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10:32pm on Wednesday, 26th November, 2008:

Tortuous Replies...


Hmm, my outburst on torture in WoW last week seems to have reached "life of its own" status. It was picked up by Broken Toys, where (as usual) the discussion was generally sane. However, from there it went to blogs all over the place, with each extra step leading to further misunderstandings about what I was actually trying to say. Some of these were quite bizarre.

So, rather than attempt to answer all 140+ comments on Kotaku et al, here are a few things to note (in no particular order):

What's vaguely dispiriting about this is that I was basically making an obscure design point. I wasn't making a moral point — I'd have blogged on Terra Nova for that. I was saying:

  1. Giving people a quest to torture someone for no good reason is going to shock some people; not everyone, but a good number.
  2. Shocking people in a work of art such as an MMO is fine, you're allowed to do it. It's making an artistic statement.
  3. 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.
  4. Blizzard didn't flag up that they knew they were doing something that would shock people. The prisoner gave good information, your reputation with the Kirin Tor rose, and you got to continue with the quest chain.
  5. This gives the impression that Blizzard thinks it's OK to torture prisoners, and that torture actually works.
  6. It also means the shock remains. People who thought they were playing a game with cartoon-level violence and evil in context now find they bought into the wrong fiction. This is not what WoW is about any more.

It's this last point — the breaking of the covenant between designer and player — that I was raising. Either Blizzard didn't know torture would be problematical for some people, or they did know but didn't acknowledge it. Neither of these is satisfactory.

It's a pretty obscure point that will only make sense to a very small number of people with a designer mentality. Still, I only put it on my blog, it's not as if I pasted it all over the Internet or anything...

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).