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Reader Comments (21)

Posted: Dec 14th 2008 12:50AM (Unverified) said

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Meh.

Koster's article isn't about an instance of "torture" in a game not about torture, but rather, games about torture. He doesn't mention WoW (which I'm sure is on purpose) and includes GTA.

While he's trying to be more universally encompassing in his ideas, he's not really discussing the same thing as Bartle. Bartle's observations are more about being shocked by an out-of-character (and arguably out-of-context) torture scenario in a game not about torture.

Keep this distinction in mind when replying on Koster's blog.

Posted: Dec 14th 2008 1:28AM (Unverified) said

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Indeed, I may have read too far into that aspect -- the WoW quest is what kicked off these discussions of late and it's certainly what I had in mind while reading "Are games about torture evil?"

You're correct though. Koster is speaking in more expansive terms beyond a single game. I've updated the post to reflect this.
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Posted: Dec 14th 2008 2:04AM (Unverified) said

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I think that both approaches should be utilized, really, and for several reasons. From a purely gameplay standpoint, a potential torture scenario offers a few different branching paths which could be used many times to highlight exactly how unreliable torture can be. Offhand, I can think of four different branching paths, which could branch further.

First path: refusing to torture the prisoner. This path would lead to an information gathering mission that could either provide the information to continue the chain, or on failure, lead to a detrimental outcome (the outpost is attacked, say).

Second path: ending torture too soon. No information is gathered, and the information gathering mission is required. This could occasionally force a worse outcome (the aforementioned outpost attack), whether the secondary mission succeeds or fails.

Third path: ending the torture after getting good information. The bad result is avoided completely, and perhaps more swiftly. Perhaps the enemy forces get ambushed.

Fourth path: ending the torture after getting bad information. This would be the worst possible result, garnering more losses than gains, and having, of course, the worst rewards.

This not only allows a "moral" choice on the part of the player, but also shows how unreliable and dangerous information gleaned from torture can be. It also highlights the fact that, IF torture works (which is rare), it can be an effective means of gathering information, though it is no less "evil."

Morality is, of course, relative to the individual and society. That is the only reason for the quotes. I, personally, find real life torture to be reprehensible, and far too often resorted to when other means for gathering information exist.

Posted: Dec 14th 2008 2:08AM (Unverified) said

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As an addendum, I can easily understand why Blizzard didn't go with the branching path route. There is no branching quest chain in World of Warcraft, and such varying storytelling requires much more work on the part of the developers for less gain (while being more enjoyable, the quest does only last moments, and they do need to concentrate on adding more content for their user base). Hopefully this sort of storytelling will be much more present in The Old Republic, including the torture chain represented above (such a situation is full of significance in such a morally polarized setting).
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Posted: Dec 14th 2008 3:59AM Jeromai said

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Semantics. Evil is such a loaded word, and allows for generalizations and assumptions.

All torture is evil aka bad. Games teach people stuff. Therefore there should not be a game to teach people anything about torture, unless the message that 'torture is bad' is attached to it so that people can be taught this. Any game that fails to do this but includes torture anyway is evil and wrong.

Do I have to point out the many potential flaws in reasoning and philosophy in the above statements that different people may disagree with?

We could go into a whole discussion into defining evil. (Don't think anyone's succeeded yet, everyone defines it a little differently from their own perspective.) Can a 'thing' (game, weapon, book, person, etc.) be evil? Does it require intention?

We could look specifically at torture and get into an endless disagreement into whether it is -always- evil. (See above debate on defining evil for a cyclic loop.)

We could debate whether games really do teach, and what they teach, and how they teach, their effect on people's conscious and subconscious minds, and any social responsibility that comes from designing games knowing the above, while also knowing that different game designers are motivated by the commercial bottom line, or by creating an entertaining experience, or an artistic statement...

And we could wonder whether designers really need to get so prescriptive as to lay down the law as to what preaching and 'lessons' to include in a game so as to make it morally justifiable. Are people still going to play something with so obvious a motive?

Posted: Dec 14th 2008 7:47AM Abriael said

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The real laughable thing is that in the end, even torture doesn't make your caharacter evil. In WoW you're simply not allowed to be evil, and the terrible death knights end up joining ranks with the boy scouts of Alliance and the noble but misunderstood Horde.

This is just another demonstration on how (despite Blizzard's storytelling being largely overrated by the masses) weak the backstory of world of Warcraft is.

People like me that like to play good are forced to do something they hate as part of the storyline that they cannot indluence, and are deprieved of a reasonably evil enemy to fight, since horde is more a comedic relief than evil. People that like to play villain simply aren't prevented to do so. They're attracted by the class evil "looks", and then they're let down at the end as they're dropped in the two usual most definately not evil factions.

Posted: Dec 14th 2008 7:48AM Abriael said

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*are prevented to do so, even, damn typos
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Posted: Dec 14th 2008 9:35AM (Unverified) said

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How you jumped from "torture doesn't make you evil" to "weak WoW backstory" is unclear, though this is probably based more on your perception rather than reality.

Also, I'm going to assume you didn't do or know about the quest in question, as:

(1) You're not forced to do the quest.

(2) You can influence the (definitely minor) storyline by not doing the questline, thereby leaving the quest unresolved or at the whims of your interpretation.

(3) You are not deprived of a reasonable evil enemy to fight.

Characterization of the Horde as "comedic relief" by anyone is incorrect. It is more accurate to point out the comedic elements throughout the entire game.

