Hating the Kirin Tor Ethics: Mages Who Torture
- 2009-06-12 16:01:19<<< Previous - Base Jumping at the Twin Colossals and Testing a Nearby Dragon | Next - Sims 3: Pondering the Inevitable Future Purchase >>>
Once upon a time, back in the Beta testing
period of Wrath of the Lich King, I completed this quest chain and wrote up several paragraphs worth of criticism that I turned in to the developers immediately after each quest. I'd already given similar feedback on the Death Knight's quests
- but in that series the character is eventually (sort of) redeemed at the end, and you understand the motivation behind the quests. In comparison the Kirin Tor have you torture a helpless subject - and you never have any indication that this is a bad thing, or see any negative effects, or even learn why it your actions were vital. Here are a few details.
The beginning of the chain starts with Too Close For Comfort
for Horde players and Nick of Time
for Alliance. Both take you to Amber Ledge in the Borean Tundra
. The "fun" begins with the quest called Abduction
when Librarian Donathan
gives you these instructions: "Take this device. Return to Beryl Point and use it on a Beryl sorcerer when he is near death. It should bind him long enough for you to bring him here for questioning."
So the Kirin Tor have me kidnap someone. Well, that's not too much of an ethical dilemma because I've been killing off these enemy mages before, as they easily aggro if you pass anywhere near them. And the device makes a nice chain animation that captures the Beryl sorcerer (as long as you've nearly killed him first). I could have actually mounted up and the chain would have held. But I only figured that part out after I'd run back in bear form.
The chain held after I switched back to elf form. Always nice to know that your druid abilities aren't going to interfere with a quest.
It's the next quest that really starts to raise questions.
The quest is called the Borean Inquisition
, named after the Spanish Inquisition
, a period in history known for repression of various religious beliefs (Jews, Muslims and Protestants), censorship of books, and practices of torture. In other words, shorthand for "not a good thing," to put it mildly.
You're sent to Librarian Normantis
, who's inside the tower waiting for you with the chained prisoner.
I should point out that the mage prisoner is completely helpless and can in no way harm you, no matter what you do to him.
His eye makeup does remind me of Alice Cooper, but I still don't dislike the guy.
Normantis gives you the quest The Art of Persuasion
, otherwise known (to me anyway) as the "Torture this Dude So I Don't Have To!" quest.
My first reaction was "wait, what? WHY?!!" Normantis says that "We need to know where Lady Evanor is being held at once!" - but we're not given any reasoning why it's so
important that we find out immediately. For all we know she could already be dead. And there are plenty of other races that have aggro'd and attacked us that we've eventually become friendly with - is there no way to peaceably approach the Beryl Mages? Frankly I wasn't convinced of the need to rush right in and torture this guy. And here's the real slap in the face - Normantis says "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." So basically, you're just a flunky, someone the Kirin Tor feel can dirty their hands with torture. And then you'll be able to say "I was just following orders
The item you're given to torture the mage is called the Neural Needler
Note the item tells you that it "Inflicts incredible pain to target, but does no permanent damage." This immediately reminded me of the the Milgram Experiment
. Here's a quote
from Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, who conducted the experiment:
"I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation."
In the study 65% of the subjects administered extremely high shocks simply because the authority figure told them to.
At this point I was certain that Blizzard would have some clever quest coming up where I'd be asked to choose an outcome. I was hoping that I'd actually be able to use the Neutal Needler on Normantis himself to teach him a lesson in inflicting pain upon others. While I was pondering this (and testing to see if I could use the Needler on anyone besides the prisoner) another player moved forward to torture the prisoner.
And the prisoner's response:
He begs you to stop...and yet you continue to shock him. Or you do if you want to complete the quest. At that point I really didn't feel good about the quest or the game. (Yes, yes, it's just a game - but that's what you say if you don't really think about the implications of it. I tend to think about this stuff.) It certainly wasn't what I'd call fun, and I wasn't sure what message it was trying to get across other than "the Kirin Tor seem evil."
So what is the Kirin Tor reaction?
Normantis thanks you and gives you some silver, and then sends you on to the Librarian to plan the rescue of Lady Evanor
. My main question here was still "who IS
Lady Evanor?!" I've never bumped into her before and the quest chain still hasn't filled me in on her importance in the big scheme of things.
The Librarian does apologize to me, vaguely..
But then in the next quest, A Race Against Time
, Librarian Donathan actually says "Hurry, . Lady Evanor is suffering!" My thought was "well, would the other side actually be torturing Lady Evanor if they didn't know we were killing and torturing the prisoners we've captured?! And why are we fighting these Beryl Sorcerers again?" No answers. When the Librarian sends me to the dragon Surristrasz for help (Quest: Reforging the Key) I was sure this was the moment when a higher intelligence would chide me for my violent actions. Nope.
