Torture is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as:
- Infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion.
Norn torture is the abuse of norns - and, by extension, other creatures - either by simple means such as slapping or by more "interesting" means (such as gengineering a norn to be a chronic alcoholic, be always afraid or in pain, or throwing them to a pack of grendels, et cetera, et cetera).
Norn torture has long been a controversial subject in the Creatures Community. Probably every owner has at one time or another has applied the hand to the backside of a Creature - indeed, Lis Morris's Boney Grendels were specifically designed to run away if spanked - and some would argue that the difference between torture and discipline is just a matter of degree.
Steve Grand even predicted norn torture (or at least slaughter) in his norn concept writings:
- Equally appealing to children and adults, men and women. Something you wouldn't be ashamed to keep on your office PC. Something a naturalist would want to study, a father would want to teach soccer, a granny to dress up and a complete b***ard to butcher mercilessly.
Before the release of Creatures 1, US publishers caused a change to the yelp that creatures emit after they are slapped to tone it down.p.103-104 During the development of Creatures Online, community members asked Fishing Cactus to tone down the slap animation. 
Norn torture first came to light with a newsgroup post by a supposed norn-torturer. In response, AntiNorn put up a site called Tortured Norns dedicated to the activity and those who perform it, including his first tortured norn, Slave. He subsequently added more tortured norns, pictures, torture-enabling COBs and even recipes (the real-life equivalent of Breaded Hatchling Norn). A somewhat less contentious website called Feral Farms was also created by Melantha Bacchae, as well as S.V.A.I.N. by Phantom Lord.
What was the response?
Although the tone of response was predictable, the scale of it probably caught AntiNorn by surprise. He reports having received death threats on several occasions, and claims that many of the emails he recieved were unprintable (even on his site). He noted that people began to learn 'more advanced skills' in altering the dDNA or code of the game to care for his tortured norns. Many people restricted themselves to public expressions of disgust in response to his actions. A protest group was set up calling itself Equal Rights For Norns, and members of the Creatures Community attempted to bring his site down at various times by claiming that it was in violation of hosting guidelines.
AntiNorn appeared to care little for this, and a few other sites started up, but they never gained as much attention. However, as well as all the flaming, the situation did lead to a certain amount of discussion on alt.games.creatures over whether or not norns were alive. It brought a focus to the issue that had (perhaps) not been present beforehand.
AntiNorn wrote an article: A definition of Norn Torture? which examines the attitude of some norn keepers towards their norns and to him, by using 'real life' analogies.
Norn Torture and Criminal Behavior
Although the focus of the Norn torture debate was primarily on the Norns' rights and the possibility they were living beings, a minority conversation on alt.games.creatures focused instead on Norn torture as a prelude to criminal violence.
Statistical evidence suggests that people who are physically abusive or commit violent crimes started off as animal abusers. The minority group was less concerned about "Norn/creature rights" than it was about Norn torture being a cyber-substitute for animal abuse. The fear expressed in the minority debate was that computer games that let players abuse animals (or animal-like simulations) desensitized them to violence and made them more prone to acting out against living animals.
"Past research revealed that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal and aggressive behaviors, and decreases helpful behaviors. Previous studies also found that more than 85 percent of video games contain some violence, and approximately half of video games include serious violent actions." 
It was suggested that by encouraging violence towards Norns in-game, adults such as AntiNorn fostered a violent mindset in younger viewers of their websites. However, the debate was overshadowed by the rise of several pro-Norn societies and later the debate dwindled as interest in the Creatures trilogy waned.
Although the primary arguments targeted AntiNorn and other abusers for their actions, the minority debate respected their choice to play however they wished, and were only concerned about unrestrained access to violent propaganda on the websites: since it was a game, Creatures torture sites would not necessarily be blocked by website blockers.
- My name is Brittany and I'm a gaming sadist - an article written by a former norn torturer