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Feb 06, 2007



Some people are just dicks, don't overthink it.


@Smokey: Lol. Well, that's certainly my strategy when I'm playing.


Makes excellent sense, Thomas. I'm not opposed to the "I don't actually want to play a game" attitude - I've been known to log on when I'm tired and frustrated, and just want to beat the snot out of something without worrying about it. It's the doing it at someone else's expense that I'm opposed to; I think it's better to take it out on software that doesn't care (like running low-level instances for things to disenchant).


"I'm not sure, but it does seem to me that quite a few players out there actually don't seem to want to play a game at all."

To tie it back to the emergent gameplay article, I know [second hand] of one instance where the ganking was part of an intra-guild contest to 'collect kills' from a list of professions [back when SWG had professions]. Given my knowledge of the people in the other guild I'd have to say it also supports the "Smokey Model" of ganking.


"So why does it happen at all, if it's so meaningless?"

Because as children we watch ganking in cartoons. Then we grow up and watch ganking in the movies. We are told that movies are only pretend and we can't act out the behaviors we see on the screen.

Then, we are placed in front of a tv like device and given the opportunity to engage in the very same behavior that we have witnessed but been denied.

What red-blooded kid wouldn't gank?

On a data related note: I wonder what a comparison of gankers vs. non gankers would show on some measure of empathy?


Ganking is no more or less meaningless than killing a dragon to get a piece of virtual armor. One activity is just less likely to annoy others.



I disagree, Matt (as the whole piece lays out). Killing the dragon is not (necessarily, or even ordinarily) a foregone conclusion.


Ganking is an effective method of quickly attracting the attention of more powerful players. Cause enough havoc and it saves you the trouble of searching for a good fight.

When I ganked in games where looting was possible (uo, shadowbane, eve), I did it as an alternative to farming. Players are potentially intelligent and potentially suprising; killing mobs is masturbation.


Killing lowlevel players is also just masturbation. None of you seem to consider the power-fantasy of it.

Probably gankers are people with a desire to "get back" at life and other people. They feel strong this way.


Lvl 60 killing lvl10 is just as much masturbation if not, to use Scott Jennings' particularly piquant phrase, "rape simulation".


I think to some extent you define away the ambiguity here by excluding all "game-proper" practices which might still be labeled or understood as ganking by some of the participants. (e.g., killing other players no matter how weak they are if they are contesting your ability to extract resources; killing other players when they are in situations of relative hopelessness such as deep in a fight with a difficult mob; repeatedly killing other players who are far weaker than oneself as retaliation for that player having ganked others weaker than himself). There are a great many practices that many players might refer to as "ganking" which nevertheless have pretty sound competitive justifications. (Where the use of the word "gank" is partially about saying that when I get killed in a vulnerable situation, it was a gank; when I kill someone else in a vulnerable situation that is in my mind competitively justified, I won a fight.)

Even in the narrow definition that you propose, I could see a kind of tendentious reply from certain gankers who might claim that they were attempting to inhibit the competitive capacity of an opposing faction by slowing the advancement of all players on that faction. (e.g., a level 70 Alliance player ganking level 20ish Blood Elf paladins and defending his actions as a competitive attempt to slow the Horde from getting paladins into higher level PvP). It would be fair to see that as a tissue-thin alibi rather than a genuinely ludic understanding of behavior, but then we're increasingly forced into a context where we're trying to sort "play" from "sociality" in a fashion that mirrors attempts to sort "erotica" from "pornography". In both cases, this quickly becomes a fig leaf disguising a more ordinary kind of evaluative claim, that one practice is good and the other bad.

Which means Smokey is kind of right--that the smarter play might be to just talk about this as a moral claim about behavior than as a ludic claim about what is or is not a game.


Perhaps the players are fulfilling their role as soldiers in a game of war, or perhaps they are ganking to draw out suitable opponents from the opposite side.


Ganking isn't just for kids. My coworker(he's in his late 30s) usually chats with me about his latest successes with his warlock on a WoW pvp server. Before the expansion came out he told me how every now and then he would sometimes gank "noobs" if he was particularly bored.

Now that the expansion has arrived he is more focused on leveling up his character. In this case the game is suitably engaging enough to keep my coworker occupied. Seeing his behavior before the expansion, I think boredom can be a major catalyst for ganking. I know he isn't the only one on a pvp server that was temporarily distracted by the sudden availability of new content & advancement. But regular game content (even non-trivial PvP) can only keep a player engrossed for so long. As a result, people do things that are trivial within the game structure - like ganking. I'm not saying that there aren't malicious people that enjoy ganking more than the game. I just think that a lot of times people are just looking for ways to amuse themselves. Developers cannot create unlimited content on their own.

@Miraj - I think the kind of ganking Thomas is describing is the completely trivial kind - i.e. I walk up to you, hit one key on my keyboard and you die instantly. UO, since it wasn't based on a level system, did not have the kind of ridiculously uneven odds that ganking in WoW has. Looking at the games you mentioned, I think this kind of ganking would bore you fairly quickly.


I belive it is simply playing out a power fantasy.

Many people are not "powerful" in their everyday lives. They may be physically weak, unattractive (ergo weak in sexual prowess), work under a boss (most everyone submits to a boss of some kind), etc.

And so the act of exercising extraordinary power over another player is in and of itself gratifying.

Having said that, In all the various MMOs I've played, I choose not to play on wild-PVP servers. Being ganked is so onerous to me, that it only serves to frustrate what would otherwise be a pleasant gaming experience, and thus is counter-productive. Being ganked outweighs, the fun that might be derrived from ganking.

Of course, having said *THAT* going on a rampage every so often and taking out lower level things (players or monsters) can be a hoot!

In general, I love a game that pits me against other players, as opposed to AI, but its only fun when they are on a relatively same skill level as myself. (gaking/being ganked is not as fun as pulling out a close call victory)


Gaming is like a horse. The quests/missions are the bit and bridle that determine where you go, and ganking is the spurs that encourage you to get there faster. That's a crappy analogy but it's the best I could think of on the spur of the moment (no pun intended).


Would it constitute a proof that ganking is not a part of game behavior if less people played because of ganking?

I realize that such a thought is suspect, because some games have high entry costs that keep people away anyway, and are still games (i.e. to learn the rules and understand why certain strategies in chess are effective, others not, takes an incredible amount of time).

Further, does massive multiplayer online gaming have an idea of community built into it? After all, a chess player that acted like a ganker - perhaps challenging people from ages 5-10 into a game and dusting them (I do this, they're the only competition I can beat on Yahoo chess, I really suck and actually lose a few of these) - might make chess less fun to play for some, against him, but he could be steered around (unless you're on Yahoo Chess and are like 10), and that has no consequences for the game's reputation as a whole.

I dunno. I could be talking about apples and oranges, and Wittgenstein famously asked in the Investigations about the meaning of the word "game" and came to the conclusion haha.


As an avid ganker and a fan of ganking (and being ganked on some strange level), I can say that I gank as an Orc Warlock for a lot of reasons. I'll list some here.

1) Because the friends that I might be helping want to vicariously live the kill through their higher level guardian.
2) Because the alliance are scum and need to die (for RP purposes.)
3) Because watching another player die, looking at my friends in the same run and saying "Enjoy the run back!" is just fun.
4) Because I can. Because if I press '4' on my keyboard, it puts Corruption on someone who can't do anything about it. I get to reaffirm the strength of my character by proving to myself (and presumably to the victim) that I have achieved a level of power that makes it so simple, so easy to kill someone.

Ganking is definitely emergent gameplay, I suppose I either don't understand or don't agree with Thomas here.

What seems to be totally ignored in the above article is the situation where a high level toon approaches a character he could presumably "one-shot," but doesn't. Why wouldn't he? This question is just as important as why he would.

I know that I OFTEN run right by players that I could kill without a doubt and at no expense to me. Why don't I kill them if it wouldn't even take me any more time?

Furthermore, here's a situation I run into a lot when I'm the victim. I will often expend great resources and take great risks to try to get away from someone trying to gank me. If I know that this person can't one shot me, I go to great lengths to get away from them. Some of my most fond memories from playing many hours of World of Warcraft are the great escapes that I've made!

Ganking is by no means a foregone conclusion.


How is ganking ( as defined by the OP ) any different than the following real life behaviors?

* 8th graders bullying 2nd graders?
* people who kill/torture innocent creatures needlessly?
* soliders killing/torture innocent civilians / POWs?

The difference between ganking in virtual worlds (as it exists today) and ganking in the real life is that in virtual worlds, there are no consequences to the ganker. In fact, the consequences can be more fun (e.g. more global PVP actions, be famous/infamous...)

I speculate that people's social behavior in these sort of games is how they would behave in a world without consequences. In a virtual world, they can justify it as part of the game play (e.g. they ask for it by rolling on a PVP server, they are evil bad guys, no one gets hurt, it's just a game...) but really, their behavior is just a reflection of who they are (IMHO).


Your take on wether or not ganking equals griefing should logically depend on what you see as the 'game'.

Of course, that assumes that you also consider 'ganking' the use of mutliple characters to compete with singlular ones, or the use of larger teams to compete with smaller ones, in such combinations that the larger numbers do not simply offset another advantage the smaller team has.

Anyway, assuming that this meaning of the work 'ganking', which is as far as I know the more correct use of the two, there's a fairly strong case to be made in defence of this strategy especially in games that base in part on competition on a team level where for exmaple combat has significant economic impact.

An example. If my team competes with yours. And if the use of a ganking-based tactic that gives me an unfair edge (unfair in terms of my side having a definate advantage in a single competitive encounter), will decide the singular encounter in question with my team winning it then that can by no means be equalled to being 'griefing' since that encounter is but one of a series in an ongoing competition between two teams that may start out equal in a broader scope.

As such ganking cannot be stated to be griefing. Such definition would totally depend on the context of broader gameplay, even if the singular encounter is a foregone conclusion because of the use of ganking tactics.


Ganking is just virtual bullying and a mostly manifestation of the same sociopathy. In the RL, its probably the result of a cycle of oppression and subjugation, so the bully lashes out in the virtual world against the defenseless.

In the RL, its addressed by social constructs-- parents, schools, other groups in the case of "minor bullying" and by the rule of law in the case of "major bullying."

Whereas the shame factor or shunning may have an impact in RL, it really has no impact in the game world unless the devs build a meaningful shame/dishonor system into the game (i.e., a PCs negative actions result in negative rep such that some faction's NPCs become KoS or NPC goods and services become expensive of unavailable).

Likewise, there generally hasn't been any sort of rule of law that devs have applied that could prevent this kind of bullying. Similar to the reputational hit though, as a proxy for the long arm of the law and a clear penalty for bad behavior, big angry vindictive capricious gods could smote offending players in a fit of divine justice (e.g., lowbie X is a devotee of diety Y; gets ganked by player Z who gets smoted by diety Y, loses faction, item durability, cursed for a period of time, loss of xp, etc.).

Something like this doesn't prevent the slaughter of the innocents (especially if there might be some tactical reason for it) but attaches consequences to it such that it is not simply an idle act of boredom.


I wrote an article in response to this, but the trackback isn't showing up. Therefore:

Ganking, meaning, and playing as you are


Moral relativism.


Good piece, Thomas, and this isn't moral relativism, Prok - we've got to be able to sustain both descriptive and prescriptive modes of argumentation or we won't get anywhere. I appreciate Thomas stepping out of his comfort zone and starting a discussion on a topic that by his own admission isn't the focus of his research. I think that's one of the best things that these kinds of fora are for and it inspires me to take the risk someday. What makes the piece particularly useful in my opinion is the focus on ganking. I've been working on a rough typology of griefing - of forms of sociality commonly glossed as "griefing" - and this is one important kind, quite distinct from, say, racist speech, sexual assault, trying to crash the grid, spamming a group im, etc. Thinking through such rough typologies and how they apply within and between various virtual worlds will, I suspect, be an interesting and fruitful line of inquiry. Okay, gotta run to a meeting with the head of the Indonesian National AIDS Commission here in Java (not the program lol, conceptual whiplash)...


I just wonder at the idea that someone performs a completely meaningless task in the context of a game because they are bored. If they are bored by the game why not shut it down and play something else? Is it sunk costs due to the subscription?


Of course it's moral relativism. Thomas is being incredibly morally relativistic here. I've explained ad nauseum how this "griefing" that he is imagining in some haloed metaverse as "emergent play" is just plain, ordinary, banal evil, and plain, ordinary, garden-variety crime of the sort that police really prosecute in the really real world. Yet he's not conceding that, and staying blinkered inside a walled-garden type of game and discussing this -- when in fact we already see anecdotally how in places like South Korea and Russia, the game disputes and rivalries break out into real life and people even kill others in real life.

Saying that griefing may be just something positive that someone hasn't learned to recognize yet because they aren't open-minded enough is tantamount to saying that terrorism isn't terrorism in RL, and isn't wrong, because the terrorists are poor, have unhappy childhoods, and have ecstatic religious beliefs and special cultures that we should all just learn to understand, and we should all just change our policies to suit them because otherwise they unleash terrorism. It's a terrible sliding scale that adapts to an evil without identifying it, even.


Tom, I hope you and your colleagues are ok and didn't get affected by the flood, BTW!

The typologies of griefing might seem like an interesting academic study to you. To me, they're a business loss. To many others, they constitute bullying that drives them out of a world. It's wrong.


@Prok: (You haven't responded to several other recent responses from me, so I don't hold out much hope here...) You didn't read the original post carefully enough. You are attributing to me the *opposite* of the view I speculate (admittedly, with some ambivalence) about.

Lots of great comments -- thank you. I'll respond when I have a bit more time.


Thomas, you said:

"For most players, this means that the ganking feels, again, like a foregone conclusion, it is only the question of when it will happen that is utterly contingent (that is, too contingent). In neither aspect is there a performative challenge for the gankee or the ganker. One is left with either too much determination, or too much chaos; either way leads to a loss of meaning."

Why does this leads either way to a loss of meaning?

Also, as Timonthy state, where one does not see meaning others may see or "delude themselves" a certain meaning in actions.

And as Ryan Hart asks, "why not?"

Removing any moral conditions, consequences, contingencies, hacks, or exploits, it's an act allowed by gameplay mechanics. Comparatively, it could be the same as an assassin skipping, hopping, and picking flowers (use-based skill systems).



Aren't there ever anti-griefers? Self-designated virtual vigilantes or Virtualantes (hehe) who lie in wait or chase prospective griefers and give them a taste of their own medicine?

If so, this playing out of human behaviour, may not make for Disneyfication, but it is interesting to me at least. And if as drama it interests players, the griefer vs antigriefer (virtualante) scenario may make the initial business loss worthwhile on a macro scale, bringing new players to the operation.


Aren't there ever anti-griefers? Self-designated virtual vigilantes or Virtualantes (hehe) who lie in wait or chase prospective griefers and give them a taste of their own medicine?

If so, this playing out of human behaviour, may not make for Disneyfication, but it is interesting to me at least. And if as drama it interests players, the griefer vs antigriefer (virtualante) scenario may make the initial business loss worthwhile on a macro scale, bringing new players to the operation.


@Dermo: While the money invested in a subscription-based MMORPG makes us reluctant to quit a game, I think the social aspects of the game are what keeps us around long after the game loses its initial appeal. There's a strong desire to stick with a game in order to play with the guild or other friends.


Um, I think this is being overanalyzed. If we assume that people act much as they do in real life in games, and that some people are just assholes who need to pick on things that are smaller and weaker than them, then these people are just acting out those desires in the game. Probably because there isn't anything in their real life that they can abuse. They even justify it with the same kinds of things that rl abusers do: "it was done to me so I'm going to do it to someone else".

