The Daily Grind: What do you think about slavery as a concept in MMORPGs?


Last week, MJ and I were discussing a stream she was planning on Conan Exiles where she planned to help friends capture “thralls” to bring back to their bases and put to work. The term “thrall” is the game’s way of softening what it really is: slavery. The slaves are NPCs, mind you, not other players, but honestly, the idea creeps me out a little bit anyway, far more than, say, Revival’s long-ago proposed NPC prostitution design.

(But the mechanic is cool. Wouldn’t it be nifty if player modders found ways to replace human slaves with elementals or automatoi or summoned spirits? That would basically negate my squeamishness entirely.)

Interestingly, as I reflect on why I find it mildly unsettling, I am thinking back to folks who roleplayed slaves, usually twi’leks, in Star Wars MMOs, and while I might roll my eyes, somehow that bothers me even less: Even though they were human vs. AI, there was a voluntariness about those storylines, play-acting instead of making an uncomfortable social statement via NPC. Conan actually rewards people for enslaving NPCs — if you opt out on a server with the mechanic, you’re at a disadvantage.

I don’t know. I’m conflicted. What do you think about slavery as a concept in MMOs? Are Conan Exiles’ slavery mechanics something you enjoy engaging in?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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Despite the appearance of slavery it creates a mechanism for recruiting NPCs for your base(s). It’s consistent with the storyline as well. I’ve run my own Conan Exiles server experimentally and the lack of PCs and the current bugs with land ownership when there are “clans” involved often make them necessary. FWIW, historically, until about the 18th Century slavery was not seen as an immoral practice. This is a complex topic in philosophy and there are no easy answers to this one. This is a game that strives to be authentic and consistent with the framework it is based on right down to nudity and realistic genitalia. It could have been made even more disturbing if they had added young children to the mix. Be happy that they drew the line at simple adult slavery for now.

Melissa McDonald

My backstory as a dancer/entertainer in Galaxies was an escaped slave/concubine from Corellia who was essentially hiding out in backwater Tatooine/Mos Eisley and pursuing a career in the one thing she’d been trained to do as a kind of space-age geisha. So, this type of thing doesn’t bother me at all, as Bree stated, it was voluntary roleplay. And how things happened was that an Imperial colonel there took a fancy to me, and we ended up having a wedding (since there were lovely wedding dresses in the game) and he treated me to the lovely Spanish mansion on Naboo and the enviable BARC speeder. And a space yacht, my favourite of all. So the story ended well.

Until the NGE.

DM Bluddworth

Slavery plays an important and reoccurring role in Robett E Howard’s Hyborian Age setting. Conan himself was enslaved and forced to fight in the gladiatorial arena. His future wife and Queen was a slave that he had freed. He had served on ships that had slave oarsmen.

Slavery was not a matter of race, both in fiction and in reality, it was almost always a condition of circumstances. Al races, and most ancient cultures had some form of slavery.

I have no issue with slavery in this game, it is completely appropriate based on the setting.


As long as it fits the narrative and the world then I’m fine with it. It’s a touchy subject but if it bothers you that much then you’re likely unwilling to enjoy any type of media that includes it and I don’t want creators to stop writing books, making movies, or developing games that include it. Again, as long as it fits the story and isn’t a huge focal point of the game-play then it’s fine IMO.


If I makes sense in terms of the world and story, I can’t really complain. I’m curious to see how the mechanics fully play out in Conan Exiles.


So I have been chewing over this for the last couple of days, made my posts, and this will probably be my last on the subject.

“Are Conan Exiles’ slavery mechanics something you enjoy engaging in?”

Addressing the actual mechanics and gameplay involved, the answer is no.

I do not mind the concept and have no sense of guilt, squeamishness, moral outrage, etc, etc. But is it ‘fun’? I don’t think so.

It is far too easy to accidentally kill the target instead of knock them out, its a bit of a grind to find a good version of whatever you need, or to just find it period really. The conversion process is slow and tedious as it seems whenever I log out the wheel also turns off. It was/is bugged so that my wheel of pain that can do four at a time had a single guy taking up all the slots defeating the purpose and he was taking forever to be finished. The actual effects of the thralls once done is vague at best. I have a thrall thrall trainer and have no idea if its actually improving the speed of the wheel or not, and the same goes for my smith and my leathermaker. I play on a PvE server so I’ve never tried a combat thrall, no idea how they work, but I suspect melee ones are about as feeble and useless as the melee raiders I’ve killed.

So while I don’t mind the thematic choice of thralls vs say, pokemon, problematic, I don’t think the current mechanics are ‘fun’. I would much rather be able to train individuals I enthrall in specific tasks, maybe they could then have randomized stats at what they can do well, keeping the loot mechanic aspect but when I need a smelter and cannot find a smelter aside from the one that is still in the damn wheel taking up all four slots and not having been completed over the matter of days.. ahem, I should be able to have someone else take the role.

I don’t use combat thralls as I’ve not needed to but being able to equip and they themselves having a light leveling mechanic would be nice, but probably more depth than the game will allow.

The capture and use enemy unit mechanics has been done better, and more enjoyably in other games.


This one is kinda complicated for me.

I’m not against slavery existing in a fictional universe, but I’m never going to play a slaver; if I get into a situation where I need to deal in slavery or leave the game, I will leave the game.

This even goes for helping slavers, be them player or NPC; whatever help I render a slaver needs to be framed in a way that ultimately helps their slaves, and even that is a sub-optimal development as I would very much prefer to be fighting uncompromisingly against the slaver.

End result, I’m less likely to play a single-player game if there is any incentive to dabble in slavery (as I won’t touch at all any story lines where I’m helping slavery happen and will treat the game as if those were big holes in the plot), and I’m nearly guaranteed to avoid any online game where slavery is mechanically rewarded unless there are ways for players that refuse to deal with slavery to get equivalent rewards unavailable for the slavers.

But then, well, I’m someone that can’t bring myself to even start playing the GTA series because I can’t quite bring myself into playing a criminal (unless it’s a so wacky setting that my brain just never relates what I do in game with the real world, which is why I can actually play Saints Row 3 and 4; by being wacky and unreal to the point of being immersion-breaking, they avoid making me uncomfortable for playing a criminal).

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It does feel wrong to me. But I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

Ultimately, it feels worse than flat-out killing them, but I think that’s because killing them is an abstracted process, whereas enthralling them is involved. The more involved and intimate a process is, the more you’re going to identify with the actors involved. Think about it in action movie terms – deaths in a move like Red barely register as an act of killing, but that knife scene from Saving Private Ryan is buried somewhere deep in my subconscious.

Imagine that they changed the process so you just took a club and hit a guy over the head, and when he wakes up he’s your thrall. Would you feel bad about that? No, because you didn’t drag his body back to base and break him on your wheel of pain. And imagine they changed the killing process to an involved minigame with haptic feedback as you desperately hack at your enemy’s vitals, trying to sink your blade deep enough to kill them while their screams sound in your ears. Suddenly, it seems a heck of a lot nicer to just take the poor guy as a thrall.

I guess what I’m driving at is, I don’t think it’s the end result – death versus enslavement – so much as it is what your character is required to do in order to obtain it. We’re used to deaths in games being quick, painless, and easy. When you make us deal with an NPC in a more permanent and pervasive way, suddenly it feels… weird.

That’s also why Elementals or Robots or Spirits feel like a better alternative. They’re less human, even if conceptually you’re still enslaving a free being.

(P.S., if “Hacktic Feedback” isn’t copyrighted yet, I’m copyrighting that.)

drew saunders

It fits in with Robert E Howard’s Hyboria .


Much as I hate to say it, this is the publisher staying true to the lore established by the original writer of the series. Like it or not, slavery IS part of Conan’s world. Hell, Conan himself was a slave at one point, forced to fight in arena style battles.