As a comparison, ganking is probably higher up on the evil scale than the torture element recently reported on.
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Posted: Dec 14th 2008 11:39AM Abriael said

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Unfortunately i know the questline plenty well.

1) chosing of doing or not doing the quest isn't the equivalent of offering a choice.

3) There's no player controlled evil enemy to fight in world of warcraft. Everyone is part of the horde (noble but misunderstood comedic relief) or of the alliance (the boy scouts). Since Blizzard seem to want to cater to pre-teens every day more, they decided to have death knights "betray" Arthas and join the ranks of the two usual non evil factions. God forbid someone playing for a truly villanious faction. That'd scare the kids.

Ganking isn't evil. It's simply stupid.
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Posted: Dec 14th 2008 4:52PM LaughingTarget said

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Only in a world where WoW is the only story ever written does it have a remotely decent story. It simply doesn't take itself serious, just as intended. It is meant to be a spoof of the fantasy genre, the multitude of pop culture references prove it. If Blizzard wanted the Warcraft universe to be a piece of high literature, they'd not recreate a battle scene from the movie version of Starship Troopers.
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Posted: Dec 14th 2008 8:23PM (Unverified) said

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Abriael...who cares if players can be evil or not? You are the only person I have EVER seen make that statement. Pure evil and pure good make for way worse storytelling than grey areas, which is one of the reasons the WAR storyline is so freakin' boring.

Not having a dedicated evil faction to play as is in no way indicative of how good a games story is, or even who the game is designed for. You can't play the PvE game of LotRO as Saurons forces, by your logic, that means that LotRO is also designed for pre-teens and apparent little kids. Why does a game have to allow you to play "evil" to be considered mature? Look at a game like EVE, that game has neither good nor evil factions, and it caters to mainly the most mature players.
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Posted: Dec 14th 2008 8:55AM (Unverified) said

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Torture has been a part of World of Warcraft since its inception because it is the foundation of the Warlock class. Searing Pain inflicts pain on the enemy target over time, Immolation burns the enemy over time, and the Succubus lashes its target with Lash of Pain. These and other abilities are a form of torture because it is slow and painful. Keep moralism out of the game; this isn't real life.

Posted: Dec 14th 2008 9:15AM (Unverified) said

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The problem isn't just that there is torture -- the problem is that Blizzard's design did not let you choose any other option. You were forced to perform amoral actions if you wished to progress in the game. As everyone knows, an RPG is supposed to let YOU choose how to handle these situations. It is poor game design, no matter how you feel about torture.

(The "killing NPCs is fine?" argument is comparing apples to oranges. Fighting openly hostile enemies who are trying to kill you first is different than torturing helpless prisoners as part of an obligatory quest.)

Posted: Dec 14th 2008 9:40AM (Unverified) said

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This is misleading.

You have a basic choice: to do or not do the quest. Not doing the quest leaves the quest chain unresolved.

And, not performing such amoral actions does not prevent your progress in game.
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Posted: Dec 14th 2008 10:14AM fairyfay said

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to whoever is behind me, he did mention the wow torture quest in the first paragraph i believe. well anyways i think it is very absurd to have any problem with "torture" in a video game. if you don't like it your probably the age of 13 or haven't experienced anything worth while in your real life, so you might want to work on that before you start complaining about some little torture quest. all it is, is a game. they should be interesting and very fun and keep changing into something that will stay fun for a long time, unlike wow.

Posted: Dec 14th 2008 11:16AM (Unverified) said

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Are you referring to Egan, who wrote the Massively article above, or Koster, who doesn't mention WoW in his blog article? Please read Egan's reply (#2) above.

While probably written in jest, your description of someone who may have problems with torture content in games doesn't match that of Bartle's (nor Koster's), whose commentary sparked the entire discussion. He's well over 13 and done enough with his life to deem him a credible authority on the matter at hand.
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Posted: Dec 14th 2008 5:03PM (Unverified) said

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First, there is the "torture" quest in World of Warcraft where the Death Knight "pokes" people... this quest is NOT "optional" if you wish to play a Death Knight character.

But I believe the torture quest that has caused the web-wide controversy is this one in the Borean Tundra:

Summary: "The Art of Persuasion - Librarian Normantis on Amber Ledge wants you to use the Neural Needler on the Imprisoned Beryl Sorcerer until he reveals the location of Lady Evanor."

Details: "It is fortunate that you're here. 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 inofrmation. 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..."

[he gives you the Neural Needler, which "Inflicts incredible pain to target, but does no permanent damage."]

Posted: Dec 14th 2008 6:00PM (Unverified) said

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You do realize the death knight quest isn't the issue? Bartle finds the context of the torture scenario as acceptable (you are playing an "evil" character doing "evil" things).

In contrast, Koster doesn't make the distinction on his blog betweeen the key torture scenario with death knight character development, and the quest segment in the tundra.

It is my impression that Bartle is more familiar with the contexts provided in the game (i.e. he is a WoW player) pointing out game tone inconsistencies, than Koster (he is not a WoW player) making more universal generalizations.
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Posted: Dec 16th 2008 9:07AM Sephirah said

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Hehe, so I wasn't the only one to notice that there are at least TWO torture quests in WotLK...
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Posted: Dec 15th 2008 10:24AM (Unverified) said

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Koster is such a hack. No one in the industry respects him. He's the Uwe Boll of MMOs.
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