In order to create a Death Knight, you must have reached a level 55 character on the realm you are playing, as Death Knights start out at level 55. You have to give up your other character, at least while you're playing the DK, so it seems, psychologically, that you have died and been reborn as a soulless, mindless death machine. The Lich King gives you orders to kill wantonly and without conscious, at one point ordering you to kill a number of citizens who are unarmed and who tremble and beg for their lives when you approach them, citizens who do not strike back, for the most part, when you attack, wielding your glowing, runed sword. The Lich King "whispers" to you in the chat box should you falter or think not to strike. No mercy, he says, when a woman with several children begs for her life. There is no light, only dark, he whispers. In another scenario you are ordered to spread a plague to the miners working in a nearby mine. The more you kill, the more rewards you get, and nowhere in the game have the rewards been greater: almost every quest in the early part of the Lich King nets you a rare piece of armor.
Prior to Lich King there had been times when I found my character doing something morally reprehensible, something I would never have done in real life: killing animals that were bordering on extinction in real life, for example. Of course I've never killed anyone in real life, but in the game as long as there was a narration that justified it I didn't feel so bad about it. It's just a game, after all. But Lich King makes you do horrific things, over and over again, and I am finding it deeply disturbing. The only reason I'm continuing to play is because a review I read of the game suggests that something huge happens and transforms the game, making the DKs more acceptable in some way. I'm waiting for that something to happen, but I don't think I can last much longer.
I do have the feeling that my character is being trained to love evil and relish killing. Since the game has strict rules, it doesn't seem as if I have a choice if I want to keep playing a DK. Obey or die. But it gets easier, killing the helpless citizens, especially when the rewards are great. And that's disturbing as well. I wonder if there are other games like this with the opportunity to play such great evil, and I wonder--to what end? I have always known that I might reach a place in this game-playing where I would not, could not go, a place where the game ceased being a game and instead seemed to be infiltrating too deeply into my core self. This is, of course, what parents and educators have all along feared with respect to these kinds of games. It's one thing to find yourself pitted against a powerful Dark Lord, but how to play one yourself, "for fun"?
On the other hand, isn't this what fiction writers or actors have to do to get inside the heads of serial murderers or other evil creatures? What did Doestoevsky have to do to create a character like the amoral Stavrogin (who rapes a little girl) in The Possessed? How about Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker?
The question for me: is it valuable to ask the children who play video or computer games to actually play pure, unrepentant evil? Is it valuable to teach them to savor or enjoy killing the helpless, to laugh at their pleas to spare them?
Or am I afraid of the darkness that I sometimes find within myself, so afraid that I don't want to enter into a game space where I have to come too close to it? The most horrifying thing my mother ever said to me: We are all capable of anything, Sheryl. Anything.