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Just what are griefer players thinking?

Sunday, January 27, 2002 by Helly

If you play online multiplayer games, chances are you’ve run into griefers. For those of you not in the know, I define griefers thus: online multiplayer gamers whose sole enjoyment of the game is derived from making it a miserable experience for all other players.

I’ve played online for many years now and have run into the griefer phenomenon in every iteration of online gaming. Be it deathmatch, team based Capture the Flag games or MMORPGs, I’ve encountered griefers in each and every game. This being an editorial, I’ll make no secrets of my feelings towards griefers: I despise them.

For those who’d like more definition, here are some general examples of griefer play:

  1. FPS multiplayer game: You’re on a friendly fire server and every time your team spawns, a single “friendly” begins executing teammates at spawn. Despite multiple requests and pleas, the TK (team-killer) just laughs and continues killing until everyone quits.
  2. MMORPGs with Player Killing enabled: A higher level player travels to a town inhabited by lower level players and camps out, killing as many “lowbies” as he can find and stealing their equipment. Usually these killings are followed up by derision and “d00d sp33k”.
  3. MMORPG without Player Killing enabled: A higher level player heads to a hunting ground populated by “lowbies” and begins hitting the biggest creatures he can find until he has a small mob chasing him. He then leads this train of mobs back to the “lowbies” who are either forced to run or decimated where they stand, losing XP and possibly items (depending on game).
  4. A player who exploits bugs or uses cheats in order to dominate the game or other players.

But what makes griefer players choose to grief? Most arguments I’ve heard on this subject revolve around the maturity of the griefer, but I think this is merely a gut response caused by anger from the victims. I’ve met my share of griefers (some in MMORPG games have tried to recruit me for griefer missions) and can honestly say that they are no more or less mature than any other type of player you’d meet online. Some of them will even attempt to articulate a reasonable excuse for their actions, such as demonstrating a particular game's weakness in one area or another. These excuses usually hold about as much water as a tobacco company arguing that cigarettes don’t cause cancer.

So if griefers aren’t griefing for some juvenile kick, why do it at all?

Power. Plain and simple, I think griefers love the sense of power they gain from Grief play. Most people would say they just like to cause problems and be the center of attention, and I think this is part of the reason, but secondary to the sense of power that they achieve.

But what kind of power do they gain? It’s the power to ruin someone’s game; the power to clear a server; the power to cause a character to lose experience and maybe even a level. By doing this, the griefer exercises power over someone else’s gaming experience and a small amount of power over that person’s decisions (do you stay on the server or do you quit?).

It’s a pretty pathetic power, in my opinion. It’s not a power that allows a person to become stronger or more intelligent; it doesn’t allow a person to earn more money or gain status in society; and it surely isn’t a power that earns one points with whatever deity one happens to worship. I believe the griefer feels that by exploiting a game and ruining another gamer’s night, he proves his intelligence and gets to flex his virtual muscles.

Again, I don’t believe that griefers are necessarily immature, but I do believe that they are the very definition of lame for causing so much disruption. I also believe that griefers will exist in online games despite the best attempts of developers to design them out. As recent releases have shown, even the best designs are vulnerable to the griefer’s need for power.

So how do you stop a griefer? Most times, you don’t. It’s a sad situation, but the only way to stop griefers is to play with only people you know and trust, and that defeats the purpose of most online games today. You can defend against cheats by placing anti-cheat protection on servers, but much like software crackers, there is always someone working to defeat any protection you put in place. Developers can work to fight against griefers in their design, but there is always the possibility that you will take some of the fun away from legitimate players. Besides, most griefers will work to find a way to grief regardless of the design.

The only real way to fight against griefers is to actively identify and vilify them. Some FPS’ allow banning by unique game IDs – allow visitors to your server to report griefers and investigate; ban if necessary. In MMORPGs it is harder for the griefer to switch IDs, as each character represents an investment of time and effort. You can identify griefers and spread the word amongst your friends and clan/guild mates.

The key to defeating griefers is to understand what they want and then to deny them. In this case, I believe they seek power over the server, the game and you, the player. It’s up to us as gamers and admins to deny them that power in order to preserve our enjoyment of the games we play.

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