I used to enjoy open PvP and ganking a long time ago on MUDs, but as time went on, it stopped being fun, so I won't play on open PvP games anymore. I think there are differences in how I viewed people, and I consider growing up to be the process of repeatedly realizing you're being a douchebag and deciding to not be a douchebag in that way anymore. I expect many gankers will grow out of it, but some are just sick.


No, Thomas, not at all, not at all. I see right through y your gambit. Merely *asking* the question is *already* to admit, give permission to, entertain, allow, and bless moral relativism.

You then try to dance around it and say "I'll answer no, even without tripping up on my libertarianism.

If I haven't answered a post, it's not deliberate. Sometimes there is just such a huge amount of noise on these blogs that signals are missed, or else I'm just busy.

Your entertaining this thesis and enabling legions of idiots to imply there is something "progressive" about griefing is what makes universities so dangerous and destructive to the minds of youth, and brings our nations to such perilous states.

Seriously, Thomas, how do you think this works? Just now, in WoW, I see my son struggling in frustration to do some action with a pet he's taming or something. And some griefer comes along and wilds him, disturbs the pet, prevents him from doing the taming or whatever it was -- "just because". "Why is he doing that?" I ask, thinking of Terra Nova. "Could he be in fact engaging in an emergent form of play that perhaps you just don't ask?" I inquire.

My son stares at me. "No, he's just being an asshole," he explains. Like, wow, dude, that's all it is.

So how could this work? You imagine, oh, religious sects persecuted in Europe for being sects or infidels or unbelievers who flee to America and set up a new, idealistic country, and you say, see, the powers-that-be thought they were infidels, dissidents, griefers, but hey, in fact they were just creative, forging a new belief system. Ok, so pursuing that analogy, imagine, oh, Australia, full of criminals. Or, hmm, the breakdown of sexual mores in the 1960s. Or gay liberation in the 1980s. Sure, they had their side effects like AIDS and whatnot, but hey, on balance, isn't it all good? Somebody said it was griefing and behaviour they didn't like, but they were just Puritans, and they shouldn't get in the way of people's emergent sense of fun.

Except...when you have someone who forces you to look at a shower of tubgirl pictures (or log off) or defaces your real-life picture, where's the good? Where's the progress? Where's the art? Where's the gay liberation? The breaking of chains of conformity to forge new belief systems?

No, there's none of it. It's just laughing at someone's misfortune, taking glee in causing them grief. It's just being an asshole, and you cannot improve upon that 14-year-old's wisdom about WoW one whit.


*just don't like


Its no more, and nothing less than virtual vandalism. The act is as meaningful. Who cares if a window is broken and then is replaced? The person who replaced it and the person who gained satisfaction from breaking it.

In the end, its the same. No consequence, something of value to one or few people is broken for a time and then mended. Feelings are hurt, but little more than that.

Lets continue the analogy a bit. How many times would it take for your mailbox to be knocked down before you decided to move? What if you were renting? What if you were just crashing on a friends couch?

How many times would you have to be ganked to consider leaving a game you've invested some time in? What if you'd just bought the game and were in your "free" month of introductory play? What if it was a trial preview with a buddy key?

The only way you can leave a mark on a static game world is through the people you interact with, for good or for ill.

Perhaps they're just carving their initials in it.


I will admit, I too have some strange affection for gankers because I love the great escape. My favorite game play moment in my personal history of gaming is when I somehow managed to kill a player 9 levels above me when he/she tried to kill me in the middle of an NPC battle. I do, however, believe that most gankers are fundamentally children (no matter their biological age) who just want to make someone else feel lousy.

That said I don’t agree with some comments here. Perhaps I’m taking things too far but I’ll ask – are MMOs really just games? If so, then I think we can discuss things like ganking in terms of emergent game play and can compare PKing to killing an NPC dragon or picking flowers.

But, the second we start discussing these virtual worlds in terms of genuine community, places of real human sociality and the like, don’t we have to acknowledge that things like ganking can also have potentially real consequences? Just like bullying on the school yard where no “real” damage is done, I do think the human needs and emotions often tied to games shouldn’t be ignored. I am very uncomfortable with arguments that rely on the statement “it’s only a game” at their foundation when I find so much of human society reflected, reproduced, and even sometimes created whole cloth in virtual worlds.


"I think there's a case to be made against griefing that doesn't founder on a libertarian objection (i.e., that if some people do something in a low-consequence environment, then it must be fun to them/their choice, and therefore must be okay)."

This is not a libertarian argument. Libertarians believe anything is alright as long as it does not negatively effect another person. Then you are infringing on his natural rights.

Sorry I'm not sure if this is important to your point, but that is more of an anarchist argument.


@Prok: I don't know who you're talking to, but it's not me. /shrug


Why can't you take responsibility for encouraging griefers, Thomas? Of course I'm talking to you.


BTW, Thomas, let me break it down to you again, since your constant refrain is that I have "misread" you or "not read you" as if always, there is some uber subtle reading of your text just aruond the corner beyond reach.

Not so.

When you write something like this:

>On the other hand, the argument that if people choose to do something in these domains it is just a different "style of gameplay," and therefore morally unassailable, also rubs me the wrong way.

everything seems fine -- good work!

Then you elaborate:

>It seems to rest not only on a separation of play from real experience (and I have a whole set of strong empirical objections to that view), but also on a modernist, individualistic ethic -- it's all about the individual experience, this seems to say, and that should be our final arbiter of all matters ethical.

Yes, the word salading you can see here, the deliberate misreading, the refusing to accept the obvious in good faith; the inability to share a concept like "real life crime" and a constant literalist, trolling bantering about it being some sword or helm -- see it all here in spades.

But then, having said these good things, that require a moral fortititude to carry through on, you then undo it all with this:

>I don't have any real answers here.

Why? You just gave your answers. There's really something to be said for standing up to bullies, standing up for meaning, standing up for universality, standing up for empirical information that shows this word-salad post-modernist noir griefing stuff is the Big Lie.

And yet you won't take that extra step. Instead, you make it seem like it's just an interesting Thursday afternoon seminar.


Stop derailing, Prokofy. Grind your axe somewhere else.


I think a lot of you are missing a lot of ramifications here.

In Classical political-economic theory a State of Nature once existed in which people could gank each other more or less at will and there was very little recourse for the gankees (see Hobbes, Locke, etc.).

All of this wasn't much fun for the gankees (nor for a lot of gankers, who got ganked by someone one step higher up the food chain or when his guard was down) and in order to avoid getting ganked people agreed upon Social Contracts in which they would provide each other with mutual protection and get rid of the gankers.

If you remove the possibility of ganking you remove the primary reason for societies to form. By removing the primary reason for tight-knit societies to form you cut off a whole category of emergent gaming off at the knees.

Now games in which its impossible for players to leave the state of nature (its too easy for gankers to come right back and keep on ganking no matter how many times you kill them) aren't good but neither are games that shove players into a sort of Eden in which the kind of ganking that kick-starts societies isn't much good either.

What's needed is for there always be the danger of ganking but also have there be things that people can do about it (just like in the real world). In games in which you have this (for example swaths of 0.0 space with no NPC stations) you have the most complex societies and the most interesting examples of emergent gaming. For example BoB was able to set up the first large-scale taxation system I've ever heard of in a MMORPG with their slave corps.


'I told you, Winston,' he said, 'that metaphysics is not your strong point. The word you are trying to think of is solipsism. But you are mistaken. This is not solipsism. Collective solipsism, if you like. But that is a different thing: in fact, the opposite thing. All this is a digression,' he added in a different tone. 'The real power, the power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things, but over men.' He paused, and for a moment assumed again his air of a schoolmaster questioning a promising pupil: 'How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?'

Winston thought. 'By making him suffer,' he said.

'Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery is torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy everything. Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always -- do not forget this, Winston -- always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- for ever.'

George Orwell, 1984


Now THAT was worthwhile! Thanks.


And i should really assert some power over hitting the return key...

Orwell knew what Winston Smith did not. One does not assert power over another man only by making him suffer - in fact, i'd call that the crudest and least satisfying form of power - but rather by asserting control.

Personal preference is obviously a major factor in the type of control asserted (some prefer overt which is also, to my mind, crude and rather risible, whereas some prefer covert - the act of making someone else think he's doing his own will when in fact he merely carries out yours).

Control is equally possible in online games but requires a fairly forceful personality and a degree of intelligence which i tend to assume is beyond the casual ganker.

We're all after control online and offline. Online it is a matter of playing the developer's game (asserting control over the mechanics) or not (asserting control over the only mutable part of the environment - your fellow players).

I guess to those who have killed off any remaining semblances of a braincell by grinding through to uber, ganking is the most accessible form of control.


Prok - first, thanks for asking about the floods! People who are interested can check out my blog: tomsindoblog.blogspot.com. I got out before it was too bad, but had a couple close calls with the water and I have friends who have lost everything. It's hard to see and I'm doing what I can to comfort them.

Now let me try to moderate this a bit and please forgive me-Prok, Thomas, and everyone else-if I mangle things. This is sorta fun for me because I can't access sl worth a damn from Indonesia at the moment so this is my fix.

Prok, you know how much I respect you and I know all of the amazing stuff you do in sl. I have seen you do positive things inside of sl that most people on these blogs don't see, and frankly I think you have made some of the most insightful analyses of sl culture out there. I will always stick up for you because I know what you do inside sl. But you're talking past Thomas's post.

Thomas's analysis is emphatically *not* moral relativism, which is a very misunderstood concept anyway. It dates to the early twentieth century and references Einstein's theory of relativity and its implications for a point of view (nothing slippery about it). Trying to understand why people do X is not the same thing as condoning X and there's nothing slippery about it. Trying to stand in someone else's shoes-to see the world from their eyes-doesn't mean you think standing in them is right or enjoyable or that you mean to stand there in your own life. This is what Susan Harding calls studying "the repugnant other" (in my book manuscript I talk about this at greater length). There has been some wonderful research by anthropologists, sociologists, criminologists, etc., on racist skinhead groups, hackers, men who physically abuse their wives, etc., with the goal of understanding why what they do makes sense to them within the cultural logics that shape their thinking. The effort to understand those cultural logics has nothing to do with supporting or not supporting those cultural logics. That is the crucial difference between descriptive and proscriptive argumentation I mentioned in my earlier post.

Thomas's post is an important and insightful contribution and like any such good contribution it is stimulating debate and hopefully further research and analysis. But it's not cultural relativism unless my still-lingering jet lag has totally scrambled my head. In my HIV work, for instance, I and others have studied people who engage in behaviors I find immoral and repulsive, and in the right contexts I and others say so, but there are also contexts where one is trying to understand the logic behind their thinking without judging it at that moment. That's not Orwellian. In fact, it saves lives.

Even the most "descriptive" analysis has proscriptive implications in some way, and even the most "prescriptive" analysis typically engages in some descriptive analysis, but that doesn't mean everything is sliding into everything else. Genres of writing and analysis do exist. They do different kinds of work. Not everyone likes writing or reading work in those various genres. Work in any genre can be good or bad in various ways, but it's not fair to condemn the genre as a whole imho.

Part of what Terra Nova and similar sites obviously can be is sites for a different kind of intellectual exchange, one that pushes established boundaries. I have to say I'm not convinced it's a successful experiment so far, but there is amazing potential, and the posts by Thomas and several other writers have been good examples of this. I include many of Prok's Second Thoughts posts in this category as well. Speaking of other blogs more than this one, I find the potshots and digressions less helpful.


I mainly lurk but something struck me as amusing while reading this thread.

Prokofy Neva engages in a refined form of ganking on a what seems to be a daily basis. Forum ganking. That is: the blind-side attack launched upon an individual who (in their own eyes) is minding their own business and not spouting off with any support for this, that, or the other evil found within the VWs. Yet along comes Prok wielding the mighty "argument of smiting +6" and whoops . . . ganked.

Something I've learned is that you can't know what someone is thinking. Which is what makes discussions like these ultimately theoretical exercises unless they're combined with serious research (something which is not my bag to be honest) . . . so why Prok insists upon knowing the hidden meaning behind people's words is beyond me.


A newbie here, bounced to this article by a referral from another blog. I'm a player on WoW, but have run my own MUD since early 1990. We saw (and occasionally see, and have had to develop administrative systems to manage) griefing - and, when the combat system was enabled, ganking - on a regular basis. So I guess I'm coming at this from a MUD PoV rather than a MMOG PoV.

Why do people do it? Ultimately, because they're playing a (variety of) different game(s) from the nominal one. One has to draw a sharp distinction between the player and the player's (potentially multiple) avatars/characters/toons on different servers and different games. The player may have had a bad day at work/school and want to kick something; they may have communication difficulties and therefore use different means of gaining attention (we've had a couple of folks like this on my MUD); they may be control freaks (like me) who prefer to have mastery over something and don't especially like the challenge, but who still fancy indulging in a spot of PvP. This driver for the *player* is then expressed via the *avatar*. I think trying to ascribe a single reason to all gankers is oversimplification - we've had a plethora of stated reasons when I've challenged folks on the MUD to explain their actions.

Interestingly, most of the gankers have ended up socialising much more effectively when the veil of character was drawn back and player-to-player (rather than avatar-to-avatar) communication was introduced. Dropping by and saying "Hi, I'm Peter, I'm the GM of this place and I'd like to talk to you about what you're doing" tended to stop the process in its tracks, and I'd get a spiel about how tired/bored/whatever the player was. We matched the games we were playing, both dropping into the RL source of the behaviour rather than the virtual outcome, and *in general* the behaviour stopped and the ganker turned out to be a human who was quite happy to behave in a different way if that was more rewarding to them in RL.

Aside ref control-freakery: Chris Bateman's blog (http://onlyagame.typepad.com if memory serves) contains a very interesting discussion about temperament theory and gamer types. Notably, there's a significant minority of players (probably 1 in 8) who don't particularly like to be challenged while playing. It'd be interesting to see how many gankers fall into that category.


Doesn't WoW teach players that grinding through thousands of easy kills is the ultimate "level 60" achievement?

Why do we expect players to treat PvP differently after the game has reinforced the behavior of ganking in PvE?

WoW doesn't give 1st level players any tools to mitigate risk when encountering a level 60. Gank is the only possible outcome (although the level 60 could ignore the level 1, that goes against *everything* the game has taught).

Anyways, WoW PvP is just broken. Code is law and WoW's law doesn't work for world PvP. PvP must have elements of risk, risk mitigation and, most importantly, roles for people of various game/gear levels. This last point is obviously a huge problem because of all the player battleground balancing that must happen for a "fair" fight.


No, Tom, I'm not "talking past" Thomas, and that's just plain condescending. I'm making a simple, direct appeal to his higher ideals and morality. Opening up the topic is indeed a sliding scale.

What I do or don't do inside or outside SL isn't material, Tom, and you don't have to couch an argument in these terms.

Seriously, I don't get why you and others are complexifying it. It's not about the need to study deviance -- that's all understood, study it, tag it, analyze it, label it. It's not about something like an AIDS study.

It's about accepting the unacceptable, even with a question mark, that says griefing, of the serious kind I've outlined in living detail, is merely "a form of play you don't like". The reason why I confront Thomas specifically on this moral relativism is because he even says that it "rubs him the wrong way". He even says, "One would have to say that what happens is that the game objectives get replaced by utterly personal objectives, individualistic and empty goals that are the simulacra of actual (new) meaning." But then he abandons these positions and insights and says he has "no ideas," and *refuses to take a stand* in the name of "study". And that's why I find indefensible. Scholars are not required to abandon the very framework of the humanities in order to make studies. They are the required to adopt nihilism to study nihilism.

So that's just where it goes wrong, and I've made the most ordinary and direct critique of that. It's not about relativism and the need to study the repugnant other. Nobody is taking away from him the right to make any study, discuss any far-fetched hypothetical.

But at the end of the day, the bright red line between culture and criminal is visible. Between game and crime. Thomas is implying that there is no norm which he can get behind. Anshe being penised is merely a cultural artifact, a kind of tribal ritual by foreigners that we're to endlessly stretch our moral horizons for and endlessly even empathize with. We're to zoom our camera angles so far out, that we no longer accept any frame. There is no longer a "misdeed" but only an endless serious of "deeds" which are not "good" or "bad" but only "differently abled".

It's to abandon not only morality, but just plain garden variety critical judgement. It's especially annoying since in his own original post, he makes some forrays into indicating he won't accept facile multiculturalism, but then rounds about and emphatically puts himself into the most facile of multi-culti camps, "I'm also certainly one to be wary of normative claims about other people's experiences."

Endlessly descriptive, and then, in the name of not being rigidly *prescriptive," failing to abide by basic reason. Some forms of culture that some find criminal in fact are merely cultures that one can describe dispassionately. Some forms of crime in one society are in fact cultural artifacts in another. There is a vast capacity in human experience. But only at a very extreme -- very extreme spectrum -- can you refuse to make normative the idea that people holding press conferences shouldn't be bombarded by penises. End of story. If you can't muster at least that much "frame," there is no university, there is no civilization, there is just the endless parade of penises, there is the jack boot coming down on the human face, over and over.

Tom, seriously, you are just prey to the latest mental fashions with this one. If you are going to apply your own multi-culti fasions, in fact you'll have to concede that you are not "right" and I am not "wrong" but I'm just "different". Yet you're not doing that, eh? You're trying to show me up as "incorrect".


@Prok: This is very simple. There is a *difference*, Prok, between my *asserting* that "there is no norm which [I] can get behind," and my attempting to explore the treacherous territory that lies between descriptive and normative claims. If you think the normative claims are so easy to make, then go ahead and make them, Prok. My saying that I don't have any real answers was, "I don't have any real answers *right now*." I made the post in the first place because I hoped that the collective discussion of this thread would be a place where we might find the link between a purely descriptive account of social life and a critical theory-informed take. Your contributions, while elsewhere valuable, here shrilly (to be frank) steamroll ahead as if all the answers are already there and anyone not on board with them deserves a focussed and sustained attack. I don't appreciate it. You don't have to participate if you've already made up your mind. That's fine. But please allow those of us interested in doing the math to do so.


Prokofy droned:
"I've explained ad nauseum..."



SL is not a good example from which to study ganking in any case, as it is PvP-. Whining about (oneself or others) being griefed in SL is totally irrelevant to this topic.

Ganking - from "Gang killing" - is something which can only really occur where PvP is enabled. Even though the meaning has changed to include any and all instances of the guaranteed unprovoked kill, that kill is still an absolutely defining part of the act.

As such, and given that PvP must be enabled, it is argued by many to be permitted gameplay with some justification - it would be fairly easy to simply prevent high-level (or equivalent metric) from attacking low-level through code thus rendering the traditional gank completely impossible.

My thoughts also diverge from the topic from this point on - i'll explore them further on my own blog when time permits.


@Cael: While possible to hard-code player of "x" level kills player of "y" level, it is questionable as to why one would do so. After all, a 4th Dan Karate practitioner can probably break me in half, yet nothing to do with "physics" prevents them.

By hard-coding anything you are making the statement that the actually physics of the game world do not permit an action. Should you make this the case in a game world which is PvP+? Should a PvP- world even exist?



You seem to object to metagame limits upon ganking, for instance, because it doesn't happen that way "in the real world". You don't want realism. Designers are casting around to find a way to simulate our reluctance to be complete dicks unto each other in the real world, where 4th Dan Karate practitioners don't break people in half for a complex range of reasons, but mainly because they'll be thrown in jail.

If I were a ganker (I'm not) and my character got the Roma Victor treatment discussed elsewhere on this site - ie nailed to a cross for a few days, weeks or months - when I ganked somebody, I might be more reluctant to ruin someone's good day than if the consequence were to be them whining in open and generally giving me some sort of delight.


What's to prevent consequences being implemented instead of "physics" limitations? UO had bounties which (sadly, but not entirely unexpectedly perhaps) as Raph pointed out became a high score table.

Roma Victor crucified someone, yes . . . maybe that gave the individual a bit too much credit though? I mean how cool did he find it? "Hahaha, I made the devs crucify me I was so bad!"




Actually, I was suggesting that as the unpleasant alternative to purely code-level responses to ganking. I prefer the "you're too high level to fight this player" PvP- option (for all its flaws) to the "you shouldn't have done that, you're banned for three months" or the "fetch me my nails and some wood" alternatives.

I don't mind that, in the real world, I can punch who I like. Games aren't the real world. Im perfectly happy that Lvl 60s can't interact with lvl 1s unless both parties agree to it; I'm quite happy that carebears can mine in Empire and you'll be blown up for attacking them; I'd be quite happy if Anshe Chung had been able to play a game without penises, flying or not. Of course, that would have put quite a crimp in her early career...



There's a small flaw in what you just said though.

Empire space in EVE, carebear mining, you blow them up . . . wait, uh, the game didn't stop you . . . oh, but CONCORD did.

You just said you prefer "you can't do that" to "you've done something and must pay the price" yet in the next paragraph state that you actually like the way that it works when you can do it and will be immediately punished.

So the problem is not that you (or people in general) prefer seeing the message "you can't do that" . . . you simply prefer a punishment scheme which is effective. (Which CONCORD is at this time, as opposed to when they were tankable.)

P.S. My name really is Mathew with only 1 "t" . . .


Endie wrote: "Designers are casting around to find a way to simulate our reluctance to be complete dicks unto each other in the real world, where 4th Dan Karate practitioners don't break people in half for a complex range of reasons, but mainly because they'll be thrown in jail."

Virtual worlds would be a lot less interesting if they were forced to map our 21st century culture and values into them.

How about 18th century Native American life? You come across women and children from an enemy tribe and you are *required* to gank them. That doesn't give you honor as killing a warrior in hand to hand combat would, but you do it anyways.



Apologies re the name, and you're right: Eve was a bad example. And, in fact, I think it would be better for those who wish to play mining and missions if Eve really had a hard lock on ganking in Empire (except for corp wars). But point taken about the example.


That's a non-sequitor. It's not about mapping values (inevitable as that will, to some extent, be). It's a utilitarian and profit-driven calculation by designers trying to find ways to stop gankers driving away the victims in their playerbase.


Finally getting a chance to settle in with morning coffee and try to follow up on the many interesting posts...

JuJutsu wrote:

To tie it back to the emergent gameplay article, I know [second hand] of one instance where the ganking was part of an intra-guild contest to 'collect kills' from a list of professions [back when SWG had professions].

I think this is a very helpful example, and I'll be returning to it. Thanks, JuJutsu.

@dave: I'm not sure that concluding that we are simply the products of our media experiences explains it -- after all, we know that ethical game-playing *does* emerge under certain circumstances. This connects to some of the great points that Raph makes here. Raph points to the lack of communication (structurally designed) in certain games as getting in the way of the potential emergence of any ethical behavior. Instead, the pointless ganking comes to refer to a system of meaning that is not established between the ganker and gankee, but only between the ganker and other social groups. He says,

ganking is actually performed in a metacontext that does give it meaning

What I think I've started to realize here is that we should be talking not about meaning vs. meaninglessness, but rather of the contrast between confirmatory, institutionalized meaning, and emergent, contingent meaning (I alluded to this possibility in the post, but didn't follow through on it). The reason I think this is important follows from Tim's comments (which Frank seconded). But first, let me respond to Tim's cautions about normative claims (and really piss off Prokofy, I'm sure).

