hard about the moral problems raised by it.
A sitting Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America has explicitly referenced the television show 24 as to why we cannot place restrictions, such as "no torture allowed", on the government's treatment of prisoners.
posted by Flunkie at 9:09 AM on November 27, 2008 [13 favorites]


Long live free expression. He's welcome to express his disgust, but I think his time would be better spent trying to write an uberpopular game that portrays torture in a more socially responsible manner.

But honestly, isn't this game based on going around slaughtering people? Kind of like complaining that handguns shouldn't be given to children because they might poke their eyes out, innit?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:10 AM on November 27, 2008


and I have no way to stop myself from being one
After all that time spent grinding for the money to get this guy's contract, you didn't save the game before purchasing it? Rule of most RPG's that allow you the use of saves whenever you like? Save before every major decision.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:13 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Bartle nails this one; it's not just that there's torture in WoW; it's that the game design endorses it. Blizzard designed this quest in a way that encourages players to think of the infliction of severe pain on prisoners is justified by the greater good.

You're being totally obtuse. Bartle himself says he has no problem with a torture scenario existing in a video game. This has nothing to do with whether videogames companies encourage one moral philosophy over another. It has to do with whether or not Blizzard designers consider torture as part of game strategy or reduce it to simple gameplay. As in, right-click twice to dunk the captive's head in tub of water. Left click to electrocute him?

Honestly, with games like GTA on the market, I don't see how "endorsing" torture is any more problematic than endorsing domestic violence or drivebys.
posted by phaedon at 9:18 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


After all that time spent grinding for the money to get this guy's contract, you didn't save the game before purchasing it? Rule of most RPG's that allow you the use of saves whenever you like? Save before every major decision.
I greatly dislike using save files as "take backs", especially in games like this. For me, it destroys the immersive nature of the game, which is more or less the point of the game. For the same reason, I greatly dislike going back and playing such games a second time with a different character or making different choices.

To be clear, I'm not saying that other people shouldn't do this. It's completely fine with me if they do it. I just don't like doing it myself.
posted by Flunkie at 9:18 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Were I Blizzard, I would just have the prisoner give up false information that leaves your character in some worse situation.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:23 AM on November 27, 2008 [7 favorites]


Flunkie: So, because I wanted to free a slave, I am now a fucking slave owner, and I have no way to stop myself from being one. Gee, thanks, game designers.

If it's any consolation, you can steal Abraham Lincoln's rifle from a museum and then use it to slaughter an entire city of slavers in that game. I think Charon was just badly implemented, and wasn't really meant for 'good' characters to get in the first place.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:24 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just to recap:

1) World of Warcraft is about a world at War. You kill things. A lot of things. You kill and kill and kill.

2) There's a class with an entire skill devoted to the art of stealing.

3) This is a fantasy setting, so expect women to be objectified (i.e. there is more than one set of plate armor pants in the game that when put on a female avatar becomes a thong).

If you wanted to play Fluffy Bunnies Online, it's down the hall and to the left.

That being said, I did have some trouble with the quest at hand. Then again, I had similar trouble with the "evil" options presented to me in Fable and Fable 2. At no moment was I required to do those parts of those games.
posted by thanotopsis at 9:29 AM on November 27, 2008


Were I Blizzard, I would just have the prisoner give up false information that leaves your character in some worse situation.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:23 AM on November 27 [1 favorite -] Favorite added! [!]


You sir, are a genius.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:30 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's not torture, it's advanced interrogation technique.
posted by qvantamon at 9:31 AM on November 27, 2008


I quite enjoyed it. Both the Death Knight one and the Amber Ledge quest were interesting, but the Death Knight quest was more challenging- you used two red-hot weapons to torture multiple people while they fought you, until one of them confessed- all you did at Amber Ledge was use a sort of magical neural induction probe on a chained prisoner- much less interesting.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 9:40 AM on November 27, 2008


Would you kindly demonstrate the manner in which the Milgram Expreiment can be applied to a glame-playing scenario?
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:41 AM on November 27, 2008


Would you kindly correct my spelling as well?
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:42 AM on November 27, 2008


For this particular one, I wrote a scathing review, explaining that, as a paladin, there is no way to justify this sort of distasteful act and that either the quest should be removed or redesigned so that we can say "I'd really rather not". Or something. Clearly, they didn't listen to me.

Again, no one is holding a gun to your head.

When you clicked to get the quest, what you had to do was explained to you. There were two buttons at the bottom of the quest window. They were "Accept" and "Decline".

If the quest was so repulsive to you, why didn't you press "Decline"?

Why are people complaining about not getting the option to not do the quest when the button is RIGHT THERE? Press "Decline". Simple. Easy. But then you don't get to complain about how the quest is evil and distasteful.

YOU HAVE THE OPTION TO NOT DO THE QUEST. YOU HAVE THE OPTION TO DECLINE. It's not complicated. Acting like you're all forced to torture virtual beings is ridiculous. Not only do you get the option to refuse, not only can you drop the quest after accepting, you don't even have to look at it in the first place.
posted by splice at 9:43 AM on November 27, 2008 [6 favorites]


meh, EQ of course had the same thing... kill a prisoner in a jail cell who turned out to be innocent or something.

parents complained but people camped him 24/7
posted by Zangal at 9:47 AM on November 27, 2008


Um, someone earlier said this particular story is part of the process that leads your Dark Knight character to revolt, to change sides. In that context, it makes sense for your character to do repulsive things in order to justify your change of heart -- and I think it speaks well to the choice they made that people are feeling personally conflicted about these virtual actions. Quite brilliant, really.
posted by davejay at 9:48 AM on November 27, 2008


This incident and 24 have something important in common: they both put forward the pernicious and discredited notion that torture works. That if you scoop up one of the bad guys, break his will through prolonged physical and psychological agony, he'll not only cough up information, it will be both true and precisely what you're looking for.

Now politicians may be uncommonly stupid, but if some of them were deriving incorrect and unchallenged assumptions about the nature and efficacy of torture from 24, I don't see how an interactive experience where you play the torturer, your torture is effective, and legal restrictions are handwaved away in a goddamned-piece-of-paper manner will be any less potent, particularly for younger players. (I'm referring here to the Kirin Tor quest, one of several torture quests in the expansion, rather than those offered by factions recognized as evil or depraved.)

This isn't a 'think of the children' request for censorship. But it is a request that, if media creators choose to touch upon hot-button issues, they do so in a way that is accurate with the facts, that allows for a variety of choices and that reflects the ramifications of those choices. Here, you torture the prisoner, he screams and resists a bit before talking, you receive money and experience points and then walk away (although, if you're so inclined, you can continue to torture him for as long as you like). If you refuse, the narrative simply cuts off, without even a token dialogue option to express disgust, let alone some means of addressing ZOMG THE KIRIN TOR ARE BRUTALIZING PRISONERS.
posted by Makoto at 9:48 AM on November 27, 2008 [6 favorites]


Justice Scalia is not a sensible person who knows damn well it's fiction, I guess.

We can't have this both ways.
Either art and literature and storytelling are powerful, or they are not.
If a work can make us better people, then it can make us worse, too.

No, I'm not arguing for censorship.
I'm not Tipper Gore or Jack Thompson.

But the idea that games should be immune to criticism because they're games is silly.
Something like 11 Million people play WoW.
Some of those people were just presented with the idea, "Torture is an expedient and accurate interrogation method, without adverse consequence, and for which there may be rewards."

I understand that humans are an aggressive lot, and that the things we do for fun aren't always going to be pretty.
But the responsible thing to do is to acknowledge this and every once in a while say, "Hey! This torture thing we're doing for fun? Maybe that's kind of a problem, you know?"
posted by Richard Daly at 9:50 AM on November 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


All I know is that I felt bad killing the mammoths because you get "tagged" with blood for 3min.
posted by jmmpangaea at 9:52 AM on November 27, 2008


Would you kindly demonstrate the manner in which the Milgram Expreiment can be applied to a glame-playing scenario?

Experimental Group A: Death Knight stands over your shoulder and repeats: "It is absolutely essential that you continue."

Experimental Group B: Death Knight stands 10 feet away and commands: "It is absolutely essential that you continue."

Experimental Group C: Death Knight repeats statement spoken to groups A and B, but he wears a special Tabard of Authority. No game effect, but it sure makes him look important.

Experimental Group D: Death Knight issues commands through a nearby Magic Mouth. It has sensuous lips, which you find unsettling.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:52 AM on November 27, 2008 [12 favorites]


Gaming is about living vicariously in ways we can't IRL. Different games offer different levels of departure from RL, and there are definitely games that encourage you to let your inner evil bastard out, from GTA all the way back to Death Race. You enter these games knowing the goal is to create as much havoc as possible.

WoW is not this kind of game. It's a game where you are stronger, more skilled, faster, smarter, and better equipped than IRL, but you are not working toward a goal of destroying the very fabric of the game. And I would say that inserting this kind of step into the game fabric, where the correct move is to torture the prisoner and this is necessary to get what we assume will be correct information to advance the game, that there is no possibility of working around the step or that the prisoner will try to save himself by lying, is at a minimum really bad game design.

Oh, and did I read that in this medieval set-piece the implement of torture is a cattle prod? Like I said, really bad game design.
posted by localroger at 9:57 AM on November 27, 2008


So it's just a game. Do we play games to escape reality or train for it? Enough of both, I think, to be disturbed by this.
posted by klarck at 10:06 AM on November 27, 2008


Are all of metafilter's liberals off cooking their tofu today?

I don't know about everyone else, but my tofukery is still marinating in white liberal guilt. When it's ready, I'm going to grill it over scorching flames of self-loathing, and sit down with my family and give thanks to Barack Obama for erasing our sins.

But until then, I have time to hang around on MeFi.

Can someone who's more familiar with Warcraft than I am explain something: Are the characters who perform the torture villains? The sense that I've gotten from friends who play is that Warcraft is a pretty morally ambiguous game (i.e., no totally good and no totally bad sid, with one side more ambiguous than the other), but that could be because they're liberals and all into, like, cultural relativism and stuff.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:07 AM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure about my position on the quest in question. When I encountered it in game, it did give me pause and I re-read the quest text to ensure that I knew what was going on. I believe I didn't even use the provided object, but was in close proximity to someone else on the same stage of the questline. Or I may have shocked the guy, not sure. I did make a joke aloud (in the game at least) about the quest being designed by Bush.

Some interesting points for further discussion:
- In the same area there's a PETA-like organization (DEHTA or Druids for the Ethical and Humane Treatment of Animals) ) that requests you bring back the ears of the minion's of this big game hunter type named Harold Lane. Oh, and ultimately requires you to group with other people to "Assassinate" Lane. They even provide you with a trinket that will summon a herd of stampeding mammoth to assist with the assassination. Where's the moral quandary about animal abuse? Or outright murder?

- In the same area after killing a beast or animal (even one that is hostile and will attack you if you get too close) you're given a 3 min. aura that colours your entire body red and will make DEHTA attack you if you approach them while the aura is active. You can wait the full duration or you can jump in a lake... really, submerging yourself in water removes the aura. There's even a picture of an innocent looking baby seal that appears in a corner of your screen

- It seems like it'd be possible to give a similar aura upon zapping the prisoner. Maybe just even a visual effect with some flavour text like "No matter how many times you wash your hands..." and make it persist until the quest chain is completed.

- It's a well known joke that in the fantasy world of Azeroth (where WoW takes places) even the animals are different. Any quest that has you retrieving 4 boar tusks will have you killing much more that 4. The quest I mentioned from to bring back the poacher's ears resulted in some guys having 2, 1, or 0 ears.

- If you want to play they game without killing anyone, it's possible to do. Read about Noor the pacifist. He even runs around with a fishing pole equipped so that he can't accidentally level his fighting skill.
posted by now i'm piste at 10:09 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, and here's more info about the Animal Blood buff I mentioned.
posted by now i'm piste at 10:13 AM on November 27, 2008


So was that quest any worse than some of the many other quests where I was asked to go and wipe out entire villages, killing every man, woman, and child, and then burn down their homes? Was it worse than being asked to slaughter herds of various animals? Drop bombs on cities? What about the one where I had to desecrate corpses by chopping them up? Admittedly, I haven' t finished all the WotLK content, but I'm pretty sure that's only the tip of the iceberg.

Not to mention that one time I played that game where a gorilla was throwing barrels at me. You don't even want to know what I did to him!
posted by blue_beetle at 10:18 AM on November 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


splice, when I originally did the quest, I did so as a beta tester. I wanted to see what would happen and then comment on it. I did. Of course they're not obliged to take all my comments to heart, but I did what a beta tester should do -- I explored the content and I gave my feedback.

Further, I never said I was being forced to torture someone. I said I was expected to torture someone. There's a difference. I completed the quest on beta, absolutely. And I gave Blizzard feedback with regards to the quest. I didn't like it. Will I do it again? I levelled elsewhere on live, so I very well may never have to do that quest again. Which suits me just fine.

I completely agree that it's just a game and that there are options available to those who don't wish to do the quest; but the discussion I'm interested in having is more along the lines of why is this quest in the game? Why is the Kirin Tor asking questers to do this action? You can't argue that we're not being asked to do so, because if you play out that section of the game, you are, so my question isn't "why are you making me do this Blizz????" but rather "Why was this quest put into the game and how are people going to react to it?".

It's fun to see the discussion surrounding this quest on the blue. That's mostly what interests me, not the game mechanics of being able to accept or decline a quest.
posted by juliebug at 10:21 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Are the characters who perform the torture villains?

It's not that simplistic, although the answer is "not really". They're technically on the "good guys" side, but honestly after all the killing you have to do to get to that point, good and bad become pretty murky.

Even torturers at Guantanamo have families.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:21 AM on November 27, 2008


really, submerging yourself in water removes the aura

Meaning, of course, that you can slaughter all the whales you encounter in Borean Tundra entirely without consequence from DEHTA.

I believe this irony is intentional.
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:21 AM on November 27, 2008


A sitting Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America has explicitly referenced the television show 24 as to why we cannot place restrictions, such as "no torture allowed", on the government's treatment of prisoners.

Scalia's point was simply that sensible people wouldn't object to hurting someone if (i) the person was known with great certainty to be involved in a plot to nuke a major city, and (ii) it was known with great certainty that hurting the person was the only way to avoid the city being nuked.

This is merely to say that people who claim to hold the position "torture can never be permissible" either aren't sensible or are mistaken about their own views (it happens). As a result, "torture can never be permissible" is not a particularly helpful contribution to the debate about when torture actually should be allowed.

He wasn't confusing a TV show with reality, or thinking that TV shows should guide US policy.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:23 AM on November 27, 2008


Ah, yes, it's just a game. Let's change this from torture, which, strangely, nobody seems to mind being an option, to a few other things that are generally considered morally reprehensible.

To complete the Seven Dunes of Atalla Quest and level up, you must rape a cowering woman.

To complete the Drawrven Wonder Quest, you must build and operate a death camp for seven moon cycles.

To complete the Finnian's Gold Quest, you must kill seven children while dressed as a clown and bury them in your basement.

To complete the Tomb of Heracles Quest, you must open fire indiscriminately in a high school.


There are ethics to game design, just as there are ethics to any sort of human activity. It's not that these game designers are breaking the Geneva Convention, which is a silly thing to argue, it is that they have included in their gameplay a grotesque, reprehensible act that is done without commentary and for entertainment. It is entirely fair to call the game creators out on this, just as people have rightly called out 24 for it's mindless use of torture as a tactic.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:25 AM on November 27, 2008 [11 favorites]


Are all of metafilter's liberals off cooking their tofu today?

i'm trying but the bacon keeps sliding off
posted by pyramid termite at 10:30 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


You know, I think it's interesting that there are some lines in gaming that just don't get crossed, like rape and torture, despite the fact that we've crossed the 'murder of innocent people' line so many times that we've worn a furrow in it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:30 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


There are ethics to game design, just as there are ethics to any sort of human activity.

Dude, get over it. Practically every game I've ever played since the beginning of time involves killing. There are no ethics to game design.
posted by phaedon at 10:32 AM on November 27, 2008


Just to be clear... you're arguing that there can never be ethics to any sort of game design?
Do you feel this way about movies, too?
Books?
Real life?
posted by Richard Daly at 10:38 AM on November 27, 2008


Oh shut the fuck up.

I've killed hundreds - hey, thousands - of warlocks, rogues, paladins, mages, shaman, furbogs, blood elves, wolves, spiders, bats, birds, kobolds, orcs, humans, dwarves, gnomes (oh, gnomes!), ghouls, and ghosts. The game is called World of Warcraft for a reason, and I'm supposed to get excited about this?

Sometimes I think life was better when it was cold and brutal and short and we didn't have time and luxury to sit on our thumbs and play games like this and, worse yet, sit on our thumbs and think about these utterly ridiculous arguments.
posted by kbanas at 10:38 AM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dude, get over it.

Hm ... how about "no" an answer. And I'm not very comfortable with the "murder of innocent people" element in games either. It's worth noting that, while it is very easy to deliberately kill innocent people in a game like Grand Theft Auto, it's not built into the regular missions. It's just something that you can decide to go off and do. The missions themselves tend to be criminal versus criminal, and you actually are playing a character who is established as being a bad guy in that. The ethical lines are more clearly drawn there, even though it's a game that takes great delight in carnage.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:40 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


What a persuasive argument.
"LA LA LA, I'M NOT THINKING!"
posted by Richard Daly at 10:40 AM on November 27, 2008


Sometimes I think life was better when it was cold and brutal and short and we didn't have time and luxury to sit on our thumbs and play games like this and, worse yet, sit on our thumbs and think about these utterly ridiculous arguments.

You know that's crazy talk.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:42 AM on November 27, 2008


It's worth noting that, while it is very easy to deliberately kill innocent people in a game like Grand Theft Auto, it's not built into the regular missions.

KIIIIIILL FRENZY!!

Point taken about regular missions, but I mean, c'mon -- see how many bystanders you can kill with X weapon. Now how about Y weapon? Note: kill the required number and make the police magically lose interest in you. Gotta kill just 3 more! Just 3 more!!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:45 AM on November 27, 2008


Yes. And you are a psychotic killer in that game. I'm not saying the ethical lines are absolutely clear in this game, but they are far more clearly drawn than in the WoW scenario we are addressing, in which characters who are not presupposed to be evil and given to torture are presented with a mission in which the only way to complete it is to torture, and that the results of this mission are completely neutral. Even Jack Bauer expresses misgivings about his use of torture.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:49 AM on November 27, 2008


I'll have to defer to those who know more about that, AZ, since there seems to be some disagreement about where this shows up in the game and to what degree you can refuse to do it.

I do agree with juliebug that the issue here may be simple encouragement to complete the goal, and the interesting bit the lines that people object to while others... what line?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:57 AM on November 27, 2008


I guess my biggest complaint is that it's just bad fantasy. Sure, it's a game, and it's unreal, but fantasy is only well-made if it's unreality is believable and consistent. We wouldn't like Space Invaders if, every so often, our guns didn't work or the screen went black. We wouldn't like Pac Man if the ghosts could just pass through the walls without warning. We wouldn't like Star Trek if the characters could start to breathe out in space without explanation. And we wouldn't like Lord of the Rings if Gandalf took off his white cloak, put on a black one, and went out and just started killing prostitutes. Yes, World of Warcraft is set in a fantastical world that is at war.

If torture had been built into the gameplay from the start, and everybody knew what it meant and what the repercussion were, then fine, it's part of the gameplay and you can choose to play the game or not (although I think it would still be worth discussing what it means that there is a game in which torture is regularly done). But here it sounds as though torture is a new element, and is presented without any thought at all, or any repercussions, and, even in something that is "just a game," this is a rather bad way to do it. It breaks the consistency of the already established fantastical world, and yet behaves as though something that raises a whole host of questions needn't be considered at all. Suddenly we're Gandalf, knife in hand, standing behind a prostitute, and to just say, oh, it's a fantasy, and you can just say no if you like, seems to me the words of someone who doesn't really respect fantasy.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:09 AM on November 27, 2008


Anecdotal, I know, but I have completed this particular quest-line, and amazingly I still do not condone the torture of actual living beings. BLIZZ UR DOING IT WRONG.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:17 AM on November 27, 2008


The whole damn game is either killing or walking. Sometimes you fly.
If the game is all about killing, why is torture a problem?

