WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

December 9, 2008 -

Is it okay to torture prisoners at Guantanamo Bay?

Is it okay to torture an emotionless animated character in The Torture Game?

Is it okay to carry out a World of Warcraft quest that requires the player to torture a prisoner?

boingboing reports on the controversy generated by one Richard Bartle, himself the inventor of the MUD genre. It seems that Bartle recently came across a mission in WoW's Wrath of the Lich King expansion that gave him pause:

Basically, you have to take some kind of cow poke and zap a prisoner until he talks.

I'm not at all happy with this. 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.

GP: Kotaku reports that the quest at issue is The Art of Persuasion. The in-game instructions for the quest are as follows:

It is fortunate you're here, <race>.

You see, the Kirin Tor code of conduct frowns upon our taking certain 'extreme' measures - even in desperate times such as these. You, however, as an outsider, are not bound by such restrictions and could take any steps necessary in the retrieval of information.

Do what you must. We need to know where Lady Evanor is being held at once! I'll just busy myself organizing these shelves here. Oh, and here, perhaps you'll find this old thing [torture device] useful....


Comments

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

*sigh*

Yes, it's OK in the game, because it's a game. not real. Nobody is going to be psychologically or physically harmed by this action, just as nobody you kill in the game actually dies. It's fiction. I wish people would stop trivialising real-life atrocities because a piece of fiction happens to mirror it in some way.

Abu Gharib was an atrocity that was a disgusting abuse of power by a supposed world leader who criticised others for doing the same. WoW, 24, Saw, whatever else torture appears in is fiction. Stop equating the two.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Nobody here is trivialising real life torture, we're trivializing torture in a game where you kill shit on a daily basis for the hell of it with no reprecussions. Where there is war all over the place and the majority of the populace in-game is constantly fighting and dying (and ressurecting) over and over and ppl flip out over a some dumb quest thats not even REQUIRED to get into an instance and which the rewards for the quest aren't even really worth it.

Apparently you did not euthanize the companion cube.

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Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Thought you guys might get a kick out of this.  Our resident writer, Pig, who does a weekly column at IncGamers.com got Bartle to talk about this issue.  You can see it here in the comments section, and he's none too happy to have the attention.  Guess he should watch what he writes. 

The fact is that there are more games out there full of blatant drugs and violence and this one little incident in WoW is the one that blew Bartle over the edge?  Come on!  The guy needs to take a chill pill and take a time out.

Anyway, just my two cents, not that it matters.  Check out that comment though, it's worth the read.

Elvyra

www.WanderingGoblin.com

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

I read the bit on the photo essay some guy did on kids playing games, I think its funny they had an 11 year old playing GTA IV hehehe :P

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Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

I can't believe this is really a concern now.

Seriously, the "torture" bit has been in games a lot longer than just now.

In Knights of the Old Republic, you actually had to drug a guy the right amount to get him to talk, and later in that game you could choose not to tell the big evil bad guy your plans and watch him zap the crap out of one of your companions, (which by that point in the game, I was happy to see it...annoying little turd).

This is only a big deal now because of the entire waterboarding incident.

It's a game, man it up and move on.

 

Praetorian

"I've been told I'm the resident skeptic, but I wouldn't believe that."



Praetorian

"If you sit by the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy floating by."

http://www.myspace.com/pree_tawr_ee_uhn

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

KoTOR had a Light Side/Dark Side system that made your actions have consequences. WOW, doesn't have that. It could with the Faction system, and something like this COULD be solid Political Commentary if done right. However, as I have stated previously, Blizzard FAILED miserably with that on this quest.

Oh, and as to "just the right amount of drug" that's a truth serum thing, and a lot more ethical and reliable (assuming the drug works as advertised) than torture. No lasting harm to the prisoner, and you get true and acurate information out of him in a hurry.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

True on both counts.

Though you may argue that you have a choice not to do that quest and not move on, it is still a choice.

The truth serum thing, really, if you wanted to nit-pick, you might say jabbing someone with a needle against their wishes is torture. If you brought the rules of todays society, don't forget the mental anguish that's involved into jabbing someone with a sharp pointy object over and over against their will.

Ethics is really a moot point to me when it comes down to story lines and games.

Like I said before, it's just a game; not like it was real torture.  

 

Praetorian

"I've been told I'm the resident skeptic, but I wouldn't believe that."



Praetorian

"If you sit by the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy floating by."

http://www.myspace.com/pree_tawr_ee_uhn

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

I really wish people would read both of the articles before commenting on them.  In his second post that boingboing links to he gives his rebuttal to several of these comments. 

It is ok to disagree with him but at least read what he wrote before just writing something he's already adressed.

 

http://www.popularculturegaming.com

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

So he did.  And I have already stated previously that, from a design point of view, he's got a point.  However even in his rebuttals he seems to have a problem that there's torture at all in the game, going so far as it use the tired argument "hey, it'd be ok if there was child sex 'cause it's just pixels, right?"  He still displays complete ignorance to the fact that, as a fantasy game, WoW is based on the Middle Ages and that within that context is actually makes sense to have torture.  Or the fact that the game is about a war going on and atrocities occur on both sides of a battle.  He also has this strange perception that the Alliance are the "good guys", meanwhile WoW has much more moral ambiguity than at first glance.

So yeah, while he makes it more clear in his response that it was more of a complaint about the design of the game, he's still screaming about moral high ground in this instance.

 

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

I've never played WoW and the only Blizzard game I have played is Warcraft 3 so I don't know much about the game. 

I would, however, point out that including torture in the game (like 24 and any number of other works) as a successful means of getting info presents torture as an effective way of gathering information which is something that is highly debatable.

 

http://www.popularculturegaming.com

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

That's no fun.

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I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

-------------------------------------------------- I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

-Edit- Ack sorry for the double post

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Bah that guy is lying. I got access to the Nexus without doing that quest. Though I did hear about that quest. Just that quest may give you an easier time going to the Nexus... however I guess the ignorant and the accusers don't ever consider looking for the other path.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

This quest isn't in any way required or even recommended in order to get to the nexus.  The only difference is that without it you have to be bright enough to walk the 50 yards to the flight path without an NPC holding your hand on your way over there.

-- Sometimes the truth is arrived at by adding all the little lies together and deducting them from the totality of what is known

-- Sometimes the truth is arrived at by adding all the little lies together and deducting them from the totality of what is known

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

I wonder why no one cried like this back when you had to beat a prisoner into confession in the original Bionic Commando for the NES.

It consisted of little more than hitting him with your arm a few times to get him to spill the beans about some secret routes, but it was definitely a tourture mini-game.

"

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Because the chance for getting your name into the press was probably negligable back then.....or is that too cynical?

--------------------------------------------------

I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

-------------------------------------------------- I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Also, there is an NPC vendor that sells the "needler" in the tower above this prisoner.  You can buy one at any time and shock the prisoner, just for "fun."

Now only if the needler worked on bg afkers . . . .

~~All Knowledge is Worth Having~~

~~All Knowledge is Worth Having~~

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

 

WOW. Just WOW. Everyone here seems to have missed the point.
My girlfriend and I ran into this quest line over the weekend as we've been taking our sweet time getting through Wrath (RL issues, playing DKs, etc). We were both a little disturbed by this quest. We were unsure if the quest author was trying to make a political point, or just some huge Jack Bower fanboy.
It should be noted that torture is NEVER an effective way of getting true and accurate information out of anyone. If you torture someone long enough (assuming you don't kill them in the process), they will tell you whatever they THINK you want to hear, just to get the pain to stop. Even if what they say is a lie. Just look at some of the records from the Inquisition and the European Witch Hunts.
Blizzard should probably consider altering that quest line.... a LOT. Hell, this is a game with Magic, why not truth serums and spells?

While I am the first to say violent video games to NOT make people violent, everything we read, hear, watch, and experience shapes how we look at the world. And if we perpetuate the myth that torture is an effective interrogation tactic, even in fiction, we will never grow as a society.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

 You're right! Torture is bad. Blizzard should just change it so it's another quest where we all go out and kill 10-20 of some unrelated creature to get a random nonsensical item drop to turn in. Mindless killing > Torture, clearly.

Seriously, if you're bothered by torture, after playing a game that basically requires you to commit endless acts of genocide across THREE different continents (and a whole different PLANET if you have Burning Crusade), you might want to take a longer, harder look at what you do every time you log in and play.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Nah, you're missing the point, its dumb to get all offended over it. So torture isn't good IRL, who cares? this is a game, and in the game (just as in many movies) some bad guy has info, they torture him a bit, get the info then go on to do whatever. No one is saying torture IRL is the way to go, we're just saying getting your panties in a wad over it is dumb.

BTW it is most likely satirical in nature, just the like D.H.E.T.A. line is making fun of PETA.

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Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

The D.H.E.T.A. quest line is so over the top, it IS satirical (yet also very close to what some of those wack jobs at PETA believe, but that's a rant for another day). This was much more subdued.

And you'd be amazed how many "low information voters" out there firmly believe that torture is effective because of shit like "24".

If Blizz intended for the Quest to be satire, they failed miserably.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Satire or not, within the context of the game the torture quest makes sense.  You don't have to like it, you don't have to do it, but it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that torture exists in a world based on the Middle Ages where a war is going on.

