Those Evil Griefers!

Lately I’ve found myself reading a lot of forum posts on both, the star citizen forums and the elite: dangerous forums, of people talking about “griefers” and how to counter them, quite often putting everyone who is not playing the game as they perceive it should be played in the griefer category, and quite often suggesting draconic measures to deal with those.

Whats a Griefer?
The word griefer seems to have originated around the year 2000 when the first multiplayer games where reaching the broad masses. Basically a griefer is said to cause grief to other players, hence the term. A griefer can probably be compared to a forum troll. Someone who enjoys to stir up some shit to then laugh about people “getting mad”.

Intentional harassment of other players is called “griefing,” which utilizes aspects of the game structure or physics in unintended ways to cause distress for other players

Dorothy E. Warner and Mike Raiter – Social Context in Massively-Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs): Ethical Questions in Shared Space

A real griefer by all means is someone who is not taking part in the game itself, but utilizes the game for his own goals. “Griefers” are usually either motivated by the challenge to use and abuse the rules and mechanics of a game, or by the reactions they can get from other players (“harvest tears”).

So those Griefers are bad guys, why am i even posting about this?
Well around the time that the word Griefer came up there was another word used, PK for Player Killer. PK’s are people who attack other players in non-consentual combat. Most modern MMO’s restrict combat to a limited zone like an arena, to specific servers, or between specific factions (WoW,  Aion…), effectively preventing fully “Open PvP”, and by that non-consentual PvP. Other games, which strife to be open world/sandbox games (for Example EVE Online) usually try to avoid preventing non-consentual PvP, but rather punish it in specific zones by ingame measures.

As mentioned, i’ve read a lot of players lately who complain about griefers but indeed confuse PKing and griefing. Usually their complaint starts with how they where (or imagine) playing harmlessly being a trader, carrying no weapons, showing no agression and where (or could be) attacked by evil griefers who just killed them for fun, rather than either following through with how they imagine piracy works (the pirate asks nicely to get some of the freight, and then will leave without harming the victim), or leaving them alone because they are no valuable target.

Usually people who post stuff like that have a hard time of understanding what motivates their attackers, and by that go for the answer “it must be a griefer”. Those posts quite often end with them either demanding something to be implemented in the game that works against griefers, or one step further suggesting a mechanic to deal with “griefers” – quite often suggesting ideas that will hurt mostly legitimate players (be it pirates or other criminal-players, or even themselves).

I’m posting this, because i feel shocked by how vocal those players have become, and how many people seem to want those upcoming games to be toned down to something else.

So, why would someone PK someone else if hes not a griefer?
Lets use an EVE example: a new player decides to bring his harmless mining barge from highsec to lowsec space, because he wants to earn more ingame money. He ignores the warning that the game gives him when entering lowsec, and starts mining. After a few minutes another player turns up in a combat ship and shoots the harmless mining barge to pieces.

“The destination system is 0.4 security status. This is extremely dangerous and Concord police can not guarantee your safety there. Do you want to proceed?”

EVE Onlines warning when entering lowsec (unprotected) space

This is an example for griefing that i have heard a lot. However, it is not griefplay:
1) It is part of the game that combat ships can kill mining ships
2) the Player got warned and ignored the warning
3) there is a myriad of reasons why the combat player might have killed the mining barge, for example:

  • The mining barge player could be a spy scouting for an hostile fleet
  • The mining barge player is removing assets from that system, which might or might not be harvested by an ally of the combat player instead.
  • The mining barge player entered a combat zone in a ship that is not viable for combat. He needs to learn about combat.
  • The mining barge player did not pay for being allowed to farm in claimed territory.
  • The mining barge players “funny name” was offensive to the combat player
  • The combat player was hoping for some loot to drop from the mining barge
  • The combat player wanted to increase his loss/win statistics

The problem is the killed mining barge player feels as if someone is interrupting his gameplay, and because he, in his opinion did not chose this fight, the other one must have to motive to cause him grief, and for that is a griefer. I’ve seen a lot of people rage about this, even claim they would get the combat player banned for harassment. Usually they don’t.

