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Frantically Violent Fairy Tales Are Typical

CATEGORY: Torture, Video Games, Training

DIVISION: Modern Evil

EDITORIAL: More torture! More torture! Finally we are joined in our chorus by Wired's Clive Thompson who sees the inherent benefit of injecting more torture [and better torture] into video games. Applied agonies are learning tools - learning about ourselves and others, our limits and our strengths, and the varied cultures of infliction and torment. And the ultimate bonus is, as the current Iraq War has proven in spades, video game training primes the killing pump.

Why We Need More Torture in Videogames

Clive Thompson

To play World of Warcraft now, you've got to be a torturer.

In the recent expansion pack Wrath of the Lich King, there's a quest called "The Art of Persuasion" that requires you to extract information from a tied-up sorcerer. You do this by stinging him repeatedly with a creepy instrument called the "Neural Needler," a device that "inflicts incredible pain to target, but does no lasting damage." After a few minutes, the sorcerer coughs up the info.

As you'd imagine, this little slice of Abu Ghraib set the gameosphere alight with blistering, ideologically freighted debate. Some gamers were straightforwardly creeped out. Others were blasé; games already contain bucketsful of senseless slaughter, they figured, so is torture really worse?

Pioneering game designer Richard Bartle argued that the quest violated in-game canon, since the quest is forced upon people playing with narratively "good" Alliance characters (as opposed to WoW's evil Horde characters). In the end, the Art of Persuasion quest poses a big cultural, aesthetic and political question: Should games include torture?

To which the answer is simple: Sure they should.

In fact, I'll go further. I think we need more torture in videogames.

And better torture.

I should probably unpack these statements a bit. Let me begin by putting my cards on the table: In the real world, I'm unconditionally opposed to torture. This is in part because history has proven it produces unreliable intelligence. Even John McCain signed a bogus confession when tortured by the Viet Cong.

Torture advocates constantly evoke ticking-bomb situations to argue that drastic measures are OK in rare cases, but these scenarios exist only in the fever dreams of Hollywood; they are basically nonexistent in actual, recorded history. And hey, I live in Manhattan, the Top Terrorist Target in the United States. I want good antiterror intel! But you don't get it from torture.

More importantly, torture has devastating repercussions. It permanently erodes the character of the torturer and, worse, of the public that condones the torture. What's more, torture destroys a nation's moral high ground — which is why military commanders consistently oppose it — and incites further acts of terrorism. Torture has consequences.

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