 

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

No, it does NOT. As I have already stated, this is a game with a HIGH level of Magic. And Alchemy. And a little steampunk engineering/science thrown in. There is no reason that Magic/Science could not have been used to get the information.

And torture in the Middle Ages almost ALWAYS gave you BAD information.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Maybe it's a magic torture device that forces people to tell the truth. And even if they did use a truth serum to get the information, he could just not say anything. You would still need a way to make the guy say something. And what better way to do that than with a magical truth-forcing torture stick.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Putting the emphasis on always doesn't change the fact you said 'almost' meaning there is no reason this case in WoW couldn;t have been one of the few times it was good information, which it is.

--------------------------------------------------

I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

-------------------------------------------------- I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Riiiight. So you think all novels that show torture should be re-written because we are too stupid to see that 'Torture is bad mm'kay'.

--------------------------------------------------

I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

-------------------------------------------------- I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

It's fiction.  You either can't see this, or think others are too ignorant to do so.

~~All Knowledge is Worth Having~~

~~All Knowledge is Worth Having~~

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

I don't know... I kinda see this as political satire about the whole waterboarding US government thing...

------- Morality has always been in decline. As you get older, you notice it. When you were younger, you enjoyed it.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

And that's a bad thing? To question authorities, propose moral-dilemas and satire revolving current issues as politics and war in form of entertainment have been popular since long before even Jonathan Swift.

Books, movies, music are already using this satire to entertain and engage us, why would political satire revolving the highly controversial torture of US war prisoners be spared?

RTS gamer

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

This looks like political commentary when looking at the quest text provided by GP. I suspect they want you to be offended that you have to act as the willing /deniable proxy for a state that cannot "officially" sanction the use of torture to gain military intelligenge. If you're not offended by having to torure someone, then I suspect Blizzard might want you to think (while not questing, grinding, etc...) about why it didn't bother you.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Dead on, and Blizz did a press release to that effect.

This quest was *designed* to raise eyebrows, and somewhat qualifies as a social experiment.  Think something along the lines of the Milgram experiment (being ordered to give electric shocks by a figure of authority), but without the moral dilemma to the experimenter presented by that experiment.  And personally, I give blizz props for adding a moral dilemma to a game that's usually very black-and-white.

-- Sometimes the truth is arrived at by adding all the little lies together and deducting them from the totality of what is known

-- Sometimes the truth is arrived at by adding all the little lies together and deducting them from the totality of what is known

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

His biggest complaint appears to be that there's not alternative method to completing the quest and that if you want to get to Nexus, you have to complete it.  Well if he wants more choices, he needs to play a different RPG plain and simple.  WoW's design, and most other MMOs for that matter, is centered more around grinding/fetching/combat than "pure" role-playing.  If he's been playing the game long enough to have a character be involved in WotLK,  you'd think he'd understand this by now.  It's a legit criticism, from a design point of view though.  If you're going to call in a roleplaying game, perhaps the player should have more control over how to solve the challenges presented in the game.

Problem is he takes that legit criticism and runs off the deep end with it by bringing in the Geneva Convention, as if that should hold some sort of relevancy to a video game.  I can't believe I have to type this in a game's defence, but here it goes; The Geneva Convention does not have a single damn thing to do with a virtual character created out of a bunch of code.  Unless you wish to legally characterize video game characters as a "person" (shudders at the thought of that) it does not apply. 

He's also ignoring the context of the game itself.  WoW, like most fantasy games, is based off of the European Middle Ages, roughly the 500's to the 1400's.  Despite all the whimsical chivalry crap that exists in the fictional stories of the time, the Middle Ages was a very dark period as anyone that paid attention in high school world history class can tell you.  Violence and torture were the norm back then.  If disease or starvation didn't kill you, there were plenty of bandits, armies, religious figures, and lords with a mean disposition who would be more than happy to finish what nature failed to do.  So within the context of the time period which WoW is based on, it would actually seem strange if they didn't include a little torture.  Compound this with the fact that WoW has freakin' monsters and demons runnings around and you end up with a world that's rather violent and dark despite the cartoony graphics.

The man could have had a legit argument had he just said something like "I wasn't too thrilled that I had to torture someone to progress.  I would have liked to see more choices available to me to complete it."  But instead he jumps into the looney bin by trying to apply a real world document to a virtual world.  And honestly, he kind of belittles the message the Geneva Convention tries to convey by making these sort of comparisons.

 

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

"His biggest complaint appears to be that there's not alternative method to completing the quest and that if you want to get to Nexus, you have to complete it."