Surristrasz: "The frivolous games you play here are of no consequence.... You and your Dalaran allies pick at loose threads while the fabric of this world's future is being shredded. Still, this may provide my drakes some needed amusement."
And then gives you the quest Taking Wing. In fact the next two quests really just have you play spectator and watch the show. Once you rescue Lady Evanor - which is incredibly anticlimatic - you can't help but notice that she seems just fine (hair and clothes aren't even mussed)> She doesn't even explain why your previous work was worthwhile - she just sends you off to do more work/quests. She does give the quest that sends you to Coldarra, an area with more quests and an instance. And of course you receive Kirin Tor reputation points.
I was left standing there, blinking, wondering if I was the only person who found the Kirin Tor to be unpleasant bastards, and trying to logic away the fact that the Kirin Tor could easily be the "bad guys" in this story.
But I wasn't alone in that feeling - many people blogged about this back with Wrath first came out. I encourage you to read all of the following posts - I've taken some key quotes just to give you an idea of the thought that other gamers are giving this. I'm putting Richard Bartle's post first only because it generated the most links from various gaming blogs, and the most response from other Wow players. I was also happy to find that other people thought of the Milgram Experiment.
Richard Bartle, QBlog, 19th November, 2008
"...Basically, you have to take some kind of cow poke and zap a prisoner until he talks. I'm not at all happy with this. I was expecting for there to be some way to tell the guy who gave you the quest that no, actually I don't want to torture a prisoner, but there didn't seem to be any way to do that. Worse, the quest is part of a chain you need to complete to gain access to the Nexus, which is the first instance you encounter (if you start on the west of the continent, as I did). So, either you play along and zap the guy, or you don't get to go to the Nexus.
I did zap him, pretty well in disbelief ó I thought that surely the quest-giver would step in and stop it at some point? It didn't happen, though. Unless there's some kind of awful consequence further down the line, it would seem that Blizzard's designers are OK with breaking the Geneva convention."
Richard Bartle, Qblog, 26th November, 2008
[Response after many people gave the "it's just a game, don't think about it too much" commentary.]
"...I am aware that playing WoW means you get to kill thousands of creatures. I am aware that murder is a worse crime than torture. Murder is a worse crime than anything (other than mass murder). However, previous quests have not exactly asked you to commit murder (at least for the Alliance ó I don't know about Horde). It's always been for some morally justifiable purpose (self defence, most of the time). Whether you believe that torture can ever be morally justified or not (personally, I don't), you can't justify it in this particular case. ...There's a contradiction between "you have to torture this guy because if you don't then the Blue Dragonflight will destroy the world!" and "if you don't like it, don't do the quest". If I don't do it and the world isn't destroyed, that means it wasn't necessary in the first place, right? So why do the guys want me to torture him? ...It's this last point ó the breaking of the covenant between designer and player ó 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."
On the subject of torture in ďWorld of Warcraft.Ē
Stupid Evil Bastard, December 09, 2008
"...I was taken aback, but I did the quest and moved on and didnít really think about it much until later. I suppose you could claim that the countless hours Iíve spent killing zombies, Nazis, and thugs in horribly violent video games over the years has desensitized me, but I donít buy that because out of the hundreds of quests Iíve done on the way to level 80 this one sticks in my mind in an uneasy way. Why? Because itís completely out of context and the fact that you canít progress the quest line without doing it.
Iím not saying that torture shouldnít be depicted in a video game. WoW has other quests that involve torture, murder, and even genocide and while a good chunk of them are on the Horde side thereís a few on the Alliance side as well. The difference is the context. For example if you start a Death Knight, the one new class with this expansion, during the course of your first two levels youíre under the control of the Lich King and are technically a villain. ...It fit the context. In comparison my dwarven hunter is a hero and has done many heroic things in the course of the game and as such the torture quest seemed really out of context and not the sort of thing my hunter would do at all. ...Now itís possible the quest designers at Blizzard were trying to make a larger point about torture and I, and other folks like Richard, are failing to see it. If that were the case then Iíd feel a little better if the torture werenít successful in extracting the needed info. ...Ultimately I would be pleased if Blizzard decided to modify the quest in some way, but I wonít quit playing WoW if they donít. It is just a game, but that doesnít mean there isnít value to be had in discussing things like this."
How I Would Do the WoW Torture Quest
Working As Designed, December 16, 2008
"...The textbook way this should be done is to offer the player a choice with a reward for torturing the NPC but also a negative consequence. Is the reward worth the negative consequence?
Letís look at a perfect example already in WoW, raising your reputation with the Blood Sail Buccaneers by killing citizens of Booty Bay..."
Blessing of Kings, November 15, 2008
"...I was okay with the Death Knight torture quest because it fit the Death Knight thematically. But this one is just out of place. Especially ironic considering the quest giver states, "You see, the Kirin Tor code of conduct frowns upon our taking certain 'extreme' measures - even in desperate times such as these" as the reason he is handing the prisoner over to you to be tortured. My immediate thought was, "Hello, paladin here!"
It's especially annoying because it's on the main line to Coldarra and the Nexus. If you don't do this quest, you pretty much miss out on the entire Malygos conflict."
World of Torturecraft?
Bluh.org, 27 Jan 2009
"...Now, is it me, or does this immediately bring to mind the Milgram Experiment from the 60s? The shocks are fake, and no one is really being hurt, but the game is telling us to do it and we simply comply. Most people probably donít even question what they are doing the tiniest amount, which makes it even worse. ...In one quick quest chain, Blizzard has told us that 24 is real, torture works, and that it can effectively be used when ďtime is of the essence,Ē to quote Blizzardís own quest text. No lead up to some big statement, no condemnation of barbaric acts, simply a wink and a nudge and a perpetuation of the myth that torture is a useful method for obtaining information. ...Itís not just a game when you arenít even willing to consider the moral implications of actions in a hypothetical situation."
Queasiness in Northrend
Faux Paws, January 27th, 2009
"...These quests are disturbing and I, for one, have abandoned them. This affects my game play because now, not only must I figure out the quest but I also need to evaluate whether I have to do something I consider morally impermissible in real-life to complete the quest. So, I will continue to play in Northrend although I am more leery of the quests and spend more time on wowhead researching an entire questline before starting it.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am a history major who spent upwards of two years studying World War II from a number of perspectives. One of the most influential books I read during that time was "Ordinary Men" by Christopher Browning. I am also a former Marine and have experienced the kind of peer pressure/group think that can be found in a military organization.
I donít expect people to abandon these quests or do the same thing I am doing but I do wish to at least raise the awareness that torture is a nasty topic..."
Morality in WoWÖ and the desire for a choice
Big Bear Butt, January 28th, 2009
"...I personally found the situation infuriating. It really, really pissed me off then, and it still pisses me off to this day. Now, Iím not angry at doing the quest. Or at the existence OF the quest. The programmers and scriptwriters added a lot of political nose tweaking in the expansion, with the D.E.H.T.A. and other things, but I could care less about what their agenda or intentions may have been. Itís all minor BS.
...If you refuse, you can drop the quest from your logs. Thatís it. Done. Denied any further interaction with all the quests that follow, and I havenít done the math, but I think itís likely that youíll be unable to get enough quests to complete the Achievement for Borean quests. ...And it pisses me off to no end to feel that my only options are to either dump the quest chain completely and miss out on a TON of follow up quests leading all over the placeÖ or direct my character to do something that is totally, jarringly out of character for her.
My point to this rambling rant is to say that it is long past time that Blizzard implement branching quests. If Blizzard wants to have a quest that requires your character do make that kind of decision, it needs to BE a decision."
What annoyed me most in this was the many people who immediately were dismissive of any complaints about this quest chain with the "only a game" response or "the game is all about killing." As if it's odd that we're spending time actually thinking through the game that we're spending many hours of our lives to play. Or as if it's odd to expect more from Blizzard's writers, who've given us plenty of examples of good quest scripting in the past. Half of the reason we're all still playing this game years later is because so many of the quests are well written and thought out. It's why adults as well as children are playing Warcraft - the game has its witty and charming moments, many of them thanks to the writing. It's not all hack and slash, and it has taught us to expect more of it than that.
I have to admit that I was mostly surprised by the lack of changes in the quest itself from the Beta to the final release. Because I said these same things in my in-game feedback as I've posted here - and I can't imagine that I was the only one to have this response.
The whole thing still has me scratching my head and wondering about the reasoning behind it. Sure you can tell me I should ignore this chain - but you can't really explain the logic behind the use of torture in the chain itself. Sure there have been other violent actions my characters have done - but I've understood the motivations behind them. It really seems like the torture was just put in for shock value alone - but I hesitate to say that only because Blizzard's developers have never struck me as that lazy before. A few more sentences here and there in these quests (more backstory!) and I'd still not like the torture angle - but it could at least have made more sense and seemed less abrupt.
I've now done the quest chain three or four times - once in Beta, and twice in game once it was live. In fact I did it the last time just to see if its (lack of) logic still bothered me, which it did. There have always been quests that I've skipped on alts because they were too much trouble - this is the first one I'm avoiding because of it makes me feel annoyed at the quest's author rather than the actual game characters.
Anyone find any response from Blizzard about this? I've not found anything so far. But then I haven't bothered to cull through the forums.
A final thought - what do you suppose happened to the mage prisoner? I'm thinking he's either still in a dungeon somewhere or was executed. Or maybe - just maybe - someone clever at Blizzard will use him in a later expansion, where he'll return and seek revenge. Lots of possibilities there.
To add your comment, click here.