It occurs to me that part of the issue, from a game design perspective, may be one of mechanics.
Killing people? That's got a lot of mechanics. Spell cooldown, damage per second, armor, buffs, you name it.
When you're killing, what you're really doing is completing a complex tactical puzzle.

This torture stuff? No mechanics other than "press the button." There's nothing to distract you from the game's narrative of, "You're torturing this person." No other point or objective to the gameplay. The game isn't asking, "Can you successfully puzzle your way to torturing this guy?" It just wants to know, "Will you do it?"

And the answer the game supports is "Yes."
There are no complications, risks or mixed outcomes from choosing to torture.
There is no acknowledgment or reward for choosing not to torture. It's just another quest you didn't take or complete.
posted by Richard Daly at 11:18 AM on November 27, 2008


Astro Zombie: Suddenly we're Gandalf, knife in hand, standing behind a prostitute, and to just say, oh, it's a fantasy, and you can just say no if you like, seems to me the words of someone who doesn't really respect fantasy.

Except at least in the Death Knight example, you're not Gandalf, you're the Witch-King of Angmar. It would be rather out of character if you weren't willing to torture someone.

Not everyone plays a white knight of flawless good in these games. If people who do are getting torture quests, that's bad game decision - but if evil characters get them, that's almost to be expected.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:20 AM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


If the game is all about killing, why is torture a problem?

Because in the real world there are situations where killing is considered ethical, but torture is not. It's a different beast, even in a game.

And if the quest doesn't address torture other than something that you do, just by pressing a button, and there are no ramifications other than you complete the quest, then why include it at all?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:24 AM on November 27, 2008


Not everyone plays a white knight of flawless good in these games. If people who do are getting torture quests, that's bad game decision - but if evil characters get them, that's almost to be expected.

I agree. I'm not saying that torture shouldn't be included in games at all. But even when evil characters do it, I feel like it should be treated with care. Evil characters would also rape and commit genocide, and these are not the sorts of things that should be just tossed in.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:27 AM on November 27, 2008


We wouldn't like Space Invaders if, every so often, our guns didn't work or the screen went black.
Why not? "Your gun is jammed" doesn't seem like it would kill the game to me. In fact, there are popular games in which your gun occassionally does stop working.

Admittedly, "screen goes black" seems a little extreme, but I could imagine contexts in which even that would be OK, perhaps even making the game better. Why can't some of the aliens fire blinding flares at you instead of lasers?

And again, there are popular games in which you occasionally are temporarily blinded.
We wouldn't like Pac Man if the ghosts could just pass through the walls without warning.
Again, why not? Why would the game be horrible if Pac Man was limited to the tubes, but ghosts could sometimes pass directly through walls?

You seem to be arguing "If Space Invaders and Pac Man were different, they would be different." Well, uh, yeah, I agree with that. I just don't see why it follows that we would therefore necessarily dislike them.
We wouldn't like Star Trek if the characters could start to breathe out in space without explanation.
Oh, come on. Star Trek? Are you serious?

There was an episode wherein the Enterprise happened upon an exact duplicate of earth, a bazillion light years away from our earth. I mean, exact. Look, there's Africa.

The crew commented on how strange this seemed, and wondered how it could be. Then they beamed down, and the episode quickly became not about "exact duplicate of earth", but about "save the (earth) kids on the (earth) planet from the nasty disease."

The (earth) kids were so saved, and the Enterprise happily zoomed away at warp speed, finishing the episode. "Why is it an exact copy of earth" was never explained, and I think never even mentioned or thought about outside of the first three minutes (or so) of the episode.

Star Trek is a very bad example for a claim that we wouldn't like it if something absurd happened without explanation.
And we wouldn't like Lord of the Rings if Gandalf took off his white cloak, put on a black one, and went out and just started killing prostitutes.
Sure, he says he was out all night killing the Balrog, but I have my suspicions.
posted by Flunkie at 11:28 AM on November 27, 2008


We wouldn't like Space Invaders if, every so often, our guns didn't work or the screen went black.

Why not? "Your gun is jammed" doesn't seem like it would kill the game to me. In fact, there are popular games in which your gun occassionally does stop working.


Your missing my point. If a jammed gun was built into the gameplay, then, yes, sure, it would be fine. It isn't, and it would bother us if it just showed up, out of the blue.

There was an episode wherein the Enterprise happened upon an exact duplicate of earth, a bazillion light years away from our earth. I mean, exact. Look, there's Africa.

Yes. An excellent example of bad fantasy. If it bothers you in Star Trek, it should also bother you elsewhere.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:32 AM on November 27, 2008


I agree, Astro. I think the mechanics of this particular scenario are distasteful. But ultimately, gaming is where brutality meets reward. I won't deny that, where games like GTA seem to 'push the envelope,' this one seems to have missed the mark. Who knows why I think that? Am I desensitized to urban violence? Do I bring to the WoW world a sense of guilt regarding our country's extraordinary rendition of enemy combatants that affects my ability to enjoy a violent game?

Maybe what really's happening is that, in real life, we were told that torture works. And then we found out it didn't work so well. And so to play in a game world where torture continues to work does in and of itself represent bad fantasy.

And to your point about drawing ethical lines. I have no problem delivering 'unethical' headshots, but I'm not going to strangle a baby to level. It's scary to think it's just a question of taste. But it's hard to argue that it's anything more than that.
posted by phaedon at 11:33 AM on November 27, 2008


We wouldn't like Star Trek if the characters could start to breathe out in space without explanation.

While we're on the topic of Star Trek, and germane to this discussion, it is often depicted that Vulcan "mind melds" are accepted by Starfleet as a means of forcefully extracting information from a subject when necessary. Where is the hue and cry over this tactic in this most(ly) politically correct televised entertainment? How is this different from using a--what is called? a "neural inducer"?--in WoW?

People who create entertainment have ethics, to be sure; well, one would hope at least. That doesn't mean every single aspect of their creations have to represent an acceptable (to you) ethical stance. Don't play the game, change the channel, freedom to choose, freedom of expression, slippery slopes, etc etc etc.

Go eat turkey now.
posted by WolfDaddy at 11:38 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Astro Zombie: Evil characters would also rape and commit genocide, and these are not the sorts of things that should be just tossed in.

Unless I'm mistaken, genocide was already in the game. There's lots of games where you can slaughter pretty much anyone you want (except sometimes children.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:43 AM on November 27, 2008


I didn't realize headshots were unethical. I think I'd rather get one in the brain banana than anywhere else -- nice and fast.

Anyway, I can understand people not agreeing with the points made by people who have issues with this sort of scenario, but I must confess to being a little surprised by the "shut the fuck up, it's just a game" crowd. Just because all y'all don't have anything especially in-depth or well-considered to say about what is arguably one of history's most sophisticated collectively created participatory fantasies doesn't mean no discussion should happen about the subject, ever.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:43 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Interesting discussion.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:43 AM on November 27, 2008


There's lots of games where you can slaughter pretty much anyone you want (except sometimes children.)

That's not the definition of genocide.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:44 AM on November 27, 2008


While we're on the topic of Star Trek, and germane to this discussion, it is often depicted that Vulcan "mind melds" are accepted by Starfleet as a means of forcefully extracting information from a subject when necessary.

It doesn't cause pain. Just getting information is not generally considered unethical in war. Torturing someone to do so is. Although I think Star Trek could have done a very interesting episode about the ethics of the mind meld -- the show was, for a while, rather obsessed with such questions.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:46 AM on November 27, 2008


hey, one of the developers of WoW:WotLK is an old friend of mine! i just forwarded this to him, as well as posting it on the Blizzard Facebook page. maybe there will be teeming hoards joining MeFi to register their disgust/joy with this post!

All I have to add is: nice use of the Cowpoke tag!
posted by CitizenD at 11:49 AM on November 27, 2008


Astro Zombie: That's not the definition of genocide.

Killing every single available person is not genocide? I think maybe you meant ethnic cleansing. I believe that's the stated goal of like every single WoW faction.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:57 AM on November 27, 2008


Genocide: systematic killing of a racial or cultural group

Killing random people for fun is just murder.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:01 PM on November 27, 2008


I suppose the case could be made that if you're trying to destroy every single Orc alive, and wipe out their cultural histories, then the game also encourages genocide. But, then, again, if that's built into the gameplay, so be it; it's not beyond discussion, but doesn't validate just anythign happening in the game (I notice rape is not a game element). It sounds to me as though torture is a new element in this game, and it seems to have been wedged in rather badly, and suggests that torture works, and, again, I think that is a poor use of fantasy.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:01 PM on November 27, 2008


I've got to run to get to my Thanksgiving get-together, so I'll be brief and I won't be here to respond:

I'm still not buying it. Your complaint was "bad storytelling", but your Pac Man and Space Invaders examples were "change".

And I simply don't buy the claim that we would necessarily hate it if a new Pac Man came out wherein ghosts could walk through walls, or if in the old Pac Man the ghosts suddenly gained this ability on board twenty or whatever.

And in any event, I don't think that "WOW is now different than it was" is what most people are objecting to here, anyway.
posted by Flunkie at 12:03 PM on November 27, 2008


You see, I zapped him a few extra times for good measure.

What's interesting is they actually scripted the victim to whine about how he's given you the information so why are you still torturing him.

Somehow I think more people got that extra dialogue than refused the quest altogether.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:07 PM on November 27, 2008


And I simply don't buy the claim that we would necessarily hate it if a new Pac Man came out wherein ghosts could walk through walls, or if in the old Pac Man the ghosts suddenly gained this ability on board twenty or whatever.

Your really don't think that, were you playing the old pac man, and suddenly, out of the blue, without explanation or warning, the ghosts went through the walls, that would bother you?

It would bother the fuck out of me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:07 PM on November 27, 2008


It doesn't cause pain.
You sure about that?
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:11 PM on November 27, 2008


blue_beetle: Genocide: systematic killing of a racial or cultural group

Yeah, and sometimes that's still possible. The towns in many RPGs form unique cultural groups, which you can slaughter. In fallout 3, you might even define the slaughter of the slavers of Paradise Falls to be genocidal, something many good characters will do during the game, even if most outsiders would consider them to be evil and criminal. They do form a unique cultural group.