 But the thing is, you can get to the Nexus without doing this quest.  I've never done it, and I run the Nexus all the time.

 

 -P, who -really- thinks you should research whether a quest is required before you complain about it.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Then that makes his argument even weaker, since you can avoid the quest and move on to Nexus anyway.

I'll give him props for bringing up a critical argument over how MMOs are structured, a rather lack of of the roleplaying aspect.  But he makes it sound like the player is forced to torture, when in fact he is not.

I stopped playing WoW around the Burning Crusade, so I personally didn't know you could skip the quest.

 

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

So let me get this straight, killing billions of wildlife and people thats no problem. But zapping someone with a cattle prod a few times thats offensive? Are you kidding me?

The geneva convention doesnt cover virtual characters so quit being such a wussy.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Then don't do the quest.  I am morally opposed to the fanaticism of PETA, and hence didn't do the DEHTA quests in Borean Tundra.  I didn't get my panties in a bunch like a little wuss over it.

Some people need to just man-up and not let things like a WOW questline upset them...

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Wow, I was totally unaware that the Geneva Convention applied to Azeroth.

Does it apply only to the Alliance or did the Horde sign on too?

Exactly which factions are a part of the convention?

Someone I don't see Sylvannas signing on to that.

I give the guy 2 points for creativity though, I never would have thought of mentioning the Genevan Convention.

Blizzard should be really happy with this though. Apparently WoW is now so huge that it's considered a legitimate country in its own right.

Wonder who the U.N. rep will be?

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Katrina Prestor (even though currently not in -game) fits with the UN's mindset.

~~All Knowledge is Worth Having~~

~~All Knowledge is Worth Having~~

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Nah I vote the Awesome and mighty Thrall XD He'll whip the UN into shape! XD

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Jaina Proudmoore

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

My vote is for senator Cairne Bloodhoof ^_^

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Oh come on...

He's not saying ZOMG TORTURE! BAN GAME!, the guy's just saying that he'd hoped there was a way to resolve the quest without torture - given that RPGs tend to veer on the side of choice rather than linearity it's not an unreasonable hope to have, especially for a quest that is a prerequisite for something (Never played WoW, but I assume this "Nexus" is something to be desired and/or striven for, correct?)

Calm down, fellow gamers. Nothing to see here.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Hes has a choice. When he wants, he can click "Abandon Quest" and type /rude at the quest giver, and walk off. Its not mandatory.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

the nexus is a dungeon instance, 5man. And you actually do not HAVE to do this quest to get in to it, doing this quest just allows you to be sent there via a flight point so you don't have to ride there on your mount.

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Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

So you do have to do the quest to get there, if you don't have a mount?

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

by this point you would have a mount because the 30g or so gold to buy one would be insignificant, but even without a mount you could crawl there if you felt like it, it would just take like 15 or 20 minutes as opposed to the 30-45 seconds on a flight path or 2 or 3 minutes on an epic mount.

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Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Actually, you can get the flight path without this quest.  And it's not possible to get to the nexus without either the path or being level 77 for the flight training (at which point running Nexus is a singular waste of time).  Sorry, but you're wrong.

-- Sometimes the truth is arrived at by adding all the little lies together and deducting them from the totality of what is known

-- Sometimes the truth is arrived at by adding all the little lies together and deducting them from the totality of what is known

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Fair enough.

My point stands though - he's not calling for a ban, or even for anything to be changed, he's just saying he'd hoped that part had a non-torture resolution, what's bad about that? I hardly think this qualifies as a controversy.

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

 That's just it though, You can always decline a quest or delete it after recieving it. Walking/Riding to a location isn't going to kill you in game any more than it would in real life either.

 

Heck, the fresh air will do your avatar good!

Re: WoW Lich King Quest Sparks Torture Controversy

Actually, so sorry, you've been mislead by your previous conversation.  You don't need to do this quest in order to get to the nexus.  It isn't even part of a chain that leads to objectives in the nexus.  And the *only* way to get to the nexus is through the flight point, but this quest has nothing to do with access to the flight point.

That said, Blizz actually did a press release stating that this quest is, basically, a test.  It's not essential to anything, doesn't have all that great of a reward, and so it's an interesting moral question:  Even if it's "just a game", are you willing to suspend your morality because the game asks you to?

Sadly, the answer is usually yes.  But I went out of my way to skip this quest, and have lost nothing because of it, so I can state conclusively that it is completely irrelevant to further progress in the game, or in the area.

-- Sometimes the truth is arrived at by adding all the little lies together and deducting them from the totality of what is known

-- Sometimes the truth is arrived at by adding all the little lies together and deducting them from the totality of what is known
 
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