Elite Dangerous players discuss the ramifications of in-game ‘slaves’ and ways to change the lore

    
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It goes without saying that the exploitation of unwitting and inexperienced players in Elite: Dangerous has the topic of slavery on many people’s minds, particularly since one of those ringleaders turned out to be a ravening trash fire of a human being and players running the scheme have been locked out of private and open play as a result of breaking TOS.

That still brings up the matter of the game’s lore and gameplay itself, which refers to slaves as a tradable illegal commodity or a perfectly legal commodity in Imperial space. One player took to Elite’s official forums to discuss the matter of Imperial slaves, proposing initially that the human slaves be traded out for synthetic ones but then — realizing his initial idea was inelegant — changing the proposal to running a series of community goals and Galnet releases that feature an NPC fighting against the remaining slaver powers.

The post further goes on to poke holes in dissenting opinion, pointing out that the NPC’s actions aren’t without precedent in the real world, particularly since many arguments against removing in-game slaves point to real-world slave-holding civilizations.

“The funny thing about the comments about slavery being a fact of life, and the proposition that I am being unrealistic, is that it presupposes that there are no inspirational leaders, no heroes, no revolutionaries who step up and stop it. That is also unrealistic, as we have also learned from history. If a major superpower institutionalized slavery today, there would be global outrage. The media would assault that nation. There would be severe economic sanctions, isolation, and probably war over the issue. But 1300 years from now, nope, it’s still a thing, and no one can do anything about it.”

Overall, the thread garnered a lot of honest discussion among the playerbase, though the thread was eventually closed as some people were incapable of not using ad hominem arguments. Still, it’s clear that the entire episode has stirred up some discussion. Ideally, it will also stir up the proposed community goals.

Further reading about this story:

source: official forums, thanks to FuriousLog for the tip!
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Furious Log

So I posted the two threads where the conversation on this was taking place. There have been other threads on the topic – this is not a new issue. The first was closed due to ad hominem, the second was closed due to references to “real world content”. This was after both had been significantly censored to remove various article and academic references supporting my position.

Here’s the problem I have: Elite Dangerous is clearly being used as a proxy for racists in the US to pretend to be slave traders. That’s fucked up. The developers said that their intent in having it in the game was for allow for ethical choices and debate on those choices, but the framework and mechanics of the game is such that there are no actual ethics involved in their implementation of the issue of slavery. I made an attempt to have a conversation about the implications of allowing people to fantasize about trading slaves in the game without context, but any discussion about why that could be wrong is disallowed because it points to a problem occurring in the real world. One solution I proposed was to allow the community to change the content through community goals if it so desired. I don’t think it’s the best solution, which would be for Frontier to recognize the tastelessness of their implementation and remove the mechanic from the game, but it would at least give me an option of getting to a place where I feel good about playing and supporting it.

I just want Frontier to understand the issue and take accountability for their game design, and demonstrate some understanding of how their game could possibly add more fuel to the fire of racial tensions in the United States by enabling racists to live out their fantasies of the “good old days”. If that is their intent, great, but say so and deal with the marketplace consequences. If it’s not, then do something to fix it.

Furthermore, Elite is rated for teens in the US. Are 13 year olds mature enough to compartmentalize a black hat slave trading fantasy that has been reduced to a pure economic risk/reward transaction? Another question that Frontier will not answer, because they disallow discussion of that topic as a matter of rule.

Yet Sea of Thieves, an MMO that has actual pirate ships in it, not only does not have slave trading in their games but will not even allow discussion of it on their forums because they know that it has no place in their gaming world. In that case, censorship is entirely justified. In the case of Elite, discussion of the game mechanic necessitates a discussion of the real world issue. Frontier’s lack of accountability and sensitivity on this issue is appalling, particularly since they meant it to be a topic for debate.

Star Citizen is appearing to have this conversation now, and I don’t like where it’s going on that either.

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Captain Blood

I mean Elite is generally a “crapsack world” but I’m sure if people want this they can follow in the footsteps of inspirational heroes like CMDR John Jameson, and leaders like Mic Turner. I’m sure nothing terrible will happen to them….

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Greaterdivinity

But 1300 years from now, nope, it’s still a thing, and no one can do anything about it.