@Tim: I agree that I narrowed the topic so much as to leave a lot of competitive and meaningful practices of ganking off the table. I wanted to consider the "trivial" ganking (thanks, J L Borghead) as an ideal type, in order to sort through what it suggests about the lack of contingency and the (possible) lack of meaning. As you note, for those players with no justification other than the tissue-thin "faction slowing" rationale, we may want to criticize them, but we run into a problem of how we find a critical footing from which to distinguish normatively positive "play" from ethically troublesome "sociality".

My own hesitations about the linking the analytical to the normative were all over the original post, as I'm sure you saw, so I share this concern. But what if we take it in a different direction, drawing on JuJutsu's and Raph's contributions, and think not about a thorny distinction between "play" and "sociality," but rather about the difference between rationalized, bureaucratic meaning (in the Weberian sense) and emergent, contingent meaning (which games are good at generating, though it vital to remember that it is not found there exclusively)?

What I'm wondering is if we can draw across these examples a useful distinction between meaning as derived from rationalized systems, where categories and measurements (collecting kills from certain professions) lies at one end of the spectrum, and surprising meaning, such as in a thrilling and unexpected PvP encounter between well-matched opponents (i.e., where there is balanced contingency). This connects to ideas that I spoke rather opaquely about here. I feel like I'm high-wire walking without a net, but there does seem to be a potentially useful contrast between deriving meaning from rationalized systems and generating meaning from contingent moments.

The possibilities for a normative claim from this could follow along in Weber's footsteps. This would be to say that institutions *do* generate meaning in the short term, as it were, providing structural objectives, rewards, and a systematic means of interpreting the meaning of actions relative to them, but that ultimately this is attenuated meaning. We end up following the rules because they're the rules. Examples would include the "scoring" systems developed by groups of college males (and females) about their sexual "conquests," which prompt a way of making an impoverished ""sense" of a behavior. Weber's ideas suggest that the grounds for the critical claim is simply the fact that this system of meaning generation has no ultimate referent except itself; it's part of an ultimately empty system of institutional legitimacy.

This is not to say that institutions (again, in the broad sense) are always a bad thing -- Weber didn't feel this way, for example. Rather, it is simply that the accumulation of interests that they represent, plus the development of rationalized ideologies and practices for managing those resources, always run the risk of ultimately excluding the meaningfulness of direct, contingent human experience. This is part of the reason why I think a contrast between games and bureaucracy is illuminating.

Of course, connecting the dots between ganking and institutions in this sense is itself paper-thin here -- JuJutsu's and Raph's examples are tantalizing, but this doesn't seem to capture the lone ganker, relatively isolated from social groups, rationalized or otherwise, as Deniticus describes him (or her). (And, related to this, Dermo's question is apposite: does "boredom" really explain ganking in any useful way?)

After quoting my statement, "One is left with either too much determination, or too much chaos; either way leads to a loss of meaning," Magicback (Frank) asked:

Why does this lead either way to a loss of meaning?

There is more about the line of reasoning here and here, but the short answer is that meaning depends upon a mix of redundancy and novelty (see Claude Shannon's work on Information Theory). Too much of either, and meaning disappears.

@Daztur: I agree with the general suggestion of your comment, which (if I read it correctly) is that a mix of control and open-endedness is necessary for a functioning society (as Cael nicely discusses). Both utter routinization and utter "state of nature" conditions are unattractive. The hard questions begin once we try to understand, analytically, why we see the tendencies in either direction in specific contexts, and once we try to develop policy positions in relation to those conditions. After all, we're not *only* after control, as human beings. We seek out the unexpected as well.

@Tom: Thank you for the comments. I really have nothing to add to them. Very helpful.

@Mathew: Lol. Well, I ain't ganked yet. I'm still kickin'.

@Peter: Very interesting comment. It reminds me of why we now are eternally "greeted" whenever we enter retail stores these days. It is because doing so drastically reduces shoplifting (or so I recall).

@Ken: I don't think that grinding through easy kills is what WoW's designers would like you to think is the ultimate L60 achievement. After all (South Park's pimpled heroes' tale to the contrary), one cannot continually gain experience on mobs more than eight(?) levels below you.

@Cael: I'm not a developer by any means, but all the dev-type sorts that I've discussed this with have said that coding out the utterly mis-matched PvP is nearly impossible to do without generating undesirable strategies. But, that is a bit off-topic, so I'll follow it on your blog. Thanks.

@Mathew: I understand that reasoning, but there are all kinds of artificial constraints already in place. In WoW, for example, one cannot "buff" cross-faction. Why not? It ought to be possible, and I bet if you did you would see all kinds of interesting emergent effects following on the availability of reciprocity.

Again, thank you all who have commented. This is a tough nut to crack, but reading the replies has been very helpful for me.


Oh -- also thank you to Raph and Matt for the attempted trackbacks. I'm trying to fix them as we speak.


@Thomas: I don't agree with many things done in WoW. It's not "my game" (though I have a subscription to the basic game excluding BC because it makes for valuable research) in the slightest. I can definitely make a case for reasons why cross-faction buffing might be a bad plan, but the "you can't do it" is not one which I personally (and I suspect I'm not close to alone there) find reasonable.

Freedom is a dangerous thing. Freedom to act allows freedom to grief. If the only thing I can do in a VW is walk around and sightsee I could still arguably walk up to another player and block their field of view, essentially using the only mechanic I am allowed to "wicked" ends.

The more freedom a developer gives in their VW the more complex the situation becomes. But it also has the effect of making the world more believable. Where to draw the line is the question, and WoW's lines are apparently "good enough" for a large number of players worldwide.


@Mathew: /agreed.


Ok, instead of reacting to various posts I'll stab a bit at the main thrust of this. Key question is, I suppose: "Is griefing simply emergent play that some folks don't like?"

I think griefing is not emergent at all. I think it's more of a "fact of life" than anything resembling a system which grows from the game itself. It's simply humanity being human and can be found in the real world as much as the virtual one.

1) Group of kids hanging out around the doors to a shopping mall. One of them spits all over the door handle and they all laugh as a woman grabs the huge wad of spit as she enters.

2) People at a baseball game where there's that one guy who is drunk and rooting for the away team. He's irritating, 10x louder than he needs to be, and generally making life unpleasant for everyone within 10 rows.

3) People cutting out of traffic, grabbing an exchange "exit" and re-entering traffic ahead of 50 cars during rush hour, buying themselves an extra minute or two while penalizing everyone else in the row of traffic.

So, not emergent in my opinion.

It does have meaning to grief. I can resurrect people in an MMO and watch them run off into the distance when they pop at their corpse, which means (often) that they are attacked and killed again. I know for a fact that many people autorun and hit "accept" on the resurrection dialog without thinking. In effect this is a minor form of griefing. I will never resurrect anyone I am not prepared to defend should they arrive standing still, but my "meaning" is derived from the "laughing at another's misfortune" side of my psyche. This "meaning" is derived in complex manners as well as simple. It is individual, and as has been pointed out above: varies greatly.

One of the questions which has arisen here is if it is possible to prevent griefing. I think I've adequately stated that it is my belief that it is not possible. What we can manage is to reduce griefing and add context, and I believe that as a game developer it is important to explore avenues which may work. Bounties did not have the intended effect in UO, but does that mean bounties will not work at all? Certainly not, but the UO example should be kept in mind at all times when evaluating the addition of such a system.

I was told earlier that I am not looking for reality or realism when I spoke of my dislike for hard-coded limits. This is true to some extent. What I am seeking is perhaps more closely akin to freedom, though I must admit to finding the concept of reality a handy measuring stick. Freedom and reality are sticky subjects of course, as we've established that griefing exists in real life. (Ganking does as well for those keeping score, just turn on the news some evening and you'll see a story about someone, somewhere being killed when they had no hope of escape and the crime was perpetrated for an unknown reason.) The more freedom we allow players in VWs, the more chances they have to behave in an unpleasant manner. Reality allows us to determine more easily what MIGHT work in order to stop them from doing so.

