The wind gently blew the fronds of the golden savannah and they bowed to me as if in greeting. Having left the deep green forests behind me, the openness of the grasslands was as refreshing as the breeze on my green-gray skin. My long ears pricked up to hear the sounds of small mammals and birds chirping a high-pitched greeting. Far off, I heard a metallic crash and was reminded that although this land was beautiful, it was alien and dangerous. I could convince myself that the sharp scent in the air was the fetid pile of lion dung rotting a few yards to my left but it could very well be the scent of a blood furied Orc’s sweat. Nevertheless, I gripped my staff tightly, bundled my robes about me and trudged softly ahead, scanning the horizon ahead for both Orcs and dung heaps.
My destination was Dreadmist Peak. The mountain was not far from the border of Ashenvale, where I had to sneak around the Orc outpost. Sentinel Starstrike had commissioned me to slay an undead summoner by the name of Sarilus Foulborne. I was eager to explore beyond Night Elven lands and this seemed like just the excuse I needed. To be honest, I’d had this quest in my log since I was level 25 and now that I was 29, I figured this mage would go down pretty fast.
The slopes of Dreadmist jutted up in front of me and I began walking up a spur. About halfway up, a big red number flashed on my screen. A large cat appeared behind me and continued slashing at me. Bigger and redder numbers appeared above my head. I tried to throw some Pain on my attacker, but my cloth armor was ripped to shreds before I could even blast his mind once. I expired on the slopes of an alien mountain without much resistance.
My attacker shapeshifted into a huge Tauren, whose name was emblazoned in red above his head. It read, “Hellacow” (name changed to protect the asshole). He was way above my level, the skull in my target frame told me he was at least 39, but probably much higher. Before I could release my spirit to the nearest graveyard (wherever that was) I read those dreaded orange letters in my chat log. Hellacow, a wonderful, immersive name by the way, had the gall to spit on my corpse.
I’ve been ganked before. Playing on a PvP server in World of Warcraft is going to get you ganked, no question. What happened next went beyond mere ganking. I was killed a total of 19 times over the next hour-and-a-half by this Tauren druid and whatever low-level Horde he could recruit. Despite the long corpse run, I made a sport of it. Even at full health and mana, I couldn’t get his health below 75% and he often never let me get fully healed before backstabbing me out of stealth mode. Trying to get away by rezzing in shadows and healing myself didn’t work. Neither did rezzing and running. The openness of the Barrens was beautiful, but it left me nowhere to hide. Plus, a druid with travel form and me without a mount made it cake for him to catch up to me, kill me and spit on my corpse.
My experience is not unique. Many have been corpse-camped in Azeroth. But when the preceding story happened to my priest alt, I began to wonder. Who would do such a thing? What kind of a person would spend over an hour causing another player such agonizing boredom and grief? There was no chance for advancement for him in any way. The PvP ranking system does not give any rewards for killing a character so far below his level. He received no loot. He did not gain any experience points. We were not in a battleground where he could receive benefit from winning the board. I could not understand why anyone would do what he did. (I’m calling Hellacow a “he” because the avatar was a Tauren male model, and girls don’t exist on the internet.) As a player, I could not imagine spending an hour terrorizing lowbies. I would get bored and move on to questing, leveling, anything, after a few minutes. Any time not advancing my character in some way is wasted time.
I decided to contact the Tauren druid who terrorized me and ask him what was going through his mind while he was murdering my priest. But this wasn’t really all that easy. As I mentioned, I play on a PvP server (Sargeras), and Blizzard doesn’t let you create characters on both teams. I couldn’t just roll up a Horde toon and whisper the offending Tauren. I could buy another copy of the game, create a new account and do so, but that wasn’t really cost effective. Luckily, I had a friend who hadn’t yet made a character on Sargeras, and I asked if I could use his account. After promising that I wouldn’t make him look like an “asshat,” he let me roll up an Undead rogue (everyone else has one, why not me?) and see if Hellacow was online.
I won’t bore you with the details of leveling up Dominian in Silverpine while waiting for the tool to log into the game. (Ironically enough, I put his name on my “friends list” so that I received a warning when he signed on.) I actually got up to level seven before I heard the fateful ding. Here follows my chat with Hellacow:
ME- Hi there
ME- You don’t know me
HIM- Who R U?
ME- I’m the guy you camped yesterday.
ME- Do you remember killing a Night Elf preist over and over and over again?
HIM- That you
HIM- No way
ME- Way HIM- What do you want
ME- I want to ask you a few questions.
HIM- About what
ME- About why you decided to camp me for so long.
HIM- Dude this is pvp
ME- There’s nothing wrong with killing me.
HIM- Go back to care bear server if you want
HIM- You were in the barrens
HIM- Alliance shouldn’t be there
ME- But you did it for over an hour
ME- What made you want to do that? Didn’t you get bored?
HIM- you were so funny thining you could get away
HIM- I had to keep kiling you
ME- Because I was running away, you camped me?
HIM- Plus, I hate night elves
ME- If I had stayed still, you wouldn’t have killed me so many times?
HIM- Too many NE on this server, imo
HIM- You all need to die
HIM- Maybe, idk
ME- Ok, listen, you got no rewards from killing me because I was gray, why do it?
HIM- It was fun
ME- It’s fun to terrorize people? HIM- Dood it’s part of the game
HIM- My guildie was leveling an alt around there
HIM- We had fun killing you little priest.
ME- What fun? I died in two seconds everytime
ME- Youdidn’t even let me heal
HIM- You healed sometimes
ME- When I was hiding in the bushes
HIM- I saw you
HIM- You name was red
ME- It almost worked
HIM- You could have signed off
ME- So you enjoyed killing me, who had no chance against a 60 and his friends?
HIM- Hell yeah.
HIM- Howd you get this character/ no cross-faction I thought
ME- Did you think about what fun it was for me?
ME- Friends account.
HIM- Fun for you?
ME- Have you ever been camped like that/
HIM- Happens all the time. Not so much now but bfore I was 60
ME- Did you like it?
HIM- No but now it’s pay back
ME- Ah, you were enacting revenge on my character for perceived wrongs against you? This is the proverbial gauntlet we all must run through in order to have played the game successfully and reched 60?
ME- Neer mind.
That’s about all I could get out of the bastard. He actually had more to say than I expected. Hellacow could have been like, “you SuxXoR!” and put me on his ignore list, much to my chagrin. I should be thankful that he even remembered me and could form basic sentences. He actually touched on quite a few points that I want to look at more closely. I also spent some time getting other players thoughts on this just to make sure my own feelings on the subject weren’t totally skewed by my recent encounter in the Barrens. For the record, I’m defining griefing as killing any character so far below the offender’s level as to reap no benefits and/or repeatedly killing the same character as they resurrect (camping).
HIM- Dood it’s part of the game
As with any MMOG, the basis of the World of Warcraft is your interactions with other players. These can be great experiences, like “5-manning” Gnomeregan with a pick up group that doesn’t actually suck. Or they can make you want to rip your hair out, like running that same instance with a tool for a priest who fears every mob and doesn’t heal (happened to me last week). It’s the same as dealing with people in real life. I don’t like the people who beg for money from me on the street, but I can’t change their behavior. There is nothing in the game’s mechanics to prevent Hellacow from repeatedly killing me, so I can’t really fault him for playing the same game that I am. He just plays it in a different way than I do, albeit an incredibly frustrating and annoying way, but since when has the internet brought out the best in people?
The Daedalus Project, a comprehensive compilation of MMOG research, actually has data which refutes the misconception that people are more vicious online than off. “The internet does indeed allow people to feel less inhibited, but as [this data] suggests, the internet doesn’t turn people into pathological liars and thieves, but rather, courageous knights and brave warriors whose motives are benevolent.” I’m glad to see that such research exists but I wish I had something to back up how many asshats I seem to encounter online on a daily basis.[/a]
HIM- You were in the barrens
HIM- Alliance shouldn’t be there
This is a little easier to understand. The PvP dynamic of WoW is that there are two opposing factions which are always at war. A Horde character should kill an Alliance character whenever they see each other and vice versa. “One kill is a ‘friendly’ bashing. I hate Alliance, so I kill them. ‘Hate’ is part of the game… I don’t actually hate the person behind the character. They are just my in-game enemies,” said Jord (Illidan) but I think Turonyen from the Graffe Forums said it best, “They are horde [sic] and they must be eradicated. They shouldn’t be allowed to stroll around in contested areas like they own the place.”
I chose to play on a PvP server and I don’t regret that choice. It is always exciting to venture into contested zones, looking over your back for any Horde that may be swooping down on you. It’s not a namby-pamby normal server which would protect me from being ganked, but neither is it a roleplaying server where people’s Troll priests are acted out in game.
But as Hellacow and the others point out, there exists a form of roleplaying even on the PvP servers. I, a Night Elf from the Alliance, was in Horde territory and should be punished for being there. It is a kind of artistic justice meted out by a 13-year-old in Tauren’s clothing.
