Richard Bartle, the father of multiplayer online gaming, had his alarm bells go off when playing the quest The Art of Persuasion in the new World of Warcraft Expansion. The quest requires that the player torture a non-player character in order to get information. The game text reads as follows:
It is fortunate you’re here, <race>.
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….
So, the quest asks the player to participate in extraordinary rendition, the act of performing torture on behalf of a people who regard such torture as illegal. The player is rewarded for doing so and never given another choice. Bartle highlights the quest’s lack of moral option:
Without some reward for saying no, this is a fiction-breaking quest of major proportions. 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.
News came via BoingBoing, which has its own interesting comments. Cory Doctorow adds: