Good Griefing

Good Griefing
A Folk Hero for the Online Age

Tom Endo | 5 May 2009 12:04
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More important is the role griefers play as winners and champions in games that strive to prevent any one person from having that kind of notoriety. People want a hero, and in the online gaming space these are few and far between. Online games strive for meritocracies, the idea that anyone can be a champion with enough hard work and dedication. In the case of MMOGs it's mostly a matter of time. If you've put enough time into the game, you can be a champion regardless of any other trait except persistence. Even FPSs now bunch similarly skilled players together so everyone has a chance at being the best - if only for a round or two.

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Griefers are undisputedly winners. They've found ways to single themselves out for attention in games that do their best to convince everyone they are unique and beautiful flowers. It's griefers who know the exploits other players have missed and griefers who were responsible for the in-game event that really made jaws drop. In worlds of forced egalitarianism, griefers, to both players' delight and chagrin, stand alone. Griefers sidestep the uniformity of experience that increasingly defines the online gaming space and in the process provide players with the stories that make up our shared online gaming experience.

Public Enemy Number One
Pluck griefers and folk heroes out of their cult of celebrity, and their ugly truths come to the fore. Bonnie and Clyde killed no small amount of law enforcers, Jesse James was a confederate secessionist and the Mob is ... well, the Mob. Anyone who's been the victim of griefing understands this discrepancy all too well. Team killing in an FPS is funny in concept, but experiencing it multiple times over the course of an evening will tax anyone's patience. Griefers destroy the fun and comfort of the routine. They have incredible leverage over other players and lord over a game by wielding the powers of fear and uncertainty. At their worst, a few individual griefers can act as a malignant force in a game or virtual world. Given this experience, over the past 10 years players and developers have both made it abundantly clear that griefers are not welcome in their online lives.

Regardless of how toxic the griefer influence can be on an individual player's experience, however, people still want their internet folk heroes and the stories they provide. Entire games have sprung up where the dream of uninhibited virtual worlds lives on; places like Second Life and games like EVE Online. These communities have become zoos of a sort; a place where people can watch the wild animals fight with each other, caged off from the general population. EVE Online enables treachery so deep that only the most dedicated players can enter the fold and hope to be more than witnesses to its epic calamity. Second Life is perhaps even beyond griefing, as there is little left to rebel against and few areas left where the strange fetishes it attracts can still shock or even annoy. Everyone else, those who ask only that their games provide some respite and fun, can sit back and watch from a safe distance as their folk heroes work toward more fantastic jokes and schemes.

Tom Endo is a section editor and isn't into griefing unless it involves encircling a slug with salt.

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