HIM- Plus, I hate night elves
Griefers often make up a reason to do what they do. They have their agenda and if anything screws with it, they must do what they can to rectify the situation. In this case, an irrational hatred of one imaginary race in an imaginary world leads Hellacow to grief me. This behavior isn’t surprising as much as it is frighteningly consistent with history. Human nature is such that we have prejudices based on appearances. The perception that there are too many Night Elves leads to the assertion that the people who play that race are not as good as people who play a less common race, like Tauren. I am not trying to equate griefing in a videogame to racism (well, maybe a little) but there are dangerous undertones in this kind of thinking. Committing violence (if griefing can be considered violence) because they feel empowered by a crusade to rid the world of one race is freaking scary when you think about it.
But then there are the (perceived) righteous reasons we can make up. As Ringo Flinthammer (Silver Hand) stated: “The only people … below my own level that I don’t get honor for that I’ve killed have been folks who killed an Alliance quest NPC. Those NPCs were worth nothing to them, and they were doing it just to be obnoxious. So they can spend some time in the penalty box.”
HIM- You could have signed off
This is perhaps more descriptive of my character than Hellacow’s. They say the best way to beat a bully is to ignore him. I was told that so many times growing up that it was a kind of mantra. But something never let me just take the abuse and move on. I always had to fight back, no matter if I ended up with a bloody nose or wasting an hour rezzing my Night Elf priest. I didn’t want to log, letting him know that he had beaten me. I continued to fight, even though I knew it was pointless. In retrospect, I should have taken Jord’s advice in this situation, “Take a break! Don’t rez! Walk back to your body and then go make yourself a snack. Take a nap. Do whatever makes you happy. It’s break time! The campers are just standing there, eagerly watching their screens, whilst you’re relaxing, eating, drinking or perhaps making love to your wife. In my opinion, it’s the best remedy.” Wise words, especially the part about the sex.
HIM- No but now it’s pay back
I understand the revenge motivation more than anything else Hellacow cited. I admit to killing Horde toons more frequently if I had been ganked recently. And if a lower-level character comes up to me and “/spits” and “/farts,” I have no problem teaching him a lesson. This goes for camping too, as Caheen (Deathwing) explains, “There’s also the camping in retaliation for being camped. Being able to break out of a ‘getting camped’ situation will then make me camp the original offender for a time.”
But the constant revenge as a level 60 character on those beneath your level is a little too extreme. Does Hellacow see himself as a senior fraternity member hazing the pledges? I hated those guys in college and I hate them in World of Warcraft, too. The revenge motivation is ultimately faulty because inevitably, the victim would want to wreak the same havoc and thus begins an unending circuit of transgressions and griefing. But perhaps that is Hellacow’s goal all along.
The shades of gray and white flickered before my lifeless corpse. As a sparkling wisp, I had just completed the now-memorized journey through the oases and glens of the Barrens on the way back to my lifeless form.
Throughout the journey I had hatched the best conceivable strategy for defeating Hellacow. Having employed various sequences of healing myself, casting offensive spells and buffing myself, I believe I stumbled upon a novel way of exacting the heaviest amounts of damage while keeping myself from being hit with whatever the druid would throw at me. This was it. This time I would defeat this cow bastard and break free from his corpse-camping grasp. I positioned my ghost in a strategically appropriate location and cautiously pressed the accept button on the resurrection dialog box.
I reappeared in the material world, between Dreadmist Peak and the oasis directly to the south. A glow surrounded me as I cast a Power Word: Fortitude on myself and immediately felt healthier. I turned left and right, then finally all around, with my staff brandished before me and a Mind Blast spell on lips. For the moment, I didn’t see anyone near me. Hellacow had tried this tactic before, appearing out of stealth in cat form and slashing me before I could do very much. But this time I was prepared. I stood there, my fingers poised over my hotkeys, ready to press them in the correct, invincible sequence which would bring me certain victory.
Minutes passed on the grassy knoll in the Barrens. Nothing happened.
It seemed my adversary, my nemesis for the past hour, had deserted the battle. Hellacow, I was now sure, had finally grown bored of me as prey and moved on. As I gained more energy from my resurrection and scanned the horizon for any Horde, I reflected on the last hour and 29 minutes. This was the ultimate mockery, I decided, of griefing in WoW. At the end of the match, one combatant is forced to just leave. There is no game mechanic to say that you won or lost, like in the battlegrounds.
In the end, there is just no point.
Greg Tito is a playwright and standup comic residing in Brooklyn, NY. He is currently splitting time between World of Warcraft, a new D&D 3rd edition campaign and finishing one of his many uncompleted writing projects. He also blogs semi-regularly at http://onlyzuul.blogspot.com/.