Not to mention civilization-type games. You can kill every single citizen of another faction in Alpha Centauri, although it's not something that happens automatically if you conquer them (and if you do it, the other leaders do accuse you of ethnic cleansing.) I'm pretty sure you can do it in at least one of the Civilization series. It's the only way to eliminate another race from the game in Master of Orion. Hell, it's even called genocide when you do it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:14 PM on November 27, 2008




From the quest in question:

"It is fortunate you're here, Tauren.

You see, the Kirin Tor code of conduct frowns upon our taking certain 'extreme' measures - even in desperate times such as these.

You, however, as an outsider, are not bound by such restrictions and could take any steps necessary in the retrieval of information.

Do what you must. We need to know where Lady Evanor is being held at once!

I'll just busy myself organizing these shelves here. Oh, and here, perhaps you'll find this old thing useful.... "



This is the dialogue when you start the quest. I think a few things bear mentioning. First, it's obvious that the person giving you the quest is uncomfortable with it, and that the methods lie outside the bounds of acceptable conduct. That is a powerful statement. One thinks of Guantanamo.

Also, the giver alleviates moral responsibility (to himself) by contracting someone outside social taboo, and then hedging on giving you the tool to extract the information.

When using the needler, the sorcerer you are interrogating whispers the following:

" Pathetic fool! A servant of Malygos would sooner die than aid an enemy....
Aargh! Do your worst, Warrior! I'll tell you NOTHING!
Aahhhh! Release me! I am of no use to you. I swear it!
Stop! I beg you, please stop. Please...
Alright! I am beaten. Your precious archmage is held in a prison, elevated and sealed. Even if you manage to reach her, Salrand herself holds the key. Your mission is folly!
Enough! I've told you all that I know. Your continued abuse is senseless! "


As you can see, the victim is presented as a heroic figure who tries to resist to the point of death before relinquishing the desired information. Although he ultimately fails, Blizzard makes a point of using the victim as a means to describe the quest as "abuse" and morally reprehensible. That's a very important point here, that you as a player are supposed to feel bad about what you are doing. You will not find that in GTA.



To me, this answers not only the question of Why the quest is in the game, but also beautifully describes why this is absolutely not an example of "bad fantasy".

To summarize the fantasy context in which the events of Wrath of the Lich King take place would take way too long. For arguments sake, accept the following premises:

1. Kel Thuzard, the Lich King, is an evil creature. His empire is evil. His methods are evil. His servants are evil.

2. Regardless of faction, Alliance or Horde, one is fighting against Kel Thuzad.

3. Death Knights in particular begin as servants of Kel Thuzad, and by extension of premise one, are evil.

What Blizzard has done with the DK quest line not only provides for the reason of your character's revolt against the Lich King's rule, but also morally engages the player to make the same choice. They use various nefarious deeds, all the while using NPC's as moral foils to point out the immorality of your actions, to force the player to also evaluate and reject the arch-villain of the story. This is very good fantasy.


Lastly, I think it's important to address the "it's a game" argument, and why we are selectively decrying this quest.

Yes, World of Warcraft is a game. Yes, it is a game with War in the title, which should give the user a sense of it's dynamic. So why are we talking about this quest and not the countless others, as well as the basic non-quest dynamic of the whole experience?

This is because usually, the gameplay is so deeply rooted in fantastic context that it doesn't trip our real world morality alarm.

I've gone into villages and slaughtered indiscriminately for monetary reward, but it doesn't trip my alarm because I am a cow warrior with ridiculous shoulder armor riding into a village of weird looking little green sea creatures that scream oddly, and I am killing them because they are secretly conjuring the long lost sea demon to eat the young of the neighbor Randomgoodtribians.


I've participated in terrorist bombing runs on targets of military interest with casualites in the hundreds, on a daily basis. But it doesn't trip my moral alarm because I'm riding on the back of a giant bat wyvern, my targets of interest are huge green glowing spires of energy producing warp gates, and the casualites are 50 foot high massive bulldogs and demons that can spit pure hate.




This quest is personal. When you complete it, it's just your character and the target. There's intense flavor text. But ultimately, it is still rooted deeply in the fantastically alien World of Warcraft. Ultimately, it's a device for advancing the moral development of the character and the story. It's also described and contextualized in a negative, morally reprehensible manner.


I think the the quest is fine. I think Blizzard is brilliant and subtle and thoughtful in their game design. And as fantasy, I think the Warcraft story line is epic and huge and obviously on the moral side of most people's real world alarms.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:15 PM on November 27, 2008 [20 favorites]


Well-made points, lazaruslong. I shall think about them.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:19 PM on November 27, 2008


Oh awesome, thanks for that link to Noor the pacifist, now i'm piste. He mentions being inspired by Gweryc Halfhand, melee hunter, who was a friend of mine during my dalliance with WoW.

(Aside: One of the first things I remember while playing that game was a dwarf, Gweryc, walking over to me, a gnome engineer, and asking if I could make him a wrench that he could use in his bad hand. See, he'd lost three fingers in a hunting accident, and hadn't picked up a gun since...but he still needed it for using other tools, right? So I told him I could make one with a wrist brace for him, and made it on the spot. It was pretty amazing, then, since I was still reeling from the novelty of playing a game with people I'd never met, probably never would meet, and could only speak to through the mediation of our avatars. When I last played about five months ago, that luster had vanished and the game was about maximizing the numbers in a database under certain constraints.)

This article, and the comments in this thread, are interesting to me for two reasons. First is that the actions permitted, and in some cases required, by the game prior to the expansion are so normalized that players don't even think about them anymore. As some others have pointed out upthread, the game has been full of morally reprehensible things for a while now...it's supposed to be a game about war, and war is fucked up. (Yes, this perhaps bears repeating: war is fucked up.) To those who want to distinguish between the moral ramifications of murder and those of torture, I certainly agree that they are different. But torture has been a part of the game since the start, primarily used by the Warlock and Priest classes, but also by Warriors and Rogues. The fact that the curses, dark spells, and poisons used by those classes are supposed to be extremely painful seems to be forgotten by players as soon as they get into the real meat of the game -- accruing points. These new quests are new in name only.

The second reason this whole thing is interesting is that, stepping outside the actual debate about the morality of the game's content, the fact that a debate is occurring at all is good. Some people think that games ought to be purely vehicles of mindless entertainment. For those people, WoW must seem like the perfect game, since no matter how long you've played, there's always something new to do in it. In other words, no matter how many parts of the game you have played, there are always more parts that you haven't, and so reflection upon the game as a whole is never required. From my point of view, that fact makes WoW one of the worst games, in that it is functionally equivalent to a tv sitcom. Good games leave room for you to think, to reflect, as you're playing -- Portal is one of my favorite games, for example, since the player's sense of space changes as he plays, and I think most players are actually conscious of this change as it takes place.

The fact that many WoW players are bothered by the fact that they "had" to do something reprehensible is good, because it creates a critical distance between those players and the game. Only with that distance is it possible to see that what first looked like an isolated instance of fucked up-edness is actually systematic. And if you're going to play a game, it's best to do it with an awareness of that sort of fact.
posted by voltairemodern at 12:21 PM on November 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


I play a warlock, do I have to stop casting Curse of Agony to be ethical?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:27 PM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Ah, I should have previewed. Lazaruslong made most of the points I was trying to get at. Nice comment.
posted by voltairemodern at 12:31 PM on November 27, 2008


This is the dialogue when you start the quest. I think a few things bear mentioning. First, it's obvious that the person giving you the quest is uncomfortable with it, and that the methods lie outside the bounds of acceptable conduct. That is a powerful statement. One thinks of Guantanamo.

That really reads to you as "discomfort?" Reads to me as "Well we have these annoying rules but you can get away with anything, and this taser might just come in handy, wink wink nudge nudge."
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:39 PM on November 27, 2008


The second reason this whole thing is interesting is that, stepping outside the actual debate about the morality of the game's content, the fact that a debate is occurring at all is good. Some people think that games ought to be purely vehicles of mindless entertainment. For those people, WoW must seem like the perfect game, since no matter how long you've played, there's always something new to do in it. In other words, no matter how many parts of the game you have played, there are always more parts that you haven't, and so reflection upon the game as a whole is never required. From my point of view, that fact makes WoW one of the worst games, in that it is functionally equivalent to a tv sitcom. Good games leave room for you to think, to reflect, as you're playing -- Portal is one of my favorite games, for example, since the player's sense of space changes as he plays, and I think most players are actually conscious of this change as it takes place.

I'm going to take issue here first. I'm trying to distill your point and it seems like it comes to this:

1. WoW is a game that has many different subgames within it.
2. The player has the option of participating in all of those subgames.
3. It is impossible to complete all of the subgames.
4. This is bad.


I agree with premise one and two. Premise three is incorrect. It is possible to complete, to a level of mastery, all of the subgames in WoW. The ones I can think of now are:

1. Personal Character Level and Equipment (as a result of all of the other subgames).
2. PvE Raid Content.
3. PvP Content, including BGs, Rated Arenas, and World PvP zones.
4. Profession and Secondary Skill Maxing.
5. Achievements, added in a recent patch, that provide objective oriented goals in a specific aggregate manner.

It is not only possible but routine for players to achieve the first 4 subgames. As for number 5, Achievements are massive and complex, and at this point, even only a few weeks after the release of the expansion, are the last subgame to not be completed by huge guilds like Nihilum (or Ensidia, whatever they are called now) and vodka and whatnot. Eventually they will be complete.

If you think it's impossible to "beat" World of Warcraft, ask the guilds that have been sitting around with all S4 gear gemmed and enchanted and illidan on farm for the last 6 months. You can beat the game.

So really, you are saying that you do not have a desire to put in the hours requsite to beating WoW, that the ratio of input to goals is undesirable, and I cannot argue that. That's a personal stance on gaming preference, and I respect it. However, I have to say that if you do not like games like that, WoW is nothing new, and should not be singled out. Don't play MMORPGs. Or really any complex RPGs.

The fact that many WoW players are bothered by the fact that they "had" to do something reprehensible is good, because it creates a critical distance between those players and the game. Only with that distance is it possible to see that what first looked like an isolated instance of fucked up-edness is actually systematic. And if you're going to play a game, it's best to do it with an awareness of that sort of fact.

As mentioned in my last post, I agree that this quest trips the real world alarm. That it surmounts the distance provided by a fantastically strange world to morally affect the player's brain. I go one step further to say that it also fundamentally describes the action of torture in negative terms, and uses the quest as a means to a moral and story oriented end. In that respect, we could look at the quest as a treatise on the immorality of torture, constructed in a videogame, and accessible to potentially 11 million people. I think that's brave and awesome.

