Tobold's Blog
Thursday, June 22, 2006

Cap'n John asked me for a blog entry on griefing, which is an interesting theme to discuss. The case he was telling me about was some Horde rogue on a PvE server who used a PvP flagged level 1 character in Goldshire as decoy. When somebody nice passed by and buffed the level 1, that would inadvertedly trigger the nice person's PvP flag for 5 minutes, and then the high level rogue would stab him in the back and gank him.

In a way that is a credit to Blizzard: Griefers need to come up with quite ingenious ideas if they want to gank somebody. World of Warcraft is grief-resistant to a remarkable level. You can't gank somebody on a PvE server if that person doesn't have a PvP flag. You can't killsteal. And your possibilities to ninja-loot are much more limited than in other games. But in any game that has social interaction, griefing exists.

A recent story that was widely told all over the internet was of a World of Warcraft player who died, and his friends held a funeral to his honor in the game. But as they were on a PvP server, the funeral procession got attacked and slaughtered by a bunch of griefers who had heard of the event. That seriously destroyed the solemn nature of the event and thus made other player-organized events less likely.

My personal theory on griefing is that it is a bit like children destroying toys. Basically the child has either become bored of the toy, and just pushes the envelope of "normal" usage of that toy by disassembling it out of curiosity, or the child is aggressive for some other reason and the toy ends up as punching ball. Little Timmy pulling off the arm of his GI Joe action figure isn't terribly different from Little Timmy griefing somebody in World of Warcraft. The normal, standard game of WoW has become boring, and Little Timmy is experimenting to find out where the borders of the acceptable are. Ideally, just like Little Timmy's mother would scould him for having broken his toy and thus teaching him that this is not acceptable behavior, a GM should slap a 7-day ban on Little Timmy to teach him the same lesson.

Unfortunately while parental supervision of children playing with toys is not always optimal, GM supervision of players in WoW is far, far weaker. Chances are that Little Timmy will never be hit with any negative consequences from griefing, and thus will never learn that this isn't something he can do. And then there is lots of griefing which isn't even a bannable offence. A PvP attack on a funeral procession is totally within the legal limits of the Terms of Service and EULA. And if you get tricked into turning your PvP flag on and then get ganked, there is nothing that a GM would be willing to help you with.

The other problem is that even perfect GM supervision could only ban griefers after the fact. As the griefer is most probably somebody who has grown bored of the game and is somebody who is likely to leave the game anyway soon, banning him isn't really effective punishment. Older children still destroy toys, fully knowing that afterwards they won't be able to play with that toy again. But the questionable "fun" of the destruction beats the limited future interest of the toy that the child has played with for long enough. Breaking the toy is a form of closure, of ending the relationship with that toy. Griefing and getting banned for it is the same for a MMO. The bad thing is that while GI Joe doesn't mind getting his head ripped off, the other player behind the avatar who got griefed is understandably upset.
There is no way to prevent griefing totally. As a MMOG player since Ultima Online, griefing on WoW is well under control. Other than the example you mentioned(getting flagged for buffing a pvp enabled character), another common practise is using a pvp enabled lowbie to lure character from the opposition while having a level 60 rogue standing by. Both situations are totally within the discretion of a player whether or not to fall into the setup. I don't see why is that considered griefing.

Griefing, in my definition is when other players can cause distress upon you beyond your control. Usually griefing is carried out by some neglected kids who are bored. As long as you mind your own business, there is nothing they can do about. By minding business, I mean don't talk back to them and totally ignore their existence. Nothing hurt these kids more than being ignored.

As for the funneral, those guys should well expected to be attacked since they were on a PVP server. I don't condone the actions of the attackers but in gaming context, they did nothing wrong. As long as the actions carried out are within the game mechanism, the GMs should and would not get themselve involved. MMOG is like real life since it involves interactions with living persons, therefore the Murphy's law applies: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Thanks, Tobold.

I read through WoW's ToS today and found what I think are contradictory statements regarding Player Killing. One paragraph stated that PKing and Corpse Camping are accepted gaming practices, but a previous paragraph in the ToS states that harassment of players or causing another player distress are prohibited. I can attest to the fact that accidentally or unknowingly flagging yourself and then getting ganked is very distressing, and I'm sure my Guild Mates will agree, based on the comments I made in Guild Chat immediately after being killed ;)

One thing that has come out of this is that I no longer spam PW:Fortitude as I run around an area, and I'm more careful of which duels I accept now, too. Unfortunately that means I've been forced to change my style of playing to cater for the possibility of ganking. There's a reason I play on a PvE server, but that reason is also why the griefers are there and not on a PvP server; Carebears would be inherently more satisfying targets compared to a player prepared for the rigors of a PvP server.

Considering I've been playing WoW for a little over a year, running into just one griefer makes it a pretty good innings. Then again, there was that troll off the coast of STV who kept jumping around my lure as I fished for Oily Blackmouths, but I just fished the school out, /slapped him, and moved on.

AS annoying or distressing as their actions may be, Wargik really hit the nail on the head: It is best to ignore griefers and just move along.
I think that this whole business of Griefing is downright sad. If little Timmy is smart enough to trick others into flagging PVP then that means that the person who is being "griefed" most likely thought they were going to be the ones doing the slaugtering. If WOW or any other MMO game develops a form of in game policing then I will be the first one to cancel my subscription. I have been ganked, and I have been corpse camped many times but I knew that would happen when I joined a PVP server. I expected it. That funeral got what it deserved, the organizers were highly irresponsible and displayed poor leadership by not anticipating the attack. I mean come on people watch the video, most of funeral attendants were wearing cloth formal wear. I thought the video was well done and regardless of how dishonorable it was, it was still great fun. And lets not forget. Noone truly lost anything but their pride.
The children destroying toys analogy is interesting, Tobold. I never looked at it like that. Personally, I've always thought that the closest real-life parallel to most online griefing is vandalism. I suspect the behavioral motivations and feedback are very similar. i.e.- They want to visit cruelty on someone and get away with it, and they get a real kick out of doing so.
Correction: I left out a word. It should be "They want to visit indirect cruelty on someone ..." Vandalizing someone's car, their garden, or their online character -- very much the same.
There was an article about griefers a year or so back, I was surprised that the majority of them were not teens, but adults in their 20/30s.
One of the most ingenious albeit griefing I ever faced follows:
An enemy rogue would wait for ppl to come into blackrock mountain, and attack them. using slowing poison so you couldn't get away. Problem was that as we would get close to killing the enemy rogue, and ALLIED priest (not in our group)would mind control the rogue, which I thought would be OK, you know toss him into the lava, but instead the Allied priest HEaled the rogue back up to full, and then just canceled the mind control and the rogue went back onto fighting us. since our group didn't have a healer he eventually took all 3 of us down.
Our retalltion came in the form of getting 5 memebers, coming at once, and doing soo much damage to the rogue that he couldn't be kept alive via healing.

Ofcourse /spit on the "allied priest" who whined that we killed his friend. *jerk*

Ofcourse GM's said this was acceptable... as if.

I guess the guiding logic the GM's use is if you can payback the griefer by killing him, then its fair and non punishable.

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