1) Mall security guards who ask teenagers to stop hanging around in front of the doors.

2) Stadium ushers who request that disruptive fans at a game tone down their behavior or leave the ballpark.

3) Traffic cameras which monitor cars exiting and entering freeway traffic.

Reality is a good thing to bear in mind while designing. It's not something to be shunned away from on the basis of the fact that "we already have a real world, these are games" . . . rather it is something we can embrace as a common ground for ideas which can then be channelled into game design. Making something "realistic" does not make it "boring" by default. It may in fact make it "immersive" in ways which countermanding reality can never accomplish.

So how do we stop the griefing which people complain about? Give the VWs we design more meaning, and provide people with more realistic expectations. (Including punishments.)


There is certainly a multiplication in the online world, though. I think we have more "murderers" online than we've ever had in Meatspace, especially if one compares on a per capita basis.

Partly, this is about anonymity. Put 'em in white sheets and see how many lynchings they attend... but in reality, there is a strong impetus NOT to be anonymous which we see eroded at every turn in many online games merely by the fiction with which they present themselves - and let's not lie to ourselves, the Ganker is not role-playing. Nobody ever got a message saying "lol my character omgwtfpwned your character lol ur character is a n00b".

It's a very personal thing and the fiction and the made-up names encourage depersonalisation and anonymity. Your guild are your tribe, everyone else is "other" and newbies? They are plankton that gets amusingly offended, not human at all.

These are contributing factors. I'm not offering solutions, justifications or prosecutions. This is a truth. Do what you will with it.


There is certainly a multiplication in the online world, though. I think we have more "murderers" online than we've ever had in Meatspace, especially if one compares on a per capita basis.

Partly, this is about anonymity. Put 'em in white sheets and see how many lynchings they attend... but in reality, there is a strong impetus NOT to be anonymous which we see eroded at every turn in many online games merely by the fiction with which they present themselves - and let's not lie to ourselves, the Ganker is not role-playing. Nobody ever got a message saying "lol my character omgwtfpwned your character lol ur character is a n00b".

It's a very personal thing and the fiction and the made-up names encourage depersonalisation and anonymity. Your guild are your tribe, everyone else is "other" and newbies? They are plankton that gets amusingly offended, not human at all.

These are contributing factors. I'm not offering solutions, justifications or prosecutions. This is a truth. Do what you will with it.


Thomas -

Thank you for taking my short remark in the spirit in which it was posed and running with it!

To take the opposite view, I would argue, "Yes" ganking (which is probably the lowest form of griefing as "punning" is the lowest form of humor) is emergent game play that some folks don't like.

We do know that at least one person likes ganking, after all, the ganker... and they are a paying customer with at least the same rights to have an opinion as anyone else. We also know that the virtual world world has plenty of gankers and griefers.

Is it emergent game play? Certainly, ganking behavior is not part of the rules or Terms of Service or expected conduct of the game as envisioned by the game developers.

Is my answer here interesting?

I will freely admit, not particularly.

What is interesting is that the "ganking problem" has been well known to game developers AT LEAST since Ultima Online (as cited by Raph and others in this thread) and the phenomenon of schoolyard bullies is quite a bit older than that - as many game developers probably remember quite.. intimately.

So, the question becomes, what to do about it? There seem to be two design approaches:

1. "Its not a bug, its a feature" - basically normalizing ganking and other forms of inter-player hazing or abuse... it would seem that Eve Online has done the best job of this.

2. "Kill it Dead" - structuring the game play to make ganking ineffective or unintersting - as in Toontown Live.

The problem with this second approach is that it does not "fail gracefully" as I would like as a designer or engineer. If a potential ganker or griefer finds some way around the rules I have created, the problem rears its ugly head again with all of the customer support issues that ganking entails.

I await your flying penises.


I think sometimes it's just griefing, and sometimes it's an essential part of the game world.

A couple of examples:

a) A few years ago in (if I recall correctly) AnimeMUSH someone suggested banning all the the players who play evil characters. But with many manga series, if you simply remove the adversary, there is no plot left. The plot really does need these guys who are out to destroy the world but are so useless at it that they can defeated by a bunch of teenagers with giant robots (for example :-) ). In this case, the players behind the evil characters probably aren't griefing, especially as they are setting themselves up to lose. (And we'd be really disappointed if the plot suddenly turned into "Neon Genesis Evangelion: Angelic Days")

b) University of Essex MUD, about twenty years ago. There was a considerable amount of higher-level characters killing lower-level characters, but it was morally restrained: (a) The most notorious PK'ers had characters with wizard-level access to the game, but refrained from using them to kill (b) First-level characters were generally left alone (second, level characters, on the other hand...) Some of the PK'ers justified their actions on the grounds that the game would be too easy to be interesting without them - the game isn't just about collecting lots of treasure, it's about collecting lots of treasure without being killed by Rick. Arguably, this is emergent game-play.

c) Ultima Online. Often, just griefing. But on the other hand, the griefers do give your guild a cause to unite against -- and a rationale for having a heavily-defended city state with mounted knights, and a reason to overcome your objections to summoning demons (ends justify means, and the necromancer promises he's only going to kill the griefers...)


First, and very importantly, our characters may be killing creatures and each other in WOW, but I believe the _players_ participation in the game is much closer to sport than war. That doesn't simplify it entirely, I am not meaning to wipe away arguments that the competitiveness of baseball might be good or bad for us, but I don't want to confuse or conflate all breaches of norms of sporting play with committing a crime.

That said, I wish there was a general agreement on "sporting behavior" within PVP WOW. At the moment, there doesn't seem to be, and because of the scope and style of the game there may never be. However, if there were clear, socially constructed (though, of course, negotiable and provisional) rules for behavior in PVP, then at least people in forums and in guilds would be roundly chastized for abnormal behavior, whatever abnormal happened to mean. At the moment, I believe there is significant disagreement in WOW about what is honorable, and as a result we cannot accurately explain to a new player what will happen on a PVP server without resorting to horror stories or unrealistically sympathetic views.

I think if the community were to settle expectations for behavior on a PVP server, frustration and debate would subside. Take a couple potential norms:

1. The social norm is that people will not attack another character unless someone in the opposed group is worh honor to everyone in the attacking group. Also, a group will not attack an individual or another group roughly less than half their size.

2. Every character will attack any member of the opposing faction they find, if they believe they might be able to survive the conflict. Even if they might not survive, one should see if one can find an advantage that would let you succeed.

Neither of these norms would be enforceable by WOW's rules, and that is ok. Enforcement would come by socializing people in play into communities that see abiding by these rules as a form of playing the game. Of the two, the first would be very difficult to police and maintain. Those who breach the rule could be hunted down, but the ability to (relatively) rapidly level another character largely negates the ability to socially enforce friendly behavior. There would need to be a very strong social norm that effectively, socially isolates those who breach the norm and act dishonorably.

The second example is much easier to enforce. It might seem like it is harsh, but given that, as with an FPS, most of what you lose when you die is a little time playing, it is not horrible to the player. If these were the rules, those who choose to enter a PVP world should do so understanding that they will be expected to attack the enemy, that they should expect the enemy to attack them, and therefore they should figure out how to fulfill their goals (leveling, fishing, spending time with friends, etc) under those conditions. It wouldn't make everyone happy, but PVE doesn't make everyone happy either. Of course, the word would have to get out so people who are entering a PVP server know that they will be jumped by people twenty levels higher with far better gear, and that they will spend a good chunk of time and energy running back to their body and planning strategies for avoiding unwanted conflict.

Don't get me wrong, I am not necessarily condoning the second. I prefer something somewhat more idealistic. I like meeting someone from the other faction while grinding, waving and waiting with one hand on the attack button for them to wave back (which, so far, I've experienced as a nearly universal sign that you arent going to gank each other in a world where you can't actually touch each other). Occasionally, it is fun to hunt near each other, pulling each others adds off and generally helping each other in the few ways the game allows you to do so. It makes me happy to do this in part because we both have the option of flinching, hitting an attack and flying into a destructive frenzy - but we don't.

