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In Defense of Griefing

This article is an hopefully entertaining explanation and defense of the act of "griefing" in online game environments. Good griefing is seperated from bad griefing, and creative solutions are proposed to combat the bad sort. Enjoy!

Walter Lippmann, Blogger

September 14, 2009

9 Min Read

In Defense of Griefing

This article will detail the important aspects of griefing in online gaming communities, and advance an argument in its defense. Just like everything else, griefing can be done either correctly or incorrectly. "Correct" griefing never goes to far and often enhances the enjoyment of the game for anyone with a sense of humor. Originally featured on my website http://pcgamingcompendium.webs.com/


Griefing, defined as deliberately playing an online video game against the developers' rules (and often against the customs of player communities as well), has been around as long as online gaming. Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs (MMORPGs) especially lend themselves to the predatory instinct of griefers, and are rife with so-called "miscreant" behavior. It is a significant and unique aspect of online video games, simply because of the anonymity that such games provide.

As to why it exists, well, let's rephrase the question: "why do half-evolved primates continue to act like half-evolved primates, even when acquired technology allows them to form new types of communities?" The question answers itself! Despised as it is, griefing is human nature distilled into the vibrant world of online gaming. As such, it will not go away, but will remain a dynamic of (and widely considered a hindrance to) online gaming environments.

Good Griefing Versus Bad Griefing

Is griefing necessarily a bad thing? Is it by definition "wrong" to play in an unexpected and unintended manner? Such a playstyle is available in-game, which is justification enough for some. Griefing covers a wide range of behaviors which will almost certainly vary from game to game, and is subject to the perception of both the victim(s) and the perpetrator(s). Still, there are ways to figure out whether an act of griefing is necessarily detrimental or not, generally speaking. This involves identifying the ultimate factors that go into every act of griefing. These factors are the driving impetuses (why the griefer does what he does) and the subsequent consequences (the results of the griefer's actions). Impetuses include: Humor (as perceived by the perpetrator), a Darwinian imperative, a call for attention, and a determined need to perpetually lessen the enjoyment of the game for other players. Possible consequences include humor (as perceived by the "victim") and real-life ramifications.

It's pretty easy to construct a valid act of griefing from the above parameters. An acceptable act will be motivated by a desire to create a humorous situatation for both the perpetrator and the victim. It will not be merely a call for attention in the gaming world, and will not have real-life consequences for any "victim." Further, it will not be done in a manner which perpetually lessens the experience for the intended target. Thus, teabagging and corpse camping a poor sap might be a good deal of fun for a gameplay session (perhaps a day or so), but we can logically conclude it is going to far to continually place one's digital scrotum upon that very same character's face for the whole week or beyond. Finally, legitimate griefing may or may not be justified by Darwinian imperative. I shall now share a personal anecdote in order to demonstrate this concept, as well as hopefully establish some griefer street cred in the process.

The Mother of All Pearls

The year was 2004. Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) was released to the gaming world in a whirlwind of hype and anticipation. The game's online community amounted to over 400,000 people pre-release as SWG invited players to "take part in a thriving community."

I took the hype. What I didn't know, however, that accepting the invitation was akin to accepting an invitation to North Korea based on their Tourism Board highlights video. In other words, beyond all expectations the game ended up being a giant pile of bantha poodoo.

You had to make your own fun in a land (galaxy, actually) that was utterly devoid of it. How could one avoid griefing in this case? Specifically, I made my pre-purchased subcription worthwhile by posing as a jedi, or an extremely rare and hard-to-acquire character who would experience permadeath after 3 successive deaths. Pretty brutal, that.

One day I sauntered into the shop (the game had player housing) of an individual I will now ordain "Little Timmy." LT was an impressionable fellow, and, to make a long story short, I gained access rights to the home (LT willingly granted me access after believing me to be a jedi). I made the act even more convincing by placing broken lightsabers in a decorative fashion around the room LT let me stay in (broken lightsabers were supposed to be a one-time quest reward, but the game was so glitched I found out how to get an infinite amount by perpetually repeating the quest).

Now the point of all of this. The following sequence of events demonstrates the darwinian imperative that makes certain acts of griefing valid. One day, while...um..."exploring" the contents of LT's home, I happened upon a crystalline, translucent sphere. The item was a "krayt pearl," an item that, on that server anyway, went for millions and millions of credits (I hadn't ever dreamed of acquiring such in-game wealth). Certain thoughts popped into my head.

I wasn't there when LT next returned to his humble abode, but needless to say, the subsequent messages I received conveyed what it must've been like. LT would've casually strolled into his Tatooine mansion and discovered that the place had been utterly cleaned out, including all the furniture, and of course, the glorious, shiny moneymaker sphere. Hey, I did at least leave the bed for him to get a good night's rest on.

This is legitimate griefing because it required the full cooperation of the victim. Breaking and entering was not a possibility in SWG. The fact is, LT added my name to the list of tenets on the home, five minutes after he'd met me. Thus the darwinian imperative takes its toll. If a player is dumb enough to get duped by the digital equivalent of yet another beleaguered Nigerian Prince, well, sorry, but I think certain standards of intelligence have to apply to activities that we as humans engage in. The act is valid. (as long as it meets the parameter of not having real-life consequences, which I would argue no result in an MMO should for any balanced person).


Structural Limitations to Griefing

Griefing is necessarily limited by the inherent game designs of online environments. Because of this, much can be done to curb such behavior (but not completely eliminate it). Proposals that garner the most interest are user rating systems and bounties.

A user rating system in an MMO would enable players who reach a certain "positive" reputation (based upon other users' ratings) to vote down a griefer's reputation accordingly. Thus, griefers would essentially have a giant symbol over their head (or maybe literally) indicating an accrued mass of negative reviews. The downside to this is that the system itself could be subject to griefer manipulation, in ways we can all imagine.

A far more compelling idea is the placement of bounties upon identified griefers' characters. The more reported acts of griefing, the higher the bounty. The effect would be twofold. Firstly, NPCs, other players, or both would punish griefers to the highest degree because of the incentive involved. Secondly, the bounty would open up an alternative method of play, in which characters become legends by surviving for extended periods while under a bounty. Perhaps an alternate faction could be created for such legendary invidivuals. It's a thought anyway.

Either way, I look forward to designers coming up with creative methods of combatting griefing such as the ones I have just discussed. It's the 21st Century, people. We need more than /ignore!


In short, certain individuals in online gaming environments will continue to act as if they are a half a chromosome away from chimpanzees (because they are). Such acts of playing "against the rules," however, are not necessarily bad. A legitimate act of griefing will include the aforementioned parameters of creating humor for the perpetrator and/or victim, not having any real-life consequences, and not perpetually lessening the experience of the "victim." Finally, it may or may not also be predicated upon the full (if unwitting) agreement of the victim, in which case the darwinian imperative justifies such acts. Since human behavior is impossible to regulate, game designers should focus on eliminating acts of griefing that do not meet the definition of "good grief" that I have set out in this article. Ultimately, game designers need to take risks and come up with creative measures to limit such activity, but until then, it will run rampant, and I will be among you, searching for the next Little Timmy.

 Note: This article explicitly only deals with griefing in online game environements (primarily MMOs). Harassing people in other formats such as on forums or other mediums, or worst of all in real life, is bullshit and should not be done by anyone.

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