It's also important to note that the smaller the fantasy world, the easier it is to surmount that distance. Think Tolkien and the nazis. Even World of Warcraft, as recently as the Burning Crusade, was fraught with forum posts trying to draw parallells like the Draeni as the persecuted Jews, or Onyxia in human form as Mussolini, et cetera. It happened more when the fantasy universe was smaller, and with Lich King it's so huge that it takes specific events to trip the alarm. That to me makes Blizzards choice of narrowing the focus briefly to be intentional, and with morals in mind.

They didn't have to do that. They didn't have to take time to suspend the illusion, to leave the fantasy world, which is systematically fucked up as you say because it is overtly fantastic, to make a point about something. But they did, and I think that's cool.


Lastly, I do not think that a conscious awareness of the fucked up-ed-ness, as you put it, of the events in a game, if they were to be translated to the real world with all of the fantastic context removed, is necessary or useful when playing a videogame. I think it is the job of the game designer to make a fun game. And the job of the user to recognize that in the game, you are playing in a scenario in which your real world moral sensors are not particularly relevant.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:43 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is the dialogue when you start the quest. I think a few things bear mentioning. First, it's obvious that the person giving you the quest is uncomfortable with it, and that the methods lie outside the bounds of acceptable conduct. That is a powerful statement. One thinks of Guantanamo.

That really reads to you as "discomfort?" Reads to me as "Well we have these annoying rules but you can get away with anything, and this taser might just come in handy, wink wink nudge nudge."
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:39 PM on November 27 [+] [!]



A complex discomfort, but yes. The quest giver is

1. Really uncomfortable with performing the act himself, because of the social taboo of the Kirin Tor, to the extent that he refuses to do it, for fear of social retribution, although not because his moral compass disallows the possibility.

2. Also slightly uncomfortable with directly portraying his assistance to the character, and he refuses to say "Here's the torture device". As you pointed out, his enlistment is very wink wink nod nod.

We're meant to use those cues to immediately recognize a couple things:

1. The act we are asked to accept is morally bad.
2. The person giving us the task is somewhat immoral, and a coward.


As a subtle psychological statement, I think that's great game design.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:48 PM on November 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


You have to brutally murder scores of people and animals to level, and they're complaining about one quest?
posted by Nattie at 12:48 PM on November 27, 2008


When I got this quest two days ago I went on guild chat and had a lively discussion with my guild about the ethics and morals of torturing in WOW. Someone pointed out that maybe Blizzard did this because 1) it is a mirror of our culture and/or 2) they were really making a point about the torture committed by our military/government.

I felt weird about it, but I did the quest. And, btw, you could always get to the NEXUS before doing quests on the Amber Ledge. Just talk to the dragon....it will take you there.
posted by UseyurBrain at 12:50 PM on November 27, 2008


Lazaruslong... I am uncomfortable with your last paragraph. Not because of some dumb "games make killers" Jack Thompson argument, either. Just accepting what other people (designers, marketers, game-industrial-complex) create as "fun" as if they don't have an agenda or message is a problem. This is not "overthinking" the matter, either. There is a long history of games industry/military stuff not to mention the buy buy buy mentality that is just taken for granted in this field.... Anything that keeps me from thinking about where stuff comes from, well that is bad news in my book.
posted by villain extraordinaire at 12:51 PM on November 27, 2008


er, this paragraph that is

Lastly, I do not think that a conscious awareness of the fucked up-ed-ness, as you put it, of the events in a game, if they were to be translated to the real world with all of the fantastic context removed, is necessary or useful when playing a videogame. I think it is the job of the game designer to make a fun game. And the job of the user to recognize that in the game, you are playing in a scenario in which your real world moral sensors are not particularly relevant.
posted by villain extraordinaire at 12:52 PM on November 27, 2008


You have to brutally murder scores of people and animals to level, and they're complaining about one quest?
posted by Nattie at 3:48 PM on November 27 [+] [!]


Yes, for reasons I tried to address a few posts up.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:52 PM on November 27, 2008


This is as disturbing an example of WoW's linear quest system as I've encountered. Despite the game's fairly deep (if derivative) background as a starting point for characters, Blizzard has people progress from Quest A to B without many choices to branch off, much less play a role in the world's war. From the outset, you're either Alliance or Horde, and you stay that way. Tough luck if later you conclude, say, the horde is evil.

Compare this to the outlook of independent RPG designer Jeff Vogel, maker of the old-school Avernum and Geneforge games:
In Geneforge 5, the game I’m working on now, you can join probably the most morally appalling side that I’ve ever created; I mean, I almost feel awful about writing it. But it’s really important to me to do that, because most people are going to pick the good guy side and I really want to create an awareness in the player of how bad things could possibly get. I like giving the player a horrible choice, not because I think they will take it but because I think you gain a lot from the awareness that that was a choice.

Those are the games where the people on the online forums argue for jillions of posts: “No, I think that this faction is correct,” “No, I think that this faction is correct.” That is the most satisfying thing to me, when I’ve created something where people can come out of it and go, “Yeah, he totally wanted me to join that side,” but they all think a different side is the one I wanted them to join. I love that.
Like any gamer out there, I enjoy taking on whatever role(s) an RPG/MMORPG offers, but I prefer not to be stage managed.
posted by Doktor Zed at 12:54 PM on November 27, 2008


Lazaruslong... I am uncomfortable with your last paragraph. Not because of some dumb "games make killers" Jack Thompson argument, either. Just accepting what other people (designers, marketers, game-industrial-complex) create as "fun" as if they don't have an agenda or message is a problem. This is not "overthinking" the matter, either. There is a long history of games industry/military stuff not to mention the buy buy buy mentality that is just taken for granted in this field.... Anything that keeps me from thinking about where stuff comes from, well that is bad news in my book.
posted by villain extraordinaire at 3:51 PM on November 27 [+] [!]




I totally hear you there, and I should definitely clarify.

It's a good thing for people to examine their game experience with a moral eye, and to question where these things come from. I think there are definitely different levels to the scrutiny required, and that those levels are usually determined by how far removed the game play is from real world situations.

For example, taking Pac Man, one could theoretically presume that Pac Man is eating a bunch of Vicodin, and use that as a means to examine the dynamics of pain pill abuse in the real world. But that would not be particuarly useful, because the amount of translation required to put it into a real world context is silly.

Games like GTA or America's Army are built on making that translation distance as small as possible. They want it to be like the real world. Those are games that should make us talk about morals, and should make us examine our compass. They should also still be played, as long as they are fun games.

A game like World of Warcraft is so far to travel in translation terms that it is not particularly useful to use killing a tribe of evil murlocs as a vehicle for exploring genocide.

So my point was only that I do not think that constantly translating a game like WoW, with a large translation distance, is useful or necessary. This quest on the other hand, being an intentional decision by Blizzard to close the translation distance and make a positive moral point, is very useful for that same reason.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:59 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lazaruslong, you have mischaracterized my argument. I don't agree that the breaking down of the game into an unending continuum of parts (there are always more battlegrounds or arenas to play, for example) is equivalent to breaking it down into subgames (there are only a few different battleground "subgames"). My claim was just that there's always another battleground to play, another instance to run -- not that they're always new instances or battlegrounds, but part of the attraction of the game is that each time you do it, it will be with/against different people, with different contingent or random events occurring.

At any rate, it appears that we fundamentally disagree over what makes a good game, since if I understand you correctly you don't think it's important for the game to be in any way relevant to our real lives (as good literature is, for example), but only to be an escape from them. Our "real world moral sensors" are not relevant to accruing points, no; but accruing points is not relevant to our real lives. How do we break that symmetry? I think that the priority should be on using games as tools to enhance our understanding of ourselves, not for escape.
posted by voltairemodern at 12:59 PM on November 27, 2008


Lazaruslong, you have mischaracterized my argument. I don't agree that the breaking down of the game into an unending continuum of parts (there are always more battlegrounds or arenas to play, for example) is equivalent to breaking it down into subgames (there are only a few different battleground "subgames"). My claim was just that there's always another battleground to play, another instance to run -- not that they're always new instances or battlegrounds, but part of the attraction of the game is that each time you do it, it will be with/against different people, with different contingent or random events occurring.

I'm sorry about that, I did not intend to. I see what you are saying now. I was taking the end of the game to be the accruing of all available "points" via the various subgames, and you are referring to the endless ability to engage in the subgames with the various factors like player participation and enemies and so on to be different. We're arguing at cross purposes then, and I apologize for that.

At any rate, it appears that we fundamentally disagree over what makes a good game, since if I understand you correctly you don't think it's important for the game to be in any way relevant to our real lives (as good literature is, for example), but only to be an escape from them. Our "real world moral sensors" are not relevant to accruing points, no; but accruing points is not relevant to our real lives. How do we break that symmetry? I think that the priority should be on using games as tools to enhance our understanding of ourselves, not for escape.

I think we do fundamentally disagree over whether WoW is a good game, but I think you may have mistaken me somewhat. I do not think that games should only
exist in a large-translation state of being removed from real world morals. I just think that WoW is one of the games that does exist in that state, with specific deviations like this quest. And I like WoW. I also like games that are closer to real world events. I think there is a great market for both, and I think they are both enjoyable.

I agree with your last point as well, just not all the time. I think it's great for some games to both fun and enhance our understanding of ourselves, and I think it's great for some games to just be fun.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:07 PM on November 27, 2008



A game like World of Warcraft is so far to travel in translation terms that it is not particularly useful to use killing a tribe of evil murlocs as a vehicle for exploring genocide.

So my point was only that I do not think that constantly translating a game like WoW, with a large translation distance, is useful or necessary. This quest on the other hand, being an intentional decision by Blizzard to close the translation distance and make a positive moral point, is very useful for that same reason.


Ah, that makes more sense. Especially if by translation you mean that we should somehow line up figures in the game with figures in the real world, and just forget about the layers of mediation going on in the game, then I definitely agree that translation isn't useful. The mediation, or translation distance, makes the game something different from most other things we experience.

(It would be interesting to consider, though, the relationship between our apathy about killing a tribe of murlocs and our apathy when we hear about genocide occurring in some distant country on the news.)
posted by voltairemodern at 1:08 PM on November 27, 2008


A sitting Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America has explicitly referenced the television show 24 as to why we cannot place restrictions, such as "no torture allowed", on the government's treatment of prisoners.

Huh. I always thought Scalia was a smart man with whom I tend disagree. Turns out he's a moron.

I'd like to tangentially point out that the "ticking time bomb" scenario in which Scalia would liberally apply the neural inducer to make the terrorists tell us where the nuke was is a ridiculous fiction. Torture would only work in the case of a terrorist who had not considered the possibility of capture and torture. Why would someone deranged and determined enough to nuke a city full of people not be prepared with plausible false information, perhaps even complete with an actual planted dummy nuke, to stave off torture AND avoid giving up their terrorist plot.

The fact is, in any realistic scenario, once you turn on the electrodes, you've sold your soul to the devil, and LA blows up anyways. Game over Jack Bauer, please play again soon.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:08 PM on November 27, 2008


There's another quest, I think in Howling Fjord, that has you testing an experimental cure on a captured prisoner. It doesn't go well, unsurprisingly, and there's no way to avoid doing medical experiments on unwilling victims. It upset me enough to bring it up in guild chat a couple of times.

Yeah, it's just a game, and I understand it's fiction. But Warcraft (and other MMOs) are very personal games, you really do inhabit your character's head and body when playing. And in general the game designers respect that, most of the quests have you killing evil monsters or saving towns. The few places where there is moral ambiguity, it is recognized as such and it's usually part of the story. So the prisoner torture and prisoner experimenting quests are jarring and a bit upsetting.
posted by Nelson at 1:08 PM on November 27, 2008


I'm with you on that, VM. Not to say that I am "above" escapism or anything. Just that I think it's a damn shame that we need it. Blow (from the op) says it better than I could:


Blow believes that according to WoW, the game's rules are its meaning of life. "The meaning of life in WoW is you’re some schmo that doesn’t have anything better to do than sit around pressing a button and killing imaginary monsters," he explained. "It doesn’t matter if you’re smart or how adept you are, it’s just how much time you sink in. You don’t need to do anything exceptional, you just need to run the treadmill like everyone else."

"You don’t come away from WoW with that in your head, but that comes through subtly and subconsciously," Blow added. "It’s like advertising and brand identity. People identify with their activities – same thing with games, people are products of their origins and their environments. We’re giving them these environments and helping to determine what they’re going to be."

He continued, "What I see right now is that we’re cultivating this style of gamer that just says 'I want more of that because it tastes delicious, and that’s all I know.'"

posted by villain extraordinaire at 1:09 PM on November 27, 2008


That really reads to you as "discomfort?" Reads to me as "Well we have these annoying rules but you can get away with anything, and this taser might just come in handy, wink wink nudge nudge."

I'm with lazaruslong on this one. It's part of the story that there are bad guys, good guys, and a lot of morally-grey-guys. It's called Warcraft for a reason. The entire game is centered around the idea of what factions get along with others, and there's a lot of factions that, purely out of self-interest, get along with two factions that completely hate each other, and so on. When you do quests you get to read about how two friendly factions are subtly screwing each other over without saying anything, too. The lore of the game is a lot of people switching sides and stabbing each other in the back when it was convenient for them, or when they were morally pressed to do so because of a confounding factor. There's also a lot of nice stories of people coming together and helping each other. The new character class they introduced is a bad guy when you start, does similar torturing and other horrible quests, and then is slowly convinced they're doing the wrong thing. That process was surprisingly well-done, I thought.

Having people like that quest giver adds a lot to the game. It doesn't condone torture, it's just a realistic depiction of how groups that condemn torture get around it: they ask an ally to assist in some way. It tells you a lot about the Kirin Tor faction, and in particular that quest giver. It would be boring and unrealistic if every single Kirin Tor upheld their moral code to the fullest, because it doesn't work that way in real life; walking around and seeing how different NPCs depart from their culture is much more interesting.

To me, getting worked up about a quest like that is to say that an MMO can't ever have more than a simplistic story and cookie-cutter characters. It doesn't work that way in real life and any good story is going to reflect that. If someone really doesn't want to do the quest, they can abandon it.

If anything, I would say the story in WoW shows just how horrible and petty war can be. In the newest expansion, there is a city with a fountain where you can fish up coins of some of the faction leaders and other characters. What they wished for when they threw the coin in is shown to you. Nearly every single coin is incredibly sad and related to war losses. A lot of the jaded gamer people in my guild commented on how depressing they were.

Anyway, on a lighter note: while we're making IRL comparisons, Thrall is totally the Obama of WoW.
posted by Nattie at 1:09 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, the tooltip for the "device" indicates that it will hurt, but won't leave a permanent mark.

Having said that I was reminded of Dr. Milgram's experiment. It was a little out of character for the game. Usually, you just kill stuff.
posted by mygoditsbob at 1:09 PM on November 27, 2008


don't HAVE to do the quest, dummy! Just abandon it

If you want to get the achievement for finishing the quests in the zone, which is necessary for the Loremaster of Northrend achievement, which is necessary for the Loremaster title, then you must torture the guy. You don't have to do all of the quests in the zone for the title, but there are enough follow-up quests that you won't have enough if you don't.

I thought exactly the same thing when I was on the quest. Commented to my guild about it. "Well, you have no problem killing Horde that are fishing for Old Ironjaw in Ironforge, and they're actually people." Sure, but I'm not torturing them, even when I gank them over and over and over again.

Regardless, I don't like the message the quest sends: that it is OK to torture.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:21 PM on November 27, 2008



Regardless, I don't like the message the quest sends: that it is OK to torture.


That may be the message you got, in which case perhaps the designers should make the cues more obvious, but as a I explained above, I really don't think that is the message it sends to most.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:25 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's the message I got because it was one of the messages that was sent. To achieve an arbitrary goal, the character must torture. There are no consequences for this action. Thus, by the design of the game, it is acceptable.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:27 PM on November 27, 2008


It's the message I got because it was one of the messages that was sent.

Really: it was the message you got. Other people probably got the same message. Plenty of people did not get that message, though. Don't presume to say that's The Message it sends just because it's how you interpreted it.
posted by Nattie at 1:30 PM on November 27, 2008


The moral consequence is that it is presented as an immoral action. And again, this is only when the layers of hyper-fantastic context is stripped away and we evaluate it like it's the real world and not a crazy alien world.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:35 PM on November 27, 2008


Believe it or not, this issue has been coming up in gaming since Basic D&D. I remember hearing complaints from other PCs about DMs writing in torture scenarios. As a DM myself, I was fairly strict about alignment behavior, so the only question for me was, "Your alignment?" If you have drawn up an EVIL character - which I'm guessing a death knight in WoW is (like most things WoW, the lich as a creature is lifted directly from D&D) - then your character should have no qualms with DOING EVIL. If you personally feel uncomfortable torturing, raping, and killing with impunity, then maybe you should have drawn up a character who wasn't neutral/lawful/chaotic EVIL.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:45 PM on November 27, 2008


voltairemodern: ...stepping outside the actual debate about the morality of the game's content, the fact that a debate is occurring at all is good...

I think most of us would agree that this much is certain.

I'd also like to say that Jack Thompson shouldn't ever be mentioned in the same sentence as Richard Bartle. On the one hand, you have a raving lunatic who thinks games should be censored left, right, and center (and one who builds a career piggybacking some tired correlation about violence), and on the other, you have a guy who's talking about possible "ethical" design flaws. These two are WORLDS apart.
posted by tybeet at 1:45 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: The interesting thing about it for me is that the Kirin Tor, the faction that the quest-giving NPC belongs to, are aligned lawful neutral. Librarian Normantis explicitly gives you the quest because you're not one of them, and thus you can go torture this guy with impunity... of course, he's got this little widget that would make that whole thing "easier," too.

It's more a comment on extraordinary rendition, overall, and certainly lends itself to in-game speculation on just how "lawful" the Kirin Tor really are. (They appear to have had some... notable alignment deviations among their members, including one guy who ended up an archlich for his troubles.)

WoW also features internment camps and other such niceties, and the idea that an entire race was corrupted due to demonic influences and thus can only be cleansed by other spiritual intervention. Heavy stuff for an MMO.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:57 PM on November 27, 2008


Don't presume to say that's The Message it sends just because it's how you interpreted it.

Funny thing is, I didn't presume to say such a thing. To quote:

"It's the message I got because it was one of the messages that was sent."

Like the kids say, QQ moar.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 2:05 PM on November 27, 2008


The interesting thing about it for me is that the Kirin Tor, the faction that the quest-giving NPC belongs to, are aligned lawful neutral.

That would make sense, as my understanding of lawful neutral is that the "I was only following orders" defense gels perfectly with it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:09 PM on November 27, 2008


which I'm guessing a death knight in WoW is (like most things WoW, the lich as a creature is lifted directly from D&D) - then your character should have no qualms with DOING EVIL. If you personally feel uncomfortable torturing, raping, and killing with impunity, then maybe you should have drawn up a character who wasn't neutral/lawful/chaotic EVIL.

I agree with this. Just a quibble: player-controlled death knights are only bad for three levels, then they realize what they're doing is wrong and join the player world. The bad-bad death knights are enemies that players fight. But yeah, you have to torture people and massacre citizens that don't fight back before you become a "good" guy, so one would have to be okay with that progression.

Anyway, your argument makes sense to me, but also in a broader sense that can be applied to any WoW character: one's "alignment" in this case is basically his faction, and that faction is at war. One must be okay with doing any number of awful things to rival factions, and if he is not, he shouldn't play the game. If one is going to be uncomfortable with performing medical experiments on the rival faction, he probably shouldn't roll Horde. If one is uncomfortable with poisoning the rival faction, he shouldn't play WoW. If one is uncomfortable killing animals, he shouldn't play WoW. If one is uncomfortable with imprisoning the rival faction -- with no trials! -- he shouldn't play WoW. If one is uncomfortable with beating people up to get them to pay their debt, they shouldn't play WoW. If one is uncomfortable with any sort of depiction of unfortunate things that go on during a war, even if those things are depicted as messed up or disturbing, they shouldn't play WoW. And so on.

It's obvious very, very early in the game that all sorts of morally questionable actions have to be undertaken if you want to play it. If one is going to feel like they're "in their character's mind" while they're playing, then they should have known they were uncomfortable with that sort of thing looong before they got past like 70. I don't think most people feel that they ARE their character, though.
posted by Nattie at 2:13 PM on November 27, 2008


Do I bring to the WoW world a sense of guilt regarding our country's extraordinary rendition of enemy combatants that affects my ability to enjoy a violent game?

Frankly, I think this is exactly what this is all about. It’s not that it's a new step in brutality in video games. It’s a resonant one.

While we're on the topic of Star Trek, and germane to this discussion, it is often depicted that Vulcan "mind melds" are accepted by Starfleet as a means of forcefully extracting information from a subject when necessary.

It doesn't cause pain. Just getting information is not generally considered unethical in war. Torturing someone to do so is.


Ah, no. I hate to get dragged into a (slightly odd) sidetrack, but I distinctly recall mind melds causing suffering in unwilling participants. A great deal, in fact. It’s only when you’re willing that it goes smoothly. Not being a consummate ST nerd, I can’t quote you episode titles or anything.

don't HAVE to do the quest, dummy! Just abandon it

If you want to get the achievement for finishing the quests in the zone, which is necessary for the Loremaster of Northrend achievement, which is necessary for the Loremaster title, then you must torture the guy.


Someone pointed out Fable, above. I didn’t finish that game (can you finish that game?) but I recall a couple of places where you “have to” do some distinctly evil things to get a certain result. This is intended. You are making morality choices which have consequences. In the case of substituting a bandit for someone you’re trying to rescue, you don’t have to fight a faerie. In the case of one of those guardian doors, you can “do evil” in its sight to get – surprise – some evil magic gear. These are “necessary” in the sense that robbing a bank IRL life is necessary. It gets you stuff, but it’s your choice to do it. If what you people are saying is that WoW has created a situation where players can choose to do something completely immoral and be rewarded by it for their ruthlessness, then that’s: a) not something new in video games, and b) probably not a bad thing for someone to explore in a fictional setting.

Might it not also be a good time to mention that the oft-remarked sex/violence dichotomy in North American media plays itself out here, too? There’s a staggering amount of brutality in video games that is not even noticed, and we’re wondering whether a line should be drawn at torture. The sex equivalent would have to be something like “But there’s tons of intercourse in this game already! Sure, it’s a two-girl doggie-with-a-dildo a la Requiem For a Dream, but you can’t get your Super Drug Whore achievement without it!”
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:20 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


one's "alignment" in this case is basically his faction, and that faction is at war. One must be okay with doing any number of awful things to rival factions, and if he is not, he shouldn't play the game.

Or perhaps change factions? Are there factions that observe a strict, honor-and-morality sort of lawful good alignment? Or is it pretty much a "war is hell, screw alignment" scenario?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:21 PM on November 27, 2008


In a game where characters go around hacking up no-shit sentient beings like they are Tutsi and the characters are part of a Rwanda Militia and people are worried about the magical cattle prod?!
posted by Mitheral at 2:24 PM on November 27, 2008


and there's no way to avoid doing medical experiments on unwilling victims.

Please.

The "Decline" button is right there at the bottom of the screen, next to the "Accept" button.

Whining that "there's no way to avoid it" when you willingly accepted the quest is pretty disingenuous. Especially since you can abandon it even if you accept it. Or even simply never do it. All perfectly valid options which make sure you avoid just what you want to avoid.

There's players out there that get through the game without killing a thing. It's a challenge, but it's a decision they make and they stick to it. They don't whine that Blizzard is forcing them to play the game differently than they want, they just go and do their thing.

No one is forcing you to press the "Accept" button. Don't complain that you're forced to do something when it's completely up to you to do it or not.
posted by splice at 2:49 PM on November 27, 2008


So has Obama's Tauren adviser done the quest?

(And let's not even talk about the cannibalism racial...)
posted by showmethecalvino at 3:00 PM on November 27, 2008


Eh. The real torture in this game is having to walk everywhere for ages.

It's not being able to jump start a character at a higher level (with the exception of the new Death Knight), but having to level one up from scratch, spending weeks doing so, if you want to game with the char in a higher level zone.

It's having to kill two hundred Yetis to collect a dozen skins.

It's having to go clear out an area of mobs to fight my way into a place where I can kill a bunch more creatures in order to satisfy my quest and then, when I turn it in, the next in the quest chain tells me to go and kill twenty of the guys that I already wiped out to begin with.

It's having to quest and grind in order to get a KEY to open up an instance that will let me quest and grind to get a TOKEN that will let me buy slightly better armor.

And it's having to deal with the damn bears and spiders every stinking where you try walk as a new char. What is it with the unholy urso-arachnid alliance in this game?
posted by darkstar at 3:01 PM on November 27, 2008


Is the moral quandry that a character is tortured, or that he is tortured for information? Because I don't think it is out of bounds to do so out of pure animalistic hatred. These factions are, after all, intent on enslaving the world to either demons, a genocidal undead tyrant, or insane dragons. There needs to be a disincentive to stop these mortals from betraying their kind.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 3:01 PM on November 27, 2008


I think WoW would be improved immensely if there were real chances to make choices your character would make. Of course you can Decline or Abandon a quest that makes you (or would make your) character uncomfortable but there's no real consequence to it (other than missing out on experience and/or gold and/or some nice reward.)

If you could respond, "Hell no--I'm not torturing this guy for information!" and end up on a different story trajectory than someone who reluctantly agreed to torture for information--or gleefully tortured for fun and the information was just a bonus--I think that would be better. Let the choices your character makes determine his or her reputation with different factions, or how various NPCs relate to him/her, etc. You get a little of that but not enough.

I enjoy WoW (haven't played far enough to even get to the point where I'm dealing with Kirin Tor and compelx moral quandaries and Death Knights) but more agency in situations like this would be rad.
posted by Neofelis at 3:36 PM on November 27, 2008


Wait, let me amend that previous statement. Even the most casual sex shouldn't be on a par with casual killing in terms of what is considered natural and healthy to explore vicariously.

And again, I'm getting the vibe here that basically players are offered a choice, but one that presents rewards for doing the wrong thing, which has people up in arms. But that's not different than other video games, or life for that matter. Ruthlessness can get you places. Maybe some people are so used to be spoon-fed morals that any possibility in a game is seen as endorsed or approved by its creators.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:49 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow. This thread really got interesting while I was off eating.

There seem to be two distinct criticisms represented here: a) that there is no (or at any rate not enough, or not clear and unambiguous enough) condemnation of the act in the quest text and no consequences, and b) there is no choice offered, unless you are willing to just skip the text and lose out on some possible achievements and perhaps have to take the long way round to the Nexus. And I'd imagine you'd lose out on faction rep as well.
It'll be interesting to see whether the WoW design team actually takes note of all this and perhaps alters the quest in a later patch. I recall a quest in the Blood Elf starting area where you are asked by a couple of apprentices to take a book they lost in a nearby river to their master and say that you were the one who got it wet - instead, you rat them out, and are sent back with a wand to turn them both into pigs. Perhaps an optional side quest would be to report this fellow to the Kirin Tor authorities in Dalaran.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:24 PM on November 27, 2008


On the subject of morality, and particularly how we accept all kinds of video game conventions -- morally weighted ones, were they to take place IRL -- I think it was Chrono Trigger that first played with the already ingrained convention of "find a chest or valuable object -- must be yours for the taking." Suddenly you've got people turning up to say "That's the young man that took my apple pie!" It was great because it made you question what had become second nature in RPG's despite its completely unrealistic nature.

I re-played Fable not long ago, and was especially conscious that all this stuff "lying around" in the towns might belong to people (they do this a bit in Fable, too). And, you know, it's not that big a deal to not take every advantage in a video game, which then encourages you to play a "good" character far more fully -- if that's what you're intending to do. So you don't get that potion of healing, or that WoW achievement. Maybe you can't get that Porshe -- unless you steal it. That's life.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:37 PM on November 27, 2008


I think the inherent assumption here is that torture is worse than killing. That may or may not be true, in game or in the real world. I think it's a question one must answer for oneself, as perpetrator and/or victim.

I faced a similar moral problem in WoW about two years ago - there's a low level horde quest line from Tarren Mill that has you kill the Alliance-friendly farmers northwest of Southshore, culminating in the poisoning of a farmer's dog. That gave me some qualms. But I saw someone else do it, the dog died and respawned, so I figured the worst I could do in that regard is inconvenience the dog for as long as it takes for him to run back from the graveyard.

On that point: sorry, Mankrik, your wife DC'd long ago.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:26 PM on November 27, 2008


I never liked having to kill the dogs in Quake. I like dogs.
posted by Trochanter at 5:40 PM on November 27, 2008


the dog died and respawned, so I figured the worst I could do in that regard is inconvenience the dog for as long as it takes for him to run back from the graveyard

That is something that always bothered me about WoW (not in a moral sense, rather in a consistency sense). I remember a couple of quests which involve bringing news of the death of loved ones to various in-game characters and feeling slightly ridiculous. In a world where no fewer than three seperate classes - no, make that four - have the power to bring the dead back to life, listening to NPCs sobbing over their eternal separation from loved ones tripped my logic meter just a bit.
Hell, even if you're not of the proper class, all you need to do is find a goblin.

Hmmm. Maybe something of a derail. Apologies, carry on.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:56 PM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


The interesting thing about it for me is that the Kirin Tor, the faction that the quest-giving NPC belongs to, are aligned lawful neutral. Librarian Normantis explicitly gives you the quest because you're not one of them, and thus you can go torture this guy with impunity.

More on this point - on the Alignment page of the WoW wiki, it says this about the lawful neutral alignment:
The hater of chaos, a lawful neutral character will stick to the letter of the law, whether it is their personal code of rules, their king's, or their religion's. This character finds chaos as abhorrent as evil and will not bend their personal guidelines even to help another if it will contribute to chaos.
The wiki also says that alignment "alignment for races are listed as either 'always', 'usually', or 'often' (such as 'always neutral' or 'usually chaotic evil')." Didn't know that. So I guess whether or not you're even capable of torture not only depends on your alignment, but how inclined you are towards it?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:59 PM on November 27, 2008


This reminds of a Terry Pratchett book I used to have as a kid: Only you can save mankind
posted by yoHighness at 6:33 PM on November 27, 2008


Man, did I clean out people's houses in the Ultima 7's... and suffered the virtual guilt

Maybe you can't get that Porshe -- unless you steal it. That's life.