Another fine example of people claiming griefplay is in Elite: Dangerous Premium Beta at the moment, i’ve seen a few complaints about that in the forums already:
A player enters a combat area, and decides to not take a side (combat areas will have the player pick a side, so they can engage the other side, and earn currency for that), and not to attack. That player maneuvers between the fighting npcs and other players, and at some point gets blown up by one or more of the other players. To him, from his perspective not part of the combat, probably in the startership with only one gun, and that not deployed – he has been griefed. For the player who killed him: a totally different story:

The worst possible enemy in a multiplayer game is another player. NPC (non player characters), no matter how good are always to some degree predictable, especially in multiplayer games. Usually you can manage those – that is what they where made for, they provide you content that you can kill and feel good about. PC (Player Characters) however usually are a lot stronger, and are hard to predict. When an Elite: Dangerous player enters a combat zone, and does not pick a side, he is not signaling what his intention is – will he be friendly? will he be deadly? A player within a combat side does not have the luxury to let him be, especially not when that guy is maneuvering around in the middle of the combat. The Maneuver the player did to get a better look at the combatant? or some NPC? well, it can’t be distinguished from a maneuver done in the disguise of neutrality to get in the back and then chose side and attack.

The truth is, when you are playing a game like EVE, like E:D, or even like star citizen will be, where you can actually lose your hard earned ship, you will and you should make your decisions based on pure egoism – will my ship survive this? Will i be able to replace the ship? If you can’t say yes to both, you shouldn’t be in a place where there is combat. Other players, if they don’t perceive you as friendly due to common history, common friends, or simply the right flag, will shoot first and ask later, simply because if they don’t then you might.

That is not griefplay, that is the result of a game where loss matters – and thats what is making those games so exiting.

Why is it so bad if there are measures implemented against those people?

If you lose the ship again as a result of unlawful behaviour and need to loan money again which would take you below the maximum loan amount, you should not be able to – Game Over – you would then have to reset your stats or delete your old commander and create a new one, which would have to wait to the next day

An user on the E:D forums, suggesting a mechanic against what he perceives as griefers

If you add a mechanic that is supposed to remove griefers from the game, you will usually end up with a mechanic that removes (legit) players from the game. And you add a tool that a real griefer can use against legitimate players as well – it is a griefers wet dream to troll you into something that will remove you from the game. For example ther was a player here who suggested a mechanic that would lead people who would come in the game and lose their ship over and over again not being able to play more than twice a day.
The idea was that someone could cause grief by using the starter ship to destroy another player, no matter on if he loses his ship in te process as he would get a new one, so not replacing that ship under certain circumstances (player did an ingame criminal act), would void the replacement, and require the “grief player” to buy a new ship, and if he couldn’t to start a new character, which he could only do once a day.
The Problem: everyone playing a criminal character, which is a legitimate play style ingame, would be affected, and might end up not being able to play the game for longer than a few minutes each day. Even worse, a successful real griefer could cause enough damage that the victim would end up not being able to pay their own share of the replacement of their own ships, and by that also end up in a can’t play situation.

The thing is you can’t detect a players motivation automatically, hell in most cases even another player won’t be able to tell (see the examples above). In the end the only way you can combat real griefers, is by having game masters who investigate the actions of a player.

Punishing ingame crimes with out-of-games measures won’t solve it, it will just destroy the PvP gameplay of those Open World / Sandbox games.

But what if that is not the gameplay i want? if i just want to peacefully haul stuff from a to be?
Well you might have picked the wrong game (or game mode), because there are games that allow that:
Euro Truck Simulator: hauling all day. (also i believe there is one with trains too)
Star Trek Online: where losses don’t matter since eveything respawns (see, even with star ships)
Freelancer: oldie, in story mode will force you to combat npcs
Also, E:D and star citizen will feature single player modes, and star citizen will feature private servers.

You think thats boring? You actually want to be on a server where you feel this tension when going to some rather unsafe place for a huge profit?
Then stop shouting griefer as soon as someone gives you the exact reason that creates that tension.

In that spirit, i’ll close by linking a music video by the guys that made EVE:

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