Richard Bartle discusses a disturbing Wrath of the Lich King quest.
I don’t mind having torture in an MMO — it’s the kind of thing a designer can use to give interesting choices that say things to the players. However, I do mind its being placed there casually as a run-of-the-mill quest with no regard for the fact that it would ring alarm bells: this means either that the designer can’t see anything wrong with it, or that they’re actually in favour of it and are forcing it on the player base to make a point. Neither case is satisfactory.
What Bartle missed is that this isn’t actually the first quest where you have to inflict pain on people until they talk – most people will make a deathknight, and as part of their creation, get a mission (complete with specially crafted weapons) to interrogate soldiers until they give up intelligence.
Of course, as a deathknight, you’re supposed to be, well, evil. Right hand of the forces of darkness, etc. etc. So it’s justifiable in that context, and even works in concert with the other quests in this sequence which make a great effort to emphasize hey, you’re not a very nice person (of course setting in motion the inevitable redemption so that you can safely go forth and rid the Outland of hellboars alongside everyone else). But, clearly, that content was reused, and done so without a whole lot of thought. Hey, we have the ability to attach “interrogate NPC” flags to equipment now? Sweet, roll up 3 more quests!
Pretty much no matter how you treat this, issues happen. If you, as Bartle suggests, give some kind of “opt-out” reaction to enable an in-character revulsion to torture, you just stuck a deep political statement into a game where dwarves tool around on Harleys and one of the first NPCs you see as a deathknight is called “Siouxie the Banshee”. If you *don’t*, you just trivialized a deep political statement, or more damningly, shown you don’t really have an opinion on the subject.
Which is all very ironic considering that games like World of Warcraft are all about slaughtering millions of creatures so you can take their stuff and get more powerful so you can take more stuff from more creatures you slaughter. In that context poking people with a painstick before you slaughter them seems like a minor issue.