Warning: this post contains links to sites that use some pretty strong language at times and several links are also NSFW.
Recently we received an e-mail from a reader asking what to do about “auction house griefing”. The reader said that any time he placed an item for sale in the auction house a certain other player would undercut him almost immediately. Our advice was to basically ignore the competitor and press on with normal trading. If that doesn’t resolve the issue after a few days, simply move your auctioning business over to an alt for a few weeks. Without an audience, or participatory ‘victim’, you remove a key component of the griefer’s game and render them irrelevant.
We assume this advice worked in that we haven’t heard anything further concerning the incident but it did get us thinking, what’s with all the hating lately?
While griefing has been an internet tradition since inception, it sure does seem that in the past few weeks the WoW anger level has risen to epic levels. Perhaps it was the natural result of forcing players to fight for colored eggs. Perhaps it was the result of encouraging selfish game play through poorly designed game mechanics. Regardless, the griefing doesn’t stop with world events and it certainly didn’t start there either.
Now we’re not quite sure where or when griefing began but you might argue that it is simply human nature. We can easily fathom a scene where one caveman leads another into the subterranean habitat of a prehistoric bear just for the sheer joy of later telling his caveman buddies, “Man, you shoulda seen the look on his face when that thing roared.”
MMO griefing certainly didn’t start with WoW. There are many examples of both the amusing (if somewhat tasteless) and the annoying variety. Some have built entire empires based on what’s often called the ‘art’ of griefing. Of course, when we start calling it art we also stop calling it grief. At that point it becomes a prank or a joke or some other term with a less of a negative connotation.
What strikes us most is that there are such a variety of responses to griefing. Sometimes the response is a compassionate “that sucks, sorry to hear that happened to you.” And, more often than not it seems, the complainant is met with cries of “QQ more noob.” The most common argument we hear is that the griefer is teaching the victim not to take things so serious- that this is, after all, just a game. The problem with this logic is that it lacks perspective. Sometimes griefing is considered criminal. At other times it is considered an act of heroism. Of course, at one point or another every MMO player is a victim of griefing in some form. It may be that person in /trade chat with the trolling comments while you’re trying to sell something or perhaps it is the guy that ‘stole’ your ore node. Either way, even the most ardent defender of griefing will eventually, himself, be griefed. Put another way, you never hear the target of griefing say, “Lighten up. It’s just a game.”
There are interesting perspectives on griefing all over the internet. Tobold’s got a good take on it. Last year’s AGDC conference kicked off an interesting discussion on the matter. The most recent issue of The Escapist features an in-depth look at griefing, particularly as pertains to WoW apparently. There are some hilarious examples of griefing crossing over into real life (while probably NSFW, that’s a must watch video there). About a year ago Wired Magazine did an interesting interview with a few notorious griefers (includes photos and yes, they look about as dorky as you’d expect).
Our own take on the matter from the WoWenomics team is that it has something to do with the Online Disinhibition Effect (summarized so flawlessly by Penny Arcade) mixed with the theory of the Monkysphere (in which proponents argue that we only have enough mental and emotional bandwith to care about a specific relatively small amount of people). We believe the best way to combat a griefer is simply to ignore it as much as possible. Getting angry or engaging them at all only feeds into their desire to cause strife in others. Threats and complaining will only exacerbate the issue.
As far as Blizzard goes, they remain liaise faire on the issue of griefing. Don’t look to them for resolution unless the incident violates the ToS. Even if it does, barring racist (or similar) comments from the offending party or other serious violations, the likelihood of a punishment beyond a slap on the wrist is fairly low.
All said and done however, it would be wise to remember that we all fall victim to this type of behavior at one point or another. Further, keep in mind that the internet isn’t always totally anonymous. And sometimes, just sometimes, a griefer will get his due.