Respond, if you please

Video games tend to draw controversy. It’s okay, we ask for it. We know we are asking for it and deal with it when it happens. This is how the ESRB was born after all.

The thing that bothers me though, is when a video game gets a ton of bad press, then makes attempts to correct the “problem” and receives no response from the media or sites that complained so loudly to begin with. I get why national media doesn’t do this (though really with everything on the internet they could at least make a small post). But what stops small blogs from responding?

The example that spawned the thought for me is the “Torture Quest” brouhaha in WoW. When Wrath of the Lich King launched, players tore into the content, much as they always do. A few weeks after launch, someone wrote a blog post about a quest: The Art of Persuasion and about how horrible it was and how they were going to stop playing WoW over it. The quest requires you to “torture” a captured enemy for information. For whatever reason, many players (ironically most had done the quest, but never really paid attention to *what* they were doing) latched on to this and got *bent*. How dare the developers force them to TORTURE INNOCENT PEOPLE. Rawr! Pitchforks! Torches! Bad Blizzard Devs!

To which I replied with “Really? THIS is where you draw the line?” Seriously. We are discussing a game where my main character, Joyia has 181,866 TOTAL KILLS. She has KILLED almost 200,000 THINGS in the game. (I also want to point out her kills that yield experience or honor, ie meaningful kills, are at 67,405, meaning that she has killed 114,461 creatures/humaniods/players that were only for loot and sometimes not even that.) In that same zone there is a quest to collect HUMAN EARS. In Hillsbrad they have you poisoning some farmer’s dog. In Hillsbrad again they have you COLLECTING SKULLS. These are just the thoughts off the top of my head. My first reaction was “What’s a little torture on top of the wholesale slaughter of thousands of creatures, many of whom were unarmed or non-aggressive.”

My second thought was “Well, okay, but this guy, NOT INNOCENT.” And he isn’t. He is an evil wizard attempting to destroy the WORLD. Imagine a crazy, powerful being, attempting to launch every nuclear weapon in the world at once. It’s your job to stop him. Would you step down the dark side to prevent it? Even if it meant my own death at the hands of Justice, I am pretty sure I would. This isn’t puppy killing we are discussing. This guy is a mass murder (as much as any player character) and is actively killing puppies himself.

Regardless, after a few months, the furor died down and no one really talked about it again. Fast forward to Cataclysm. Early in Hyjal, one of the introductory leveling zones for level 80 players, there is a quest to capture a harpy (a known and common enemy mob throughout the game)  and interrogate her about her master’s plans to reincarnate an ancient for the bad guys. Ancients are super powerful beings. Having even one on your side is the equivalent of bringing a tank to a knife fight. The player, once damaging her to about 25% is given two “speech” options. One to “Soften her up” the second to “Ask her about their plans.” The first results in a bit of “smacking around” and some comments from the npc holding the harpy in place for you.

This is very obviously Blizzard’s response to the fuss over the Persuasion quest. First, the player doesn’t need to “rough” the npc up to get her to talk. Just asking her she volunteers the information the player is looking for. Second, if the player does “rough” her up, the npc has 8 canned responses, 5 of which could be construed as negative towards the player for using violence. Finally, at the end of the conversation with the harpy the player is given the choice, to kill her or spare her. Both options return a “positive” response from the npc. “It’s your call, <name>. Marion brought this on herself when she attacked our matron’s sacred shrine.” and “You’re a better person than I, <name>. But I suppose the harpies are just pawns here.” if you choose to kill or spare respectively.

It allows the player to play as they chose, as opposed to following the designed path. I love it. This is a prime example of  “Player Driven Stories” as discussed at GDC this year. The player drives the story. Both of my healers let her off, sparing her life. My DK and Warlock both killed her. My DK chose to soften her up until the npc said something to the effect of  “Okay, we still need her to answer questions.”

Regardless, it was a superb response to player’s comments on the “interrogation” from Wrath so why couldn’t the detractors at the very least acknowledge that Blizzard took their concerns under consideration and made an effort to appease them. Although I still feel it is a bit hypocritical to run around ripping out skulls then get squeamish at a bit of shock therapy.