Games writer and MUD inventor Richard Bartle was startled to discover that a new World of Warcraft mission includes the option of torturing a captive for information, using "some kind of cow poke." When he wrote critically about this, he was deluged with Warcraft-lovers who wanted him to, you know, chill out, it's only a game, you know. His thoughtful response raises a lot of difficult and meaty questions about fantasy play.
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 – 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…
When I signed up to play WoW I knew it had fireballs, so I expected killing. I knew it had rogues, so I expected thieving. I had to wait until the second expansion to find out it had gratuitous torture. This does not fall within the parameters of what I was expecting. It's as if you were reading the new book 8 of the Harry Potter series and Harry turns to drugs and uses his magic powers for sport to blind people. JKR can put that kind of stuff in her books if she likes, freedom of speech being what it is and all, but it's shattered your expectations. I wasn't expecting consequence-free torture quests in WoW. Getting one was a shock.