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Games Entertainment

Torture in Games 249

Recent comments from Richard Bartle, one of the developers for the first Multi-User Dungeon (MUD), stirred up discussion about whether virtual torture is acceptable as part of modern games. Bartle was referring to a quest in the latest World of Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, in which players are instructed to extract information from an NPC. He drew criticism for his view from a variety of sources, but Wired is now running a piece provocatively titled, "Why We Need More Torture in Games." The author makes the case that the failure of most media to properly portray how horrible torture actually is (for example, on the TV show 24), and the increased focus on real-world topics like Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and waterboarding, could make games the perfect venue for demonstrating the "devastating repercussions" of torture.
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Torture in Games

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  • by drik00 ( 526104 ) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @02:57AM (#26129779) Homepage

    Yeah, don't forget the entire PREMISE of Knights of the Old Republic (and sequel) were predicated on how you decided to act in-game. In order to go dark side (evil), you had to do some pretty rotten things.

    We play games the same reason that bear cubs play-fight, just like every other animal in the world, we teach ourselves through playing. I have a COMMUNCATIONS degree and I figured this out... you'd think the PhD's could put it together without making such a big deal of it.


  • by Walpurgiss ( 723989 ) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @04:22AM (#26130209)
    I wouldn't really call the evil actions 'rotten', rather more like pointlessly evil. They weren't often actions with evil intent, or ways to do things with evil motives, but instead they were just completely retarded and random evil things.

    You can be evil, and still do 'good' things to achieve evil ends, but in that game, you are evil by doing stupid things like randomly kill people all the time, or pick fights for no apparent reason or benefit.

    The evil in KOTOR was pretty stupid most of the time, and pointless other than to make your character 'evil' through random acts of violence rather than cold, calculated evil.

    I guess in D&D terms, you could be lawful good, neutral, or chaotic evil. Not really any choice to be both evil and sane.
  • by vadim_t ( 324782 ) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @05:25AM (#26130479) Homepage

    That's Neutral. It has several subtypes.

    Neutral: The one you specified. Somebody who doesn't specifically care much about these things. Most normal people go here, who don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about whether they're being completely moral or whether they follow the law exactly.
    Amoral: Animals. No understanding of moral issues.
    True Neutral: Dedication to Neutrality as a concept. Mostly applied to Druids. In my understanding a Druid's point of view is that things must persist. The kobolds must not exterminate the humans, nor the humans the kobolds. The druid will actively try to maintain balance between forces.

    D&D Evil:
    Lawful: Think lawyer type trying to screw people out of their money by using every legal resource to their advantage. This kind of person would argue that "Law == Morality", and that since it's legal for them to screw somebody out of all their money, there's nothing wrong with it.
    Neutral: Selfish. No honor or tradition. Driven by self-interest. Will adhere to law or ignore it, whichever brings the greatest advantage.
    Chaotic: What most games assume "evil" to be. Pointlessly sadistic, kills random people, backstabs associates even when against their own self-interest, because you see, they're EVIL and can't get along with anybody for any length of time. In the real world these would be insane.

  • by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @05:37AM (#26130525)
    I note that all the times you cite when torture didn't work, the victim was innocent or at least ignorant. The point is when Jack tortures someone he always gets results. This all underlies the idea that torture works, that it reveals truth. All of which those who actually have experience of it (not myself, fortunately) will tell you is complete bullshit.
  • by Petrushka ( 815171 ) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @06:06AM (#26130645)

    A relatively non-controversial company, Bethesda, has in fact released a game -- Oblivion -- that featured the player torturing an NPC for information [].

    (Un)fortunately, the torture isn't remotely realistic and consists of beating someone who never bleeds, with hands that never get sore. The NPC commits suicide afterwards too, but even that's a bit of a non-event.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @06:38AM (#26130775)

    There is a documented case during the Vietnam war: Nguyen Van Tai was interrogated by the CIA and its allies.
    Years of isolation, torture of both the subtle and not so subtle kind.
    The guy managed to give false information for years, with occasional bits of truth that was not useful anymore by the time he gave it.

    The CIA decided at the time he was proof torture was not useful. Not even a matter or ethics: it just doesn't work.

    Just Google for "Nguyen Van Tai" CIA "Frank Snepp"

  • by ghmh ( 73679 ) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @07:47AM (#26131049)

    the Dungeon Keeper games. You built torture chambers in your dungeon so you could attract Dark Mistresses who helped torture your creatures to make them work harder, or your enemies creatures to make them reveal information, join your side or die and return as ghosts. Your own Dark Mistresses actually liked you more after you personally tortured them. The related torture animations and sounds were pretty cool, especially for back then. This was back before Bullfrog was acquired by EA, and Peter Molyneux was closer to delivering his promises.

  • Re:Also (Score:4, Informative)

    by andi75 ( 84413 ) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @07:52AM (#26131077) Homepage

    > In the WoW universe, little is permanent. ... NPCs (computer controlled characters) simply respawn in the same spot after a certain amount of time.

    Not so true anymore. With Blizzard's "phasing" technology, there are some really world changing quests now (in the world you see, not what other players see). For example, in my version of Undercity, Varimathras is gone for good (I killed him).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @10:02AM (#26131917)

    The kernel in (Korea? Vietnam?) that organized the prisoners and changed how America's military regards prisoners of war that make confessions. I can't remember his name, but Ross Perot chose him as a running mate in the '92 Presidential race.

    Up to that time, the rule was name, rank and serial number. Sticking to that tended to get you dead after a lot of pain. He changed it to, "Resist as long as you can hold out." Prisoners would resist giving up anything, and then make up something that sounded good enough to stop the torture. The prison camp's leader was quoted as saying that the prisoner's 'resistance' technique had set their intelligence efforts back by many years.

  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @12:06PM (#26133315)

    I don't think he's talking about torture to obtain a confession, but rather torture to obtain actionable information.

    Such as the names of your fellow witches ?

    I would imagine an interrogation could be set up so that the subject is asked questions with only concrete and verifiable answers.

    That would require that you have some way of obtaining the answers independent of torture, which makes the torture pointless.

    I suppose you could try to set up a scenario where you'd "train" the victim to tell the truth with questions who's answer you know, before switching to the actual stuff of interest, but that takes time and is still not really trustworthy.

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer