WoW: Is Blizzard Promoting Virtual Torture and Murder with the Deathknight Hero Class?

ArthasToday I read a very interesting thread on the official Blizzard forums about details about the quests for WoW’s first hero class: the Deathknight. Orophino points out that in order to become free of the influence of the Lich King and enter the outside world, the player must complete quests that involve the following:

  • the murder of innocent people who don’t fight back
  • torture of innocent people to extract information
  • murdering an unarmed friend

The poster makes an excellent point that brings up many good questions. This is the first class in WoW that requires you to complete quests before you can enter the uninstanced world at large and start leveling up your character. What is troubling here is that the player must follow a fixed “story”. He must go through all of the motions and play the part of a bloodthirsty, ruthless, psychopathic murderer.

Here’s the full text of the post:

I don’t want to give out all the cool parts of the death knight starting area. But at the same time I think people need to be aware of something.

Unless the quests change radically, I won’t be rolling a death knight in the expansion.

The problem is that the quests are unambiguously evil. And you have no option to make moral choices. What I’m talking about here isn’t the usual Warcraft. You are forced to steal, murder, and torture, and it is presented as such. The quest text goes out of its way to make sure you don’t misunderstand what’s going on.

There were several quests last night in beta where I almost decided not to continue. Specifically

– The quest where I am forced to murder civilians who don’t fight back.
– The quest where I am forced to torture people to extract information.
– The quest where I am forced to murder my unarmed friend.

I understand that it’s called World of *Warcraft*. And I understand that for the last 3.5 years I’ve been slaughtering creatures who did nothing other than carry loot I wanted. But this seems to have been designed with the sole intent of making sure I’m evil. Well……. I’m not evil. If the bridge will explode if I don’t torture someone, then the bridge will explode. If the mission fails because I won’t murder civilians who don’t fight back, then the mission will fail.

The problem with the current DK quests is that I’m not given that choice. If you want a death knight you *must* murder and torture people, and it will be presented as murder and torture. Thus, I won’t be rolling a death knight unless some serious changes are made.

Forcing a player to perform actions that are morally questionable is wrong. No player should be forced to role-play an evil character in order to progress with their class. When the element of choice is taken away the players is no longer in control of their avatar: that is not role-playing, that is acting.

Community Rep To the Rescue

Then new Blizzard community rep named Zarhym weighs in, naturally with an opinion that is totally supportive of Blizzard:

…The idea is not to roll a Death Knight and immediately have the ability to choose what kind of work you do in the world. When first entering the world you quickly find you are a slave to the will of the Lich King. You do his bidding because the good in you has been nullified by his powers. It isn’t until the story further unfolds that you are able to escape the grasp of the Lich King and defect to the Alliance or Horde.

Selling the Hero Class to Prop Up the Expansion

The problem here is that in their eagerness to *sell* the expansion and the so-called “hero class” concept they have pulled out all of the stops to make this new class seem special. Now it’s not enough to be a hero class — now you need a back story as well complete with special quests, unique instanced content and more. It’s like they are trying too hard to sell this. This sets up an onerous precedent for future hero classes. Will the next hero class be forced to do good acts before he is let loose on the world?

My problem here is that the player has no control over the story; instead he just follows merrily along. It’s like being on a ride at an amusement park. This is not a single-player game where you become the character and advance through the storyline — this is an MMO where you are supposed to have choices. For the first time Blizzard is asking players to make a moral choice before deciding to play one of their classes. Am I evil? If yes then go ahead and enjoy the Deathknight. Am I good? Sorry the Deathknight is not for you. This is very dangerous ground to tread on.

It’s one thing if a MMO is designed from the ground up to allow players to choose to role-play a moral alignment. It’s another thing altogether to introduce a moral requirement for new classes. What Blizzard is doing here feels bizarre, disconnected and disjointed.

It’s no secret that I’m one of the biggest critic of WoW’s hero classes. I think this fiasco is just another troubling element of a misguided and unhinged concept. Besides, what kind of “hero” tortures and murders helpless people?

The community rep continues on:


A Death Knight carries a certain weight of darkness, and if one chooses to play a Death Knight one will see how this weight propagates the story line through which this Hero Class is introduced in Wrath of the Lich King. If one has initial qualms with the morality of the class and how the playable races of the Horde and Alliance are vulnerable to the bidding of the Lich King, one should perhaps not play a Death Knight. Their introduction ultimately does set the tone though for the dark power of the Scourge in the next expansion.

So according to Blizzard it’s official: if you happen to have any qualms about torturing and murdering innocent and defenseless people then DON’T PLAY A DEATHKNIGHT. That kind of logic is unacceptable and smacks of arrogance. Only evil heroes need apply it seems. I find this a real cop out on the part of Blizzard. Notice too that this is the first time that this “feature” of the Deathknight class has been ever publicized and the idea of “darkness” (read: evil) has been conveniently absent from the official Wrath of the Lich King website information.

It’s Not About Morality, It’s About Choice

This is not an issue of one morality vs another morality. This is an issue of removing the ability for the player to choose his own path and story. Part of the power of MMO’s is they give players the ability to play their classes as they wish. A player determines for himself by his deeds and actions whether he is good, neutral or evil. In this case Blizzard has made a cardinal error by forcing one particular moral code on the unsuspecting player. At least in a single-player game like Fable you always had a choice to follow either the path of good or evil.

Not only that, for the first time Blizzard is literally forcing the player to role-play via the quests. This is very hypocritical when you consider the lack of support for role-players on role-play servers. For Blizzard, RP is great when it’s convenient and when it helps them to sell their expansion. Priceless.

Shame on the unimaginative Blizzard writers for requiring  players to play an evil character — even if it is for a series of quests. It’s too bad that they don’t have the ability to devise a story that gives the player a choice of how to progress with the Deathknight class. In a previous article I lamented the fact that on the new Sunwell Isle that the Shattered Sun offensive wants us to kill the blood elf magic junkies instead of helping them with their addiction. It’s this kind of kill-centric type of mentality that is really starting to make MMO’s one-dimensional and antiquated.

Conclusion

The real issue here is the lack of judgment on the part of Blizzard’s management team. Who green lighted these quests and approach? I sense this story is going to get bigger as time goes on as more people in the public realize that we have a video game company marketing an MMO primarily at children and teenagers that involves forcing the torture and murder of innocent people in order to play a particular class. This has the potential to be a public relations nightmare for Blizzard. What the heck were they thinking?

Blizzard go back to the drawing board and fix this mess.

-Wolfshead

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