I MEAN…yeah, actually? I’m not too hip with all the lore of Elite, but absolute barbarism isn’t remotely uncommon in sci-fi with intergalactic species. See: Stargate and the extensive use of slaves by the go’uld or however you spell it (top of mind since my brother is watching SG1 right now). Plus we’ve seen it in Star Trek and more, the Vorta spring to mind as they’re functionally an artificially created race of clones designed on the genetic level to act as slaves (though slaves with considerable power/authority over those beneath them).

Get any sufficiently powerful space entity (cult, nation, corporation etc.) and they get to “set the laws” because who the hell’s gonna tell them no when they can just glass entire planets or kill a whole solar system by making their sun go supernova?

And what little I know, and the Imperial Slaves mention (who appear to be a bit more akin to the Vorta with some privileges/protections), it seems that slavery existing in the traditional sense is like…pretty plausible in the universe.

THAT ALL BEING FUCKIN SAID, why the fuck we even having this discussion when we’re talking about players duping other players into indentured servitude and leaving them stranded and probably with a terrible experience playing the game. Fuck that noise, no place for this shit.

Would there be some potentially interesting moral/ethical questions with an in-game NPC slavery system, but doing it in a way that wouldn’t be awful and exploitative would be insanely difficult, probably. It’s kinda best left as something investigated as a core theme that a story can be crafted around rather than a, “Here’s a free NPC that will literally do whatever you want…OR YOU COULD FREE THEM, YOU MONSTER.”…

*proceeds to shock the shit outta Vette*

Oh…oh : (

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styopa

Your point is absolutely spot on about this being a FASCINATING and compelling dramatic narrative that a game could follow. I mean, really interesting and really meaningful and weighty stuff for players to fight against.
Make a massive anti-slavery movement in Elite. Let people work as privateers against slavery. Drive an economic system that shows the brittle fragility of a slave-dependent economy.

Of COURSE there would be players that would defend it, that’s human nature. Let them….more gameplay for the rest of us.

I’d argue in fact that it might motivate people to even feel strongly about what they’re doing. I could even see people motivated to pvp that otherwise wouldn’t, if that was the reason. Is that the sort of engagement that any developer would love?

Of course, we live in a world of 2021 where idiots think the US invented slavery and they’re tearing out statues of Abraham Lincoln for ‘not doing enough’. I don’t think we’re adult enough to actually have such narratives.

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PhoenixDfire

Although this has potential for further gameplay, Elite doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to support the kind of PvP that’s needed. The present C&P system is better than before but there is no way to track wanted criminals and other ner’do’wells.

In fact, the C&P was used as a notorious exploit with friends wracking up incredible bounties and then having their friends destroy them for their bounty and combat rank. I get the impression that making changes to elite, at the moment, is kind of changing course with a oil tanker so until they’ve got Odyssey out of the way (and the “lovely” bugs that will come with it), we won’t see any action on this for quite some time. Unfortunately.

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Jon Wax

i guess off topic on:
at what point in an ai’s existence would it be considered a slave? or a robot for that matter?

a lot of these games/media rely on a certain amount of subservience from a “lesser” form of life or class of lifeform. R2 and C3PO were slaves to the point that they did what they were told. the newer story was a lil more hamhanded about it but the point was valid.

so i guess what i’m getting at is, if we start down the path from the point of obviousness (“human enslavement of other humans is wrong”) then in our intent to be more enlightened, we move through all the species and free them. No more circuses, no more zoos…no more riding dragons, chocobos or horses? Why should any living being be forced to submit to our needs, in theory?

But without the ai being subservient to us, a lot of the backbone of these sci fi stories falls short. we need them to do the work we can’t or don’t want to do. does that ai build a newer ai with the agency to say “no”?

weird stuff, man

i do hate folks with hidden agendas, though. if there’s hate groups using gaming for recruitment, part of me wants to see em outted, but on blast and griefed nonstop till they quit. banning seems like they get off soft.

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Ken from Chicago

Just say no to slave trade. It’s a bad idea.

Bounties or prisoner transport at least has the sentients guilty of crimes and deserving of punishment.

And if your game lore is that the slaves are prisoners being punished by doing labor, then call them “prisoners” not “slaves”. The latter has so much evil with that there is no good reason to justify it in game vs the all the negatives it brings.

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Vanquesse V

If it works for the US to use “prisoner” instead of “slave” then why not also elsewhere?

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styopa

Just to be clear the 13th Amendment says this is fine: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States…”

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Gipfeli