(trigger warning: torture, medical torture, genocide, The Holocaust) (skip it)
The International Red Cross wasn’t too happy with the Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King. There were two quests in the newly-revealed locations where advancement meant the light application of torture. I mean, to be fair, one of them involves a rotting undead psychopath giving the implements of torture to a “Death Knight.” Whose base of operations is the evil floating citadel Naxxramas, which looks like a spider made from frozen-together kitchen knives. You’re slaughtering peasants and priests. You’re killing former best friends.
What’s a little torture?
There’s probably some segment of the League of the Concerned Adults worrying it’s their kids clicking some big, red “torture” button that Blizzard has made conspicuous in the game world. But if they’re already not sure what their kids are up to in some online community, then their kids are probably the unchained terrors going on about wet farts and their recreational drug regiments. So yes, concerned adult, please remove said child from my gaming experience. Games aren’t babysitters, and parents who treat them like one aren’t doing themselves or their kids any favors. They aren’t doing me any favors.
Parents who actually do play with their kids often hit these quests first, and either help their kids to sidestep them, or they prepare for one of Those Conversations. Which might be interesting, come to think of it. The Red Cross – whose mission is to protect human life, ensure respect, and reduce suffering – cares about war crimes in games because apparently 59% of all American 12-17-year-olds think torture is okay. Two-fifths of American children think we MUST keep landmines from getting banned. Landmines. The anti-personnel balls of evil that feral armies sprinkle over fields in wartime, only so other 12-17 year old foreign kids can run over them when they’re out playing tag, a few years down the road. These are either some hardened, embittered 12 year olds with badass vengeance on the mind, or critical conversations aren't happening.
So I don’t know, honestly. Maybe we do need a big conspicuous torture quest.
I’m not a child psychologist, keep that in mind. Just playing these games, it struck me as creepy that these quests were positioned alongside “gather 12 furs,” and “rescue 5 slaves.” These quests come in chains, so if you don’t finish the torture part, then later on you might not have access to the part where you get to save a basket of adorable kittens. You click to apply a neural needler to a prisoner, then click again, as he’s whispering for you to stop. You click about six times, and then he’s dead. Move onto the next quest. Get the next patch of experience. Level up.
The Red Cross developed out of the need for a neutral party to provide aid in war zones. Its creation would lead to the first Geneva Convention, in 1864, and later amendments dealing with the treatment of naval forces and POWs. In the wake of the Second World War, however, we heard accountings from concentration camp inmates. We learned that German doctors had been performing tests on civilian and military prisoners. They had attached objects to bone and tissue in operations without anesthesia, they exposed victims to mustard gas, they experimented on children, they sterilized millions. They employed a variety of tortures, medical and otherwise. These prisoners had no say in what was done by doctors and guards. At Geneva, in 1949, the major powers of the world met and agreed to condemn the torture of civilian and military human beings. Furthermore, any kind of experimentation involving human subjects would require informed consent. People needed to freely agree to it before anyone could cut into their bodies.
Cheap experiences may not hurt reasonably functional adults, and I'd be skeptical of anyone who comes anywhere near saying that. But they don't teach us anything. There are conversations that we as a society, especially with our children, we need the bravery to engage. If we get that from Vette the sex slave, a Dickwolf, or some fickle torture quest in the Northrend area of Warcraft, then so be it. It's not the job of a game to care for our children. And it’s not that children are completely unable to form their own opinions about the world. We are moral agents, but trite experiences only have value if someone can add it.