Simulating terror

Can we learn about al-Qaeda by studying griefing in  MMOs?

I was just link hopping from Nate’s Stories, Worlds, and Pyramid Power and came across the Mall of the Sims transcript of an interview with Will Wright from Sept 03, where he says this:

Certainly if one reads what analysis say about al-Qaeda rather than what the politicians tell us it seems that rather than being a structured organisation lead by a shadowy figure it is individuals or small groups that happen to share a similar set of dislikes i.e. their perception of western or more specifically US imperialism; and a similar set of techniques i.e. certain types attacks on civilian populations. Which behaviourally and structurally really might be like griefers in some respects, and the lack of moral equivalence (i.e. no I’m not saying griefers are terrorists and I’m not saying terrorist are game players) should not mask any potential behavioural lesions we could draw.    


Comments on Simulating terror:

reader says:

or we could study big corporations like Microsoft who also seem to know how to get by every little loophole.

The problem lies in the definition, if you define it like Mr. Wright does, then so many things fit into that particular definition, governments for example.

It seems like a marketing trick to me and as such maybe would also qualify itself for something that itself is trying describe.

Capitalize on everything, rhetoric can do it!

Posted Mar 4, 2005 7:38:07 AM | link

Marshall Astor says:

I think greifing behavior in MMO's would be a poor model for terrorist activity. Terrorists and greifers may share a similar disrespect for other people, and they are both adept at finding points of weakness in a system, but the similarities end there.

One of the defining factors of any kind of online play (with the excusion of online gambling) is that there are no real world consequences for one's actions. Other than getting in trouble with the administration of a game, greifers do not operate in the same kind of environment as terrorists. Terrorists live and function in a world where failure usually means imprisonment or, possibly death. This reality informs their actions and forces them to behave in a manner very different from someone playing a video game.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 9:31:24 AM | link

Iamblichos says:

I think this is an exceptionally flawed analogy, not only for the reasons that Marshall listed, but also when motivation is considered.

Terrorists are generally motivated by some ideology which goes beyond their individual actions. Terrorism in general is a set of techniques for influencing governmental policies, not a thing in and of itself. In post-9/11 America, we associate Islamofascism with terrorism, but these techniques can support any ideology - the IRA, Shining Path, Basque & Chechen separatists, etc. are all terrorists, though their ideologies (and goals) differ widely.

Griefers have no guiding ideology - they, like everyone else in the game, are seeking to have 'fun'. The definition of a griefer is someone who considers it fun to bedevil, harrass or annoy other players. A terrorist is willing to ignore conventional morality to accomplish a political goal; a griefer considers the point to be ignoring conventional morality, with no other goal, political or otherwise.

Instead of terrorists, I think a much better analogy for griefers would be teen Satanists. The point of their lifestyle is to shock, offend and annoy people with transgressive behavior. This is much more like a greifer than someone who is willing to kill civilians in pursuit of a political goal.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 9:54:43 AM | link

ren says:

Marshall Astor > One of the defining factors of any kind of online play (with the excusion of online gambling) is that there are no real world consequences for one's actions.

No it’s not. Play and griefing have all kinds of out-of-game consequence. Griefing can upset or annoy people, if it gets in the way of doing thing that those players make money out of it has a financial impact. This is not on the same order as loss of life, but few human activities are of that order, whether there is a lesser order of consequence between any act in an MMO and say sitting and watching TV or waiting for a bus depends on all kinds of contingent facts, but it’s certainly not black and white.


Iamblichos > Griefers have no guiding ideology - they, like everyone else in the game, are seeking to have 'fun'. The definition of a griefer is someone who considers it fun to bedevil, harrass or annoy other players.

Hmm, you seem to suggest that they don’t have an ideology and then give them one, an ideal of a legitimate way to have fun.


>A terrorist is willing to ignore conventional morality to accomplish a political goal; a griefer considers the point to be ignoring conventional morality, with no other goal, political or otherwise.

This contradicts your point above where you say that their goal is to have fun.


Which I guess is Wright’s point. Both are types that think that is OK to ignore a certain set of rules to meet their goal. The question is whether we can learn anything from the way that they go about subverting the rule structure. We know that some greifers do in fact group (see www.pk-hq.com, plus famous griefing groups in The Sims Online).

I just wonder whether rejecting this out of hand because of different consequences or ideological ends means that we might be missing something in common tactics. Where I think the biggest weakness might lie is that the way that the rule structure is formed and policed is very different, thus there may be little or nothing to be learnt from the actual or meta activites around griefing.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 10:25:33 AM | link

RedWolf says:

Personally I think the only simularities between a "griefer" and a "terrorist" are the lack of a clear definition of the term.

Sure, there is a dictionary definition of what a terrorist is. However, a person who one person will label as a terrorist, another person will label a rebel or a freedom fighter. I can name endless examples both from contemporary and historical events, however that is beside the point.

I'm sure thta there is also some sort of dictionary definition of what a griefer is. However, from personal experience, I can say that people's opinion of whether someone is a griefer also varies greatly. Some people believe that causing ANY deliberate harm to other players (including killing them in completely legitimate ways), is griefing. Others say that corpse camping / res-killing (also withing game rules) is griefing. Others say that griefing involves verbal harassment, use of third party programs to harm other players and many other things.

So no, I don't agree that "griefers" and "terorists" have anything in common. I also don't see anything wrong with player enjoying harming other players so long as it is within the game rules - it's a game and they accept the game rules when they log in.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 1:11:00 PM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

Iamblichos wrote:

> Griefers have no guiding ideology - they, like everyone else in the game,
> are seeking to have 'fun'. The definition of a griefer is someone who
> considers it fun to bedevil, harrass or annoy other players.

ren wrote:

> Hmm, you seem to suggest that they don’t have an ideology and then give
> them one, an ideal of a legitimate way to have fun.

That's an ideology? I really like Key Lime Pie -- is that also an ideology?

Griefers appear to be primarily motivated by self-interest, to the extent that other people's welfare becomes unimportant to them. 'Terrorists' -- who, after all, often die as a result of their actions -- don't seem self-interested in the strictest sense.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 1:59:42 PM | link

Will Leverett says:

One definition of a terrorist is anyone who attempt to achieve their own goals while completely disregarding communally accepted conventions of law, order, and any other social customs.

Using that definition, I can certainly see the value in studying how griefers, hackers, exploiters, and any other anti-social groups operate.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 2:46:11 PM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

Will Leverett wrote:

> One definition of a terrorist is anyone who attempt to achieve their own
> goals while completely disregarding communally accepted conventions of law,
> order, and any other social customs.

So shoplifters are terrorists? That seems like a rather broad definition.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 3:06:24 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Jeremy Neal Kelly wrote:

'Terrorists' -- who, after all, often die as a result of their actions

One kind of terrorist does. But if terrorism just means "those who are against us" (which is how most governments use the term) then the term terrorist is nothing but PR spin.

Violence is objective. Terrorism is in the eye of the beholder. Few organizations are better at organizing mass acts of violence in order to perpetuate their agenda than big governments like the US (1-3 million murdered Vietnamese civilians stand as testament to this.) Does that make the US government terrorists? I think the answer is 'no' only if you start off by assuming that the US is right and anyone against it is wrong, which is an insupportable point of view.

More to the point, I don't believe the word 'terrorist' has any meaning aside from being a way to differentiate "their" violence from "our" violence.

--matt

Posted Mar 4, 2005 3:10:43 PM | link

Barry Kearns says:

Will Leverett> One definition of a terrorist is anyone who attempt to achieve their own goals while completely disregarding communally accepted conventions of law, order, and any other social customs.

That would seem to be a more accurate description of a sociopath rather than a terrorist.

While I have little doubt that some grief players are sociopaths, and some terrorists are sociopaths, I don't think that means that there is a logical equivalence between the two...
no more than I would consider that priests are logically equivalent to axe murderers simply because a subset of both types are left-handed.

In general, I would say that a large fraction of terrorists certainly have a hateful and violent methodology for trying to achieve their preferred societal model... but that many of them actually have a societal model to which they are conforming.

Perhaps the subset of terrorists that should be considered as a model for comparison to (a subset of) grief play might be the anarchists / nihilists, rather than the more organized and ideologically driven terrorists (Al-Queda, IRA, etc.)?

Posted Mar 4, 2005 3:24:10 PM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

Matt Mihaly wrote:

> I don't believe the word 'terrorist' has any meaning aside from being a way to differentiate "their" violence from "our" violence.

As long as we’re off the topic here, let me say that I totally agree. The word obfuscates the very thing it is meant to identify. Pure rhetoric.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 3:53:23 PM | link

Peter Ludlow says:

I think most of these posts are missing the thrust of Will's point. He isn't saying the idiological makeup or motivation of terrorists and MMO griefers are the same -- he's saying that there are common elements to their meta-strategies for finding loopholes and cracks in the system, returning anonymously, joining and rejoining other griefer groups and perhaps the ways in which they share grief-enabling information.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 8:24:07 PM | link

Peter Ludlow says:

*ideological, rotfl but maybe idiotological is in the wings.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 8:26:37 PM | link

Tom Bloodgood says:

I imagine myself as Will Wright. I am asked the question above and I think to myself, "If I can find a way to tell these people that my game might somehow be used to support their theories, then they will buy my game and play it, possibly even for a year long or 6 month study." So, I answer the question in a way that may lead them to play my game and , voila, money in my pocket.

Pure genius!

Do I think that terrorists and griefers are equivalent in any way? Only in the sense that terrorists spend time trying to exploit the security of their targets so they can achieve their goals and griefers spend time trying to find ways to exploit the game system to achieve their goals. The methods they use may be similar, but the analogy breaks down when you discuss ideologies or tactics.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 8:32:15 PM | link

Tess says:

I think it's a poor analogy, but for yet another reason that hasn't been mentioned yet (or at least I think it hasn't): Terrorists have networks, and griefers *usually* don't. I don't get the sense that there's a secret network of griefer cells out there, constantly training and recruiting new griefers, and just waiting for the signal to steal my kill. Most griefers are driven by individual whim. While have been known to work together on occasion, the behavior tends to take on a quality similar to street corner bullies, more so than terrorists.

Those times when griefing most closely resembles terrorism is when a high-profile, organized hacking effort goes down. One of these happened on Shadowbane a couple of years ago, enabling a few players to suddenly have admin powers -- which were used to ill, if somewhat amusing effect. These are true suicide attacks, in the sense that the players in question are going to be banned from the game, and they damn well know it.

However, the difference between these grief attacks and terrorism is that there is no reason for the attack, beyond mere amusement. It's nothing but bored malice. There's no ideological reason to do it, and no point to be made.

Now, there was a recent case on WoW, where a number of Warrior players attempted to crash a server to protest something they perceived as a problem. It is certainly an act of metaphorical terrorism, but at the same time, I'm not actually certain it qualifies as griefing, because the motivations are quite different.

Now, after writing all this, I'm coming to the conclusion that I use motive as part of my definition for "griefing." Interesting.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 8:40:54 PM | link

Wagner James Au says:

On the other hand, I'd hate for a potentially fruitful conversation to get sidetracked by adolescent-level foreign policy analysis. I recommend shunting the conversation of what constitutes terrorism to the political blog of one's ideological inclination, and keep this focused on the Al Qaeda/griefer analogy.

In that regard, there's a *species* of griefer who attack a particular MMO because they're advocates of *another* MMO. They're angry at the competing MMO, for example, because they feel it's "stealing" subscribers away from their own beloved MMO. So they find and abuse exploits in the enemy MMO, to damage its infrastructure, antagonize its subscribers-- ultimately in the hopes that these subscribers will lose confidence in it, and even better, abandon it for the griefer's MMO.

It's this type of griefer who fits closest to the Al Qaeda model. Think of 19 griefers who are sworn enemies against the popular, open-ended MMO City of Seculars. They don't like how CoS encourages subscribers to have sexy fun in nightclubs, or how it lets people declare affiliation with the religious designation of their choice, and so on. What's more, they're hardcore players of EverCaliphate, a much more serious game, because it doesn't allow sexy nightclubs and public cybering, and there's only one religious designation players can have, and there's only very proscribed, structured ways of leveling.

And the horrible thing to them is, they keep losing friends and guild members in EC, because they're going off to play CoS.

So they decide to grief City of Seculars in the worst way possible. They don't go onto CoS and engage in penny ante griefing, however, like a lot of their friends. Instead, they start out as noobs in CoS, carefully obey all the company TOS rules, and spend a year or two carefully looking for the ultimate exploits which can be turned against CoS-- then setting up plans to do so. But until they do strike, they remain totally benign noobs, quietly integrating themselves into the CoS play structure, even making a few friends along the way, and going to some of these sexy nightclubs themselves. And when do show up on the company's security system as possible griefers, it's too late-- or there's too many levels of bueracracy, to do anything really effective to stop them.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 8:45:17 PM | link

Peter Ludlow says:

"The methods they use may be similar, but the analogy breaks down..."

Well gee, maybe similar methods was kind of the point?

I also disagree with the contention that griefers don't have networks. Depends on how we define griefers, and there are certainly lone wolf griefers, but the Hotel Erotica/Free Money for Newbies franchise on TSO (which no doubt was on Will's mind) was certainly a robust if dynamic network of individuals, offering training, a communications system out of game, and support for settting up scamming and griefing operations. So, you know....

Posted Mar 4, 2005 9:14:24 PM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

Wagner James Au wrote:

> ...I'd hate for a potentially fruitful conversation to get
> sidetracked by adolescent-level foreign policy analysis.

Having read some of your political commentary at Salon, I suggest that you think twice before complaining about “adolescent-level foreign policy analysis”. Anyway, I don’t think the thread will be destroyed by a few off-topic posts.

> In that regard, there's a *species* of griefer who attack a
> particular MMO because they're advocates of *another* MMO.

This is an interesting analogy, but does it really happen? I’m sure this sort of thing happens on bulletin boards, but you’re saying that people subscribe to a game they dislike in order to antagonize its players on behalf of some other game? If you’re not just hypothesizing, can you provide some real-life examples? I simply haven't heard of this.

Peter Ludlow wrote:

> Well gee, maybe similar methods was kind of the point?

Are we supposed only to write posts that support the thesis? What kind of a discussion would that be?

Posted Mar 4, 2005 9:38:23 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Wagner James Au> In that regard, there's a *species* of griefer who attack a particular MMO because they're advocates of *another* MMO.

There is?

The only similarity I can see is something along the lines of: if you keep whining about how other people play and tell them that their playstyle is barbaric then someone will eventually "grief" to make a point in a fashion that speaks to the "griefer's" group, validates his playstyle and brings his group's playstyle/cause into the limelight.

Oh, I am so sorry for the adolescent-level foreign policy analysis...

Posted Mar 4, 2005 9:45:51 PM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

I was wondering whether ordinary, real-life crime might provide a better analogy, when this occurred to me: why do we even need an analogy? Specifically, I wonder how many griefers are also script kiddies or h4x0rs of some sort? There seem to be more than a few cultural similarities.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 9:59:07 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Some PvPers are a seeking engaging and dramatic situations, I guess h4axors do that too. The world is boring. Outragous is fun!

Posted Mar 4, 2005 10:11:04 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Jeremy Neal Kelly wrote:

This is an interesting analogy, but does it really happen? I’m sure this sort of thing happens on bulletin boards, but you’re saying that people subscribe to a game they dislike in order to antagonize its players on behalf of some other game? If you’re not just hypothesizing, can you provide some real-life examples? I simply haven't heard of this.

Actually, this happens a fair amount on a low-level in virtual worlds, specifically text-based virtual worlds. Although it almost never (to my knowledge) is at the direction of the owners of one of the virtual worlds involved, it's not infrequent to get players from one world logging into another one and harrassing people, telling them how much "their" game sucks compared to the one the griefer feels is superior, and so on. I certainly wouldn't draw parallels between that an Al-Qaeda. It's just bored kids looking for a way to assert themselves.
--matt

Posted Mar 4, 2005 10:21:09 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Come on Matt, players testing new MMOs/MUDs and expressing their views on what they see may be looking for attention, but it is hardly harrasment/griefing? Then again, everything is harrasment/griefing/terror these days... ;)

Posted Mar 4, 2005 10:41:05 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Was that harassment, btw?

Posted Mar 4, 2005 10:51:37 PM | link

Brask Mumei says:

Some points to think of...

1) Remember the "Take a screen shot of saying how great Shadowbane is in someone else's game and win a beta account" contest?

2) Dr. Twister seemed to be, in his own mind, an idealogue pushing for a reformation of Ultima Online through terrorism. The logic went that if one broke the game with game breaking bugs, they'll be fixed. There were all the usual religious schisms, shifts, reinterpretations of doctrine, that one would expect from any idealogical group.

3) A very common story by PKs in UO was: "I realized how much UO sucked, so I decided to make as many other people quit as possible!"

I don't think you can dismiss griefers as being without idealogy. The world is virtual, but the players are real. And where you have humans, you have idealogy.

Posted Mar 4, 2005 11:22:59 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Ola wrote:

Come on Matt, players testing new MMOs/MUDs and expressing their views on what they see may be looking for attention, but it is hardly harrasment/griefing? Then again, everything is harrasment/griefing/terror these days... ;)

I think you misunderstand. The players are there specifically to present the following point of view:

YOUR MUD SUX! OUR MUD RULZ! COME PLAY OUR MUD YOU FAGGOT LOSERS! HAHAHAAH! (I probably didn't add enough misspellings in to sink to the level of the idiots who do this, but you get the idea.)

They are definitely there specifically to attack, not check out or investigate.

--matt

Posted Mar 5, 2005 12:15:22 AM | link

Andres Ferraro says:

There is no demonizing, brainwashing, martyrdom, etc. in the mind of an MMORPG griefer. The effect on the other game players may sometimes seem similar, but given such a different root you're not likely to find anything useful.

I doubt the analogy has much research value.

Posted Mar 5, 2005 1:53:51 AM | link

magicback says:

I think research on strike methods, rather than on motivations, may have research value.

It's not about understanding them, but rather trying to understand their methods.

Will's comments was a high-profile, good sound-bite analogy that points to interests in Will's work in social profiling and applications of social behaviors into his Sim games.

Perhaps on the next version, he'll introduce "your local friendly terrorist" character.

Posted Mar 5, 2005 2:58:42 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Matt> They are definitely there specifically to attack, not check out or investigate.

Ah, ok, I guess I don't assume that what people say and how they say it explains why they do something, but high-profile MUDs might attract some envy. *nods* In general I think this is the cost of being free. Some players might join Achaea/Medivia etc because they are curious, but log in with the expectation that it is inferior to their own MUD.

I've seen exchanges of the following type the past few months, but I don't think it constitutes griefing (I don't think annoying = griefing):

Player A: this game SUX!! LOL WoW is SOOOOOOOOMUCHBETTER. WOW IS THE BEST
Player B: So why do you play this game?
(silence)
Player A: i need a reason?
Player C: I played WoW for a week, it got boring. This game is much better.
Player D: i like both and this game is free so i prefer this one
Player A: LOOOOOOOOOOOOSERS U R stoopid, this game is crap, WoW is best
Player B: Shut up and play, or quit.
Player A: FAGS! I can't play WoW because... WoW servers are down/I can't afford WoW yet/It isn't out in Europe

Andres Ferraro> There is no demonizing, brainwashing, martyrdom, etc. in the mind of an MMORPG griefer.

I've never seen a satisfactory definiton of "griefer", but the most devastating "grief" seems to be good-old slander. I think such unreasonable rumours can be both "demonizing, brainwashing, martyrdom"... And much like terrorism, you can't defend yourself against it.

Posted Mar 5, 2005 4:41:11 AM | link

Jeremy Neal Kelly says:

Ola Fosheim Grøstad wrote:

> I've never seen a satisfactory definiton of "griefer"...

I suspect that’s the real problem here. Both these terms -- ‘Terrorist’ and ‘Griefer’ -- are highly charged but very poorly defined. Peter Ludlow’s question about methodological and organizational similarities was interesting, but I have yet to see any examples. Anyone?

Posted Mar 5, 2005 9:26:48 AM | link

Jim S. says:

Ola wrote:

>Come on Matt, players testing new MMOs/MUDs and expressing their views on what they see may be looking for attention, but it is hardly harrasment/griefing? Then again, everything is harrasment/griefing/terror these days... ;)>

I have to agree with Matt on this one. I have witnessed griefers logging onto a mud and immediately spamming long, derogatory messages over the public channel in order to make it impossible to play, to eat up as much bandwidth as possible, and to possibly crash the mud.

In this particular case, I might be inclined to agree that a greifer could also be a terrorist, especially since some of the intended effects have solid real-world consequences. Normally I wouldn't agree, simply because of the matters of motivation and inhibition.

Motivation for a greifer is usually on a small scale, in other words he serves no cause or higher idea. He just wants to hurt people, because he finds that to be fun. The greifer's inhibitions against his actions are too low to prevent the actions. In an MMOG, the worst possible consequence is banishment. In real life, it could be prison time or vigilante actions. The greifer is just a bully that feels liberated from the inhibitions present in real life.

Motivation for a terrorist is to acheive some objective that they hold important. This is not related to fun directly. The terrorist's inhibitions are overcome by the feeling that the gains will be sufficient cause. It's acheiving the objective that matters most, not the method or cost.

Can we learn about terrorists from greifers? I'd say not much, at least from my uninitiated view. Methods can't really be studied, since they will very rarely translate into the real world. If the real world methods translated into an MMOG, that might be worth study, but at the present I'm not aware that they do.

I think studying the motivation of greifers would be almost useless in relation to understanding terrorists. The only benefit I can see would be limited psychological comparisons. The statement that Mr. Wright made just sounds like the hyperbole that my friends get so annoyed at. "Jim, I don't think that was really the best steak in the universe."

Posted Mar 5, 2005 1:54:53 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Jim, what you are talking about as "griefers" is very much a mixed bag. Griefers are not just bullies:

1. John Suler's SNERT newbies: they feel ignored by the other players and cause havoc until they get some response from other players

2. Former players seeking revenge.

3. Whiners venting their frustration. "I can't enjoy this, fuck the admins, I don't care if nobody else can enjoy it either"

4. What Matt seems to describe: bored players (from perhaps a smaller MUD) bragging about how superior his regular MUD is.

5. Players with some real life crisis (breaking up with girlfriend) causing havoc by logging into some random MUD.

...

Posted Mar 5, 2005 2:35:08 PM | link

Wagner James Au says:

In my experience, most griefers are identifiable as such *immediately*, and I don't think a behavior analogy to Al Qaeda works for them. Hence my suggestion that the most useful analogy to Al Qaeda is a griefer who starts a new MMO as a law-abiding noob, obeying all the rules, playing how they're expected to play, even developing a social network, while quietly looking for exploits in the system, with the intent of suddenly flipping into griefer mode at the right moment, when they can wreak the most damage to the infrastructure. ("Sleeper griefers", let's call them.)

Far as people who grief to advocate for a competing MMO, yeah, that's behavior I've witnessed in various MMOs, judged by their in-world conversation and forum posts. Like I said, though, it's a subset of the griefer phenomenon. These are the kind of griefers who might be motivated to join a competing world (i.e. enter the country) via a free trial offer or during its Beta period (i.e., forged student visas) with the idea of quietly probing the system and hitting it hard before their account expires (i.e. fireballs over the center of economic activity).

Posted Mar 5, 2005 2:48:45 PM | link

Nathan Combs says:

Tess>

Now, after writing all this, I'm coming to the conclusion that I use motive as part of my definition for "griefing." Interesting.

Chek Yang Fo distiguished between greed/grief play, where the distinction lay with intent.

Posted Mar 5, 2005 8:07:29 PM | link

Anonymous says:

Not having time to actually play MMOGs, I'd like to ask for some clarification.

Would any of you mind explaining what griefers do? You all seem to be operating with some shared experience as to what is a 'griefer', regardless of an exact definition. What is this shared concept?

In other words, other than innately being asses or having intent to disrupt, what do griefers actually do, what actions do they take that cause problems??

Posted Mar 5, 2005 10:37:28 PM | link

Colin Fisk says:

I suspect you need to define "griefer" first.

In addition to Ola's 5 definitions, I suspect there's a few more categories which need to be added:

1. The person who inflates their own self worth, much like a forum troll, by attracting as much attention as possible. Unfortunately, this type of person also realizes that the classic customer service adage of "If you get good service you tell 3 people, if you get bad you tell 10," applies for just about any negative experience.

So, by deliberately going against a societal conventions, not unlike a terrorist group that posts pictures of hostages on a web site, and later beheads said hostage with accompanying video, the person inflates what they perceive to be their importance because they have people talking about them.

2. An organized group of people, ala the TSO Mafia, who seek to control other's gaming experiences through planned pressures and monopolistic behaviors.

While you can argue that these types of groups are similar to terrorist cells, I suspect you'll find that, with the exception of an overall goal of acheivement, they bear little resemblance to each other.

My reasoning being that, in the structure of a game there are pre-defined terms of "winning." Unlike a terrorist group who is politically (and I'm including a broad definition of impressing/enforcing ones religious beliefs as political) motivated, the majority of organized groups within an MMO community have a capitalistic goal (be it in game currency, game experience levels or control of an in-world resource etc.)

I said majority, because, if memory serves, there was a group of self nominated town police in Ultima Online. While their motivation was still altruistic in terms of maintaining order to improve their gameplay experience, I don't believe (and please correct me if I'm wrong,) that their motivation was to "win" control of the town, but rather to maintain a pleasant gaming experience for everyone.

Now, to contradict what I just said about my second group of griefers, there is one similarity between the people who seek to dominate a game through force and a terrorist cell: In general, their ultimate goal is to force you (be it a player, government, game company etc) to do something you do not want to do. They wish to impose their will upon you in such a way that you capitulate to their wishes.

The funny thing is, in my eyes, homeland security does have a half decent idea, but are executing it wrong.

The simulation of terrorist acts, homeland defense scenarios and general gaming theory have been played out dozens of times this weekend. I'm specifically talking about the Pen and Paper RPGers who have, in many ways, been playing out the very scenarios Homeland Security probably wanted to investigate with the (presumably) TSO technology.

While 3D simulation is very good for some things, I personally think the old school war gamers and RPGers are a better choice for scenario design than a computer environment given today's current technology.

Could I see technology taking up some of the slack in as much as someday we'll be able to use a defense satellite to map out an area to the millimeter and then process that data into a virtual environment in which people can instantly interact with the terrain, buildings, population density and objects? Of course. But the computing power isn't here yet, nor is software built that can do this.

And, even if it were, you're still missing the human element. While I suspect homeland security's ultimate goal is to have a WOPR type computer from Wargames which will be able to play out terrorist scenarios and both learn to counter them as well as recognize them before they happen, I contend that we will not see in my lifetime, at least, a computer that can mimic a human's decision making process down to such a level that they can "game" terrorists.

And my reason is simple: before you can "game" human behavior, you have to "game" the vastly complex organism that is a human being.

An example:
While a computer may very well be able to predict that the Al Terrorista network is going to plan to destroy the Bob Smith bridge in Metroplexus using a series of 5 car bombs and a barge filled with explosives, it cannot come close to knowing that Mary Engineer will be called into her Network Operations Group that morning. Nor would it know that Mary was in such a hurry that she forgot to take her anti-acidis for her ulcer and pain killers for her persitant migraines. And, even if it could predict that, at a critical moment with the Al Terrorista assigned to hijack the barge, she would have gastric pain which caused her to wince and swerve into the sedan the terrorist was driving, totalling it with her SUV, it wouldn't be able to follow the paths of the other (conservative estimate) 350 people on the road within a mile of each of the other 5 operatives and their various ailments, thoughts etc that effect their decision making process every millisecond to understand if such an attempt would be successful.

It's why one member of the IRA was quoted as saying "We only have to be lucky once. You have to be lucky all the time."

Posted Mar 5, 2005 11:26:09 PM | link

CherryBomb says:

To go all the way back up to the original quote, what Homeland Security was asking about was a simulator for terrorist activity. Regardless of what Will Wright said, multi-player games that I know of are not terror simulators. You can draw analogies between griefer behavior and terrorist behavior, but it is not a simulation of that behavior.

Posted Mar 6, 2005 5:11:35 PM | link

Urizenus Sklar says:

CB, that isn't what the quote says. It says "simulate a terrorist network", not simulate "terrorist activity". The difference is important. For all I know one might simulate a terrorist network by using autonomous agent computational models or scale-free networks, but that wouldn't get you to a simulation of "terrorist activity".

The headline idea here, I would have thought, is that terrorist *networks*, whatever their motives and goals, are not sui generis organizations, but share important properties with other kinds of dynamic clandestine social networks.

I mean come on, terrorist networks don't lie outside the laws of nature, so their structure and behavior will be found elsewhere. Why not in the structure and organization of griefer organizations in MMOs?

Posted Mar 6, 2005 8:52:52 PM | link

ren says:

Urizenus Sklar > I mean come on, terrorist networks don't lie outside the laws of nature, so their structure and behavior will be found elsewhere. Why not in the structure and organization of griefer organizations in MMOs?

Exactly. As I was trying to say above whether there is anything to learn seems to be in the relationship between the deviance and the rule structure / authority from which the actions deviate.

Greifers seem interesting because on the whole the do not group so when they do we might have some kind of similarities.

What is interesting is the idea of ideology the way that this does or does not seem to aid cohesion. Problem with an analysis from my point of view is that I don’t know that much about terrorist ideology at this level of detail but from a casual observer point of view it seems that ideology while stabilising in terms of target can be highly de-stabilising in terms of grouping.

So if group A hates group B because of reasons X and Y it seems often to be the case that group A starts to fraction because one interpretation of X and Y or the addition of Z causes a split with the new group A’ seeing A as part of the problem if not worse. This forking and the way that trust seems to be highly unstable where one member my very well kill another may be similar in the way that coordination of griefing does or does not happen. For example, of the available information that you might tell a person about you or your avatar or something, if your common goal is griefing how much are you going to tell the other person if they might suddenly start to use that against you to grief you. The way that trust is formed i.e. in the methods of and content of communication and the use of ‘trusted’ third parties, might have some similarities. That is if one is looking at intercepting communications across a loosely associated network there might be patterns of communication that one might look for which would signify a particular type of meta-communication (meta is its trust rather than the actual information that one is looking a) occurring – then again, all this might be too subtle and just be lost in noise, but possibly that is something that one could study empirically using the communications with an MMO.

Posted Mar 7, 2005 4:03:33 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

ren> if your common goal is griefing how much are you going to tell the other person if they might suddenly start to use that against you to grief you

Err... people who band together in muds don't have the common goal of "griefing", they have the common goal of having outragous fun (ganking) which might be perceived as "grief" by others (carebears). For a PvPer nerfs-by-whining is "grief".

A "grief" B by ganking.

B can't "grief" A by ganking.
B "grief" A by whining to devs/GMs.

In both cases the goals and actions are very directly linked. Not so for terrorists, so what would the causal/structural relationship be?

Posted Mar 7, 2005 6:00:25 AM | link

Urizenus Sklar says:

The analogous thing to griefing by whining/abuse reporting is this: you tell the powers that be (i.e. the US occupation forces) that person x who has pissed you off is in fact a terrorist (when they are not -- they may well be working against the terrorists). The occupation forces, not unlike game mods, have no inner knowledge of the situation, and thus decide to believe the abuse report and whisk person x off to Cuba for several months (or years) of humiliation and torture.

I have to say that the griefers on tso were absolute masters at this. They would make alts, befriend people, sit around until someone said 'shit' or 'you need to be bitch-slapped' and then abuse report them. Instant 3 day suspension or worse.

Posted Mar 7, 2005 9:58:34 AM | link

Cris Streetzel says:

Since most of us see that we don't have a formal definition of griefer or even terrorist, let's see if we can agree on one.

I would define griefer as a VW criminal. This can get a little fuzzy since you must differentiate between criminal activity that is allowed by the game rules, but outside the civilized norm (like piracy) and actions that are forbidden by the VW, like hacking, ganking, harrassment, etc.

My definition of a terrorist would be an individual who commits extremely destructive acts for the purpose of intimidating the civilian population. This is separate from military resistance or acts against military/economic infrastucture. Terrorism would be a subset of criminal activity, but is not always motivated by self-interest, just as hate-crimes are not always motivated by self-interest.

I also note that these are not specific, fixed categories. There is a wide spectrum of behavior between criminal and terrorist acts with a wide variety of motivations. Some are motivated by idealogy or nationalism, others because they are angry over their loss of power and status or a desire for revenge. There are even some motivated by personal gain. According to confessions by some former 'insurgents' in Iraq, their groups were often paid for killings they committed. All kinds of motivations and patterns go into the formation of a terrorist/criminal network. I think it is this variety and diversity that make griefers an interesting model to study.

One last point: much has been made of the fact that VW griefers risk relatively little while terrorists risk or give their lives. However, in the case of terrorists of Islamic idealogy, this life is transitory so the risk is nothing and the rewards are infinite in the next life.... Our own perceptions define risks. Maybe how we see VWs is an approximation to how idealogical terrorists see real-life?

Posted Mar 7, 2005 11:05:01 AM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

Are the terms misused? Sure.

But I read Wright's comments, and rather than thinking about definitions, ideologies and value judgments about the behaviors, I took it as an analogy: two groups that want to infiltrate, identify weaknesses and attempt exploits. Seems reasonable to me purely on that level of systemic analysis.

Posted Mar 7, 2005 11:10:06 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Why does "infiltrate, identify weaknesses and attempt exploits" give me associations to the processes taking place in commercial enterprises, the MMO development business and marketing in general?

Posted Mar 7, 2005 11:25:05 AM | link

CherryBomb says:

OK, Uri, "terrorist networks", then. My pioint is that you can *compare* terrorist networks to griefer networks. You can compare terrorist networks to organized crime networks, satanist cult networks or high school cliques; that doesn't make them simulations.

It might be possible to design a terrorist network simulator, though. Using thousands of real people as in a MMOG might work better than a pure computer simulation. There isn't any real terror unless actual people are terrorized, and model terrorists would be kind of lame, since they would always follow the rules of the model.

Posted Mar 7, 2005 7:50:47 PM | link

griefers says:

You people are nuts if you equate killing your character in a game and taking your virtual property to blowing up the World Trade Center. Get some fucking perspective, please.

Surly Bob
griefers.net

Posted May 8, 2005 7:15:03 PM | link