Conan Exiles is a funny game. From one perspective it's yet another early access sandbox survival game. From another it's ARK: Survival Evolved with the dinosaurs swapped out. It doesn't seem like much of a recommendation, being a reskin of another game. The Hyborian Age mythos seems grafted on. The main menu music is someone doing a downbeat version of Basil Poledouris' Anvil of Crom. The opening cinematic in classic MMO fashion has nothing to do with the game. Yet the game itself is passable enough. However what I want to talk about isn't the game.

Let's talk about the philosophy of Conan: Exiles.

The intro cinematic begins with a woman hanging from a cross. This woman is a cipher. She's given no real personality and doesn't feature beyond the intro. All we know is that she hangs there. Later on in character creation our own character is created hanging from a cross. Therefore I think it is reasonable to assume that the woman is a representation of our character and that what happens to her in the cinematic also happens to our character.

Now crosses and crucifixion have been co-opted by Christianity in the minds of some. A cross can just be a cross, there may not be any Christ allegories intended in such imagery. Let’s not get bogged down in how Conan and Christ both start with C. However the philosophy and morality presented in Conan Exiles doesn't need to have anything to do with Christianity. Instead I think it fair to deal with Conan's own morality, as it is presented.

Conan’s first appearance is him walking out of the desert. He moves with purpose, his mind set. There's no pause where he examines the scene, there's no moment of recognition between himself and the woman. He acts as if, despite not knowing the person on the cross he knows exactly what he's going to do to her. That is free her. There’s a moment of pathos, then a terrible howl. Again Conan recognises what's coming and acts immediately. First he offers his axe to the woman, then he charges toward the source of the howls, grabbing a sword along the way. Two beasts appear in the dust, one slashing Conan's back. Together they engage the beasts, culminating in one of the creatures leaping on Conan, only to be decapitated by the woman, saving him. In the aftermath, she offers him back his axe. He refuses it and walks away into the storm. All in a day's work for Conan.

After all that we begin the game, create a character and set about surviving in the world of Conan: Exiles. As you grow in Conan an option that becomes available is the ability to take thralls, human slaves, break them on the wheel of pain and put them to work in your settlement. Now, human slavery is certainly immoral, especially the way it's done in the game. You find human NPCs at camps, they're usually labelled as exiles, subdue them and transport them back to be trained to serve you. On the other hand we do lots of immoral deeds in games and these aren't real humans, they're just a bunch of scripts attached to a model that happens to be human shaped. We know slavery is bad in the real world. That in itself is not the problem the game poses.

It came as we started taming thralls and looking for gruel to feed them. Is this a moral thing to do in the context of game’s world? In the opening we were condemned to die on the cross, with a list of crimes ranging from trivial to farcical. Yet Conan came and without knowing or judging freed us, helped us, then departed possibly in search of more condemned. What would Conan think if he returned and witnessed our subsequent actions? That is capturing other human beings and denying them the freedom he granted. Would he approve? Would he be disappointed? Would he slay us as he slew the beasts in the beginning?

Conan stories have always had a Nietzschian undercurrent. Howard opined in subtext that we are responsible for our own lives and only a truly free man is enlightened. Conan was positioned as such a man, capable of realising his own freedom. The game creators take this a step further. Their Conan grants others the same chance at freedom that he has. He has moved beyond a mere ubermensch and become a teacher of the Nietzschian way. Therefore while thralls are a major component of the game, they are also an immoral one by Conan's standards. Now, the game does not judge us for playing slaver. Conan never re-appears to judge the living and the dead. It falls to each player to choose their actions and I'm sure most players will indulge in thralltaking. However the invisible presence of Conan is felt forevermore.

Conan bless you.



  • Herotica  
    " All in a day's work for Conan." LOL!
  • Heroh Again  
    I notice you don't ponder the questionable morality re. the lives of the humanoid scrotum-monsters.


Add Comment

Enclosing asterisks marks text as bold (*word*), underscore are made via _word_.
Standard emoticons like :-) and ;-) are converted to images.
E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.
BBCode format allowed