That's life?
posted by yoHighness at 6:39 PM on November 27, 2008


That's life?

It's all in the game, yo, it's all in the game.
--Omar
posted by WolfDaddy at 6:42 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well most people have a better shot at stealing one than buying one. The choice is up to you.

The criticism that there's no repercussion for some immoral act in a game is basically demanding that the game divorce itself from a key element of the real world: punishments do not always follow bad acts. So you can choose to have morality tales in video format, or give people a sandbox. This "no repercussion" criticism is just another way of saying "you didn't show people that crime doesn't pay!" Well sometimes it does.

(now, the separate idea that torture doesn't work is more specific than that, but any moral obligation owing to a misrepresentation of this is again a separate argument)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:45 PM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


So if this particular quest is required to advance in levels or what have you, why don't you just refuse? It should really come down to this: Do you feel that your desire to advance can overpower your sense of morality/justice?

Sure, you might not be able to advance in levels or storyline if you don't do this quest. But if you object so strongly to torture in that context, then don't advance.

You don't have to do any quests in games, you only have to do them if you want to advance in the game. If you object to a quest strongly enough, then it shouldn't matter that you'll be stuck behind the other morally-deficient players. You'll always have the moral high ground, even if you get killed by a stiff breeze as a result.
posted by agress at 7:57 PM on November 27, 2008


Two Words: Second Life.
posted by phylum sinter at 8:17 PM on November 27, 2008


That's what I'm saying, agress. People are reacting like "But I don't get the reward if I don't do the evil thing!
Why are you making me do it?!"

Which is... psychotic.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:19 PM on November 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


Some people object to doing teh evil, but that's not really my position: I'm comfortable playing evil characters.
What bothers me about torture in WoW is the same as what bothers me in 24, I guess.
It bugs me to see torture portrayed is a normal and necessary evil, the restrictions against which are (weak) social taboo instead of moral imperative.
It's further aggravating, to me, when torture is shown as, "The Interrogator's Easy Button." The portrait of torture as effective and efficient is seductive, and I'm not at all persuaded that the Kirin Tor are handling this any more responsibly than Jack Bower.
posted by Richard Daly at 8:56 PM on November 27, 2008


This is irredeemably stupid. It's a game, it has no moral responsibility. Why does every little bit of fiction have to carry a god damn life lesson? This says nothing about torture.

Blizzard designed this quest in a way that encourages players to think of the infliction of severe pain on prisoners is justified by the greater good.

Within the context of a war between zombie space demons and the cast of Dungeon and Dragons. For fuck's sake.
posted by spaltavian at 9:17 PM on November 27, 2008


The Milgram Experiment analogy is interesting; people complaining that there's no option to quit don't quite realize how the experiment worked, perhaps?

Your "scientific observer" is demanding you continue. From the Wikipedia on the experiment:
If at any time the subject indicated his desire to halt the experiment, he was given a succession of verbal prods by the experimenter, in this order:

1. Please continue.
2. The experiment requires that you continue.
3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
4. You have no other choice, you must go on.
Of course, the role-playing aspect of the game renders any conclusions of player morality meaningless; you can understand the actions are evil and undertake them because the character you play is evil.
posted by pwnguin at 9:34 PM on November 27, 2008


This incident and 24 have something important in common: they both put forward the pernicious and discredited notion that torture works.

That's why they call it a fantasy game. Reality is down the hall, through the open door.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:38 PM on November 27, 2008


In a lot of ways, torture IS the interrogator's "easy button." Because the alternative is actual interrogative skill.

And of course it tends to yield false results and other useless information as a result. This is reality.

But I don't believe that this is really the point here. In the context of the game and the mission, the point in this particular case is pretty clear cut: Torture is both morally and legally distasteful > We're gonna do it anyway because we feel we can gain from it > relevant and accurate game intelligence will be gained from this > Profit.

These are the conditions built into the game. The character playing the game knows as much when they are tasked with the quest. Reality doesn't apply to created environments such as these.

If the character refuses to do the quest and decides to hold him/herself back, that's entirely their choice; the only thing held to their heads is the monthly subscription fee.

If, on the other hand, the character decides to play the quest as designed, there is no ambiguity about what happened. They performed the quest, got relevant intelligence, and moved right along.

People that confuse this for reality are not fit to be let out in the general population. Obviously, sometimes mistakes happen and they do get out, but in general those types of people are best kept in very comfortable rooms (padded by pillows.)
posted by agress at 9:47 PM on November 27, 2008


In a lot of ways, torture IS the interrogator's "easy button." Because the alternative is actual interrogative skill.

Only torture doesn't necessarily produce accurate information; the Khmer Rouge is a great example of the kinds of information torture produces: words that make the pain stop. Mindscrewing your captor produces more reliable information.

That said, this is a fantasy game - if you've chosen an evil race, welcome to the world of shooting dogs and burning villages. You can't be some bad-ass looking creature and act like Bob Ross. But moreover, yes, you can decline. Maybe it is a Milford experiment. Or maybe ... by refusing to torture, you end up in some other story line where at one point you encounter the relative of the captive, who awards you for your mercy by giving you some incredible magic item/weapon.

Or maybe, right, it's just a game anyway - I just finished a round of War 1917 and gassed the hell out of some British troops. I am no less convinced that the using such weapons should be a punishable war crime. Damn fun game, though.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:56 PM on November 27, 2008


I'm not one for roleplaying in most games but after rolling a newly-risen Death Knight, doing the bidding of the Lich King was supremely satisfying. Walking into the human village and hearing screams of the peasants from the cottages as I passed? Have the peons /cower as I entered the room? Yes please! I felt like such a bad ass. Sure, I was ridiculously overpowered and could slaughter a room full of virtual innocents in no time, but it is so cool that the whole DK starting area is both a crash course in the new mechanics and a primer on DK philosophy. And I think that's really the point.

WoW is a MMORPG. A massively multiplayer online role playing game. Some people will take it too seriously when you aren't able to RP the way you want. So while the quest and the framing of the larger issue have certainly hit a chord, I think the heart of the issue is how you play the game. For most people, those who are playing to level, for phat lewts, epix, etc, the quest and the interactive torturing action required was, if it stuck out at all, an interesting topic of brief conversation (ie, Flag and move on). For those that tend toward the literal interpation of a RPG, it's more of a sticking point that there is no alternative, no peaceful resolution. Unless you RP an Evil aligned character and then, what do you care? I bet you kill critters after /love-ing them.

I'm not surprised that Mr Bartle takes issue with the limited way Blizzard raised and addressed the issue of torture in this quest. He is, after all, a pioneering of the genre whose research and thoughts should be observed and considered. It seems to me that given the context of the quest and his hyperbole, Mr Bartle's approach is much like the strict RPer* one, meeting side by side as they look at beans on a plate.

*A shadow priest refusing to use healing spells?
posted by now i'm piste at 10:18 PM on November 27, 2008


You can't be some bad-ass looking creature and act like Bob Ross.

Actually that would be damn scary. Though particularly if only Ross-like in manner.

"Let's just cut this little rascal here, ha! Happy as we can be."
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:09 AM on November 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Actually that would be damn scary. Though particularly if only Ross-like in manner.

"If you see an orc with an afro, run."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:20 AM on November 28, 2008


Yeah, I've decided that he'd need to look like Bob Ross, too. Change nothing but the instruments, I suppose.

*shudder*
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:22 AM on November 28, 2008


I completed the quest, and it did feel a little weird to be torturing someone even though I don't really RP when playing the game at all. I figured that was the point - they were trying to show that the factions fighting against the Lich King are doing morally dubious things in order to win. Given that after 70 levels I will quite happily burn whole villages to the ground because someone will give me a new hat, sending me off to kill someone isn't going to cut it if you want me to be disturbed by my actions while torturing someone did give me pause for thought.
posted by penguinliz at 3:42 AM on November 28, 2008


as someone who does play wow, i will say i find the criticism a bit narrow. i mean, wow is a game where the vast majority of what you must do is to kill others. other creatures, other people. and to me, this sort of criticism reminds me of content rating systems--where nudity can garner an R-rating, while violence only PG-13 or even PG.

why is torture so strongly weighted? i certainly won't defend it, or the quest--but, in a game in which violence is so central to its play--why should torture be special? i say that not out of any sort of judgment, but out of a genuine interest to see someone defend a view that we should single out torture here as an instance where wow really stepped over an ethical line.

it should be pointed out that the tortured person was "bad", as are many other people and creatures the game asks you to vanquish.
posted by moz at 10:59 AM on November 28, 2008


Bartle's done some good work in the past, but this is just silly.

I've killed over 150,000 alliance players. That's pretty much the equivalent of dropping a nuclear bomb on Pasadena, CA and killing every man, woman and child in the city. I've done this by causing their bodies to wither away in a rictus of corruption, agony, and immolation; and at the moment of their death I've literally stolen away many of their souls and used them to summon demons. Often I've resorted to cannibalism over their corpses.

And along the way, I've killed probably millions of (fairly) innocent people and creatures. Certainly a good number of those have been vile interdimensional undead creatures under the service of an unholy demon god, but many were merely farmers, miners (god how I despise miners), archaeologists, what have you.

Luring children to a van with candy may be more personal as a moral affront, and torture may be both useless and self-defeating, but my guild and I are responsible for about as much mayhem as the Catholic Church. To get all wiggly because someone applies a 'neural needler' which has apparently no lasting effect (the guy stands there and gets neural needled by the next adventurer to come along -- he must secretly enjoy it!) is missing the point.
posted by felix at 11:08 AM on November 28, 2008


Luring children to a van with candy may be more personal as a moral affront

I don't have the time to do this properly, so someone else gets the idea. Please make a Pedobear RPG serving as an excellent troll both through sheer provocation and through social commentary on molestation hysteria.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:19 AM on November 28, 2008


felix: I've killed over 150,000 alliance players.

How much have you played that game? I have a kill count of only half that in UT2004 and I have almost a thousand hours of that built up. And that's in a game where the only activity consists of PVP!
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:56 PM on November 28, 2008


Compare to AskMe responses on a similar topic.
posted by hermitosis at 6:54 AM on November 29, 2008


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