Still, if everyone agreed that the norm was that everyone should attack everyone else on site, I would have no cause for taking an attack personally. If the other person did not wave, but fireballed instead, I could chalk it up to business as usual.

I have seen a lot of debate, and a lot of anger, about PVP. I think this is largely because we are still enmeshed in a political fight to set the terms of PVP on a PVP server.

I do believe that ethics are situational, relativist. I am not denying that there are universal principles, but I do argue that the person who wants to be ethical needs to wisely apply those principles to the situation. In my opinion, the central ethical principle with regard to any social interaction is "People should never be treated merely as means, but always as ends in themselves". This is from Kant, but I think it is shared by most, if not all religions, and most (at least western) philosophers of ethics, though they differ in how to apply the principle.

On the surface, it might seem that ganking, as described by Thomas at the beginning of this thread, is clearly using a person as a means and not an ends. However, we are playing a game - a joint and, at least in this case, fundementally optional activity. Games are often high stakes, and those of us who play WOW invest a lot of time into this game, so by saying it is a game, I don't mean it is frivolous and without significance. I do mean that it is an artificial space that we agree to enter for our own and each other's benefit, and how we are expected to act within that space need not be the same as how we are expected to act elsewhere. Treating someone as an ends may be simply valuing their participation in the game, however that is defined.

In certain games of cards with friends, I can and am expected to threaten, cajole and lie to my friends. We are playing a game where those behaviors are part of the play. If I did that away from the table, I would be a jerk, but there I am just a skilled player. Even in those games, if I tried to convince someone a card did something it didn't, I would be cheating - engaging in unsporting conduct. Likewise, if I were to complain away from the table that everyone at the table was immoral for lying and threatening, I would be engaging in unsporting conduct. Of course, social norms are contingent, so it would be within my rights as a member of that card playing community to say that I didn't like the way we played, and that I prefered other ways of playing, but I should realize that I am the outlier trying to change the norm, not the people who play the way the game is expected to be played. The burden of proof is on me to make the argument for change, and it is also up to me to determine if I am going to continue to play the game as it is. Walking away is an option with social consequence, and it may not be desireable, but it is an option.

If we had a standard social convention for how one should play, we could still critique the game. A given person who plays cards to feel powerful over others may be breaching an ethical rule of not treating someone as a ends in themselves. However, a skilled player in this card game who regularly trounces their opponents, lying and intimidating their way to victory, but who turns around and thanks everyone for playing, touches base to make sure no actual feelings were hurt, etc, seems to me to be acting in an exemplary fashion.

When we play WOW on a PVP server, we are negotiating this social construction of fair and sporting play without much ability to check in and make sure everyone is on the same page. We can't talk across faction, at least not in game time (and though we could talk on forums, most people seem to want to spend their time in game, not on forums, judging by participation in forums compared to the total population). We may try and signal that we want to be good to the player while we gank the character, by hugging the corpse or something similar, but we have no way to check what interpretations players are giving that hug. Are they reading it as sympathy and compassion? As a sign of dominance? The interpretationos are not straightforward, nor are they standardized. Even something like a /spit on the corpse can be more of a roleplayed moment of anger than a need to degrade the player who was killed (and not just their character). Of course, it can also be a rude gesture by an immature player. We have pretty inadequate tools in this particular virtual space to figure it all out.


@Thomas: I see your point on meaning in the context of Infomation Theory :)

Question: have you consider the dynamics of D&D alignment system, particularly the Chaotic Neutral alignment, as pertain to ganking in RPG type MMOs?

D&D has an alignment system that has two axis: (1) Lawful to Chaotic and (2) Good to Evil. Of particular interest is the Chaotic Neutral, or the pure chaos alignment. Intellectual role-players have debated how best to properly role-play this alignment, but the answers don't resonate with me.

But, here are some common phrases and mottos that reveal the psyche:
1. I can, therefore I am
2. Shit happens and you die
3. Carpe Diem
4. Act on instinct
5. Spur of the moment
6. Pure insanity
7. Cthulu
8. Chaos theory, chaotic attractors, butterfly effect
9. For shits and giggles

Whereas Raph and others see metacontext, in the sense of pure chaos where in the context of Information Theory there is a loss of meaning, pure chaos itself could be the meaning: "I gank because I can" and "I gank because I think gank"

So, following Mathew's thoughts and Chris Bateman's look into temperaments and personality types, there are some people that are just Chaotic Neutral (CN) or behave like CN in certain circumstances. It's part of humanity.



I’m going to propose what might be a slightly radical answer:

Ganking is an inherent part of the social contract of a PvP server.

MMOs have two types of rulesets: one where nonconsensual PvP is not allowed (though consensual PvP usually is), and one where nonconsensual PvP is allowed. In WoW, this is the only substantial difference between PvP and PvE servers. Aside from the presence of nonconsensual PvP, you are playing the same game.

The essential definition of ganking is that it is nonconsensual PvP. Thus, I would argue that PvP servers exist to enable ganking, and for no other reason.

So, why would anyone ever choose to play on a PvP server (or in a game with only a PvP ruleset option, given the plethora of competing MMOs available)? If you want to play the very same game, but not run the risk of getting ganked, go play PvE.

The obvious, knee-jerk answer is “gankers are on an immature powertrip and enjoy controlling the actions of others.”

Equally obviously, however, not everyone can be a ganker on a PvP server all of the time. Some people must be gankees some of the time. PvP servers are only viable if you have both people who like to gank and people who like to, at least, run the risk of getting ganked (and likely there is overlap between the two population sets). Otherwise either (a) the PvP servers become indistinguishable from PvE servers or (b) everyone migrates to PvE servers.

If you’re going to play on a PvP server, I would argue that part of the implied social contract is that you are supposed to run around killing weaker players, at least some of the time, to do your part in providing the risk that attends open PvP play. As Thomas originally stated, “This kind of PvP is meaningless”, at least in explicit game terms. IE, the ganker receives no tangible in-game reward. Gankers are spending their valuable in-game time at what is essentially a non-productive activity. Thus, if you do not gank, you are essentially “free riding” off the ganking behavior of other players, in terms of creating the risk attendant to playing on an open PvP server.

Now, am I suggesting that the thirteen year-old who is corpse-camping you with a level 70 toon (level 60 is so 2006) is consciously thinking “I’m upholding my part of the social contract, go me”? Of course not. I am suggesting, however, that he’s been socialized to do exactly that on a PvP server, and that the socialization works because it creates the environment necessary for a PvP world to offer a meaningfully different play experience from a PvE world.

I’d also note that allowing ganking DOES provide a conflict resolution mechanism for all types of griefing behavior, and one that doesn’t involve going to GMs. It may be a very low-rent eye-for-an-eye mechanism, and quite possibly an ineffective one, but it is a mechanism.
Do I enjoy this type of play? Not particularly, that’s why I play PvE. But I can understand why some people do. After all, it is play.

What I don’t really understand is why people who play on PvP servers complain about ganking. They’re essentially complaining about the very raison d’etre for PvP servers in the first place. Perhaps they’re wannabe gankers who don’t have the skill/aren’t willing to grind/can’t make the alliances to be effective at it. Or they just haven’t thought through their choice of server. Who knows?

Now, griefing that occurs outside a game’s ToS is a separate issue (and complaints about Second Life in general are something separate again, and IMHO a non sequitur for this discussion.) ToS-violating griefing is not desirable, and it’s up to the content creator to police it, or suffer the consequences commercially. Gresham’s Law applies to the population pools of virtual environments.


Many common and repetitive behaviors in games -- ganking as you describe it is a good example -- are poorly explained with reference to individual motivations. We see this most clearly when false motivations are attributed to us as we play. Most often, for instance, when *you* are accused of ganking (and if you kill anyone whatsoever under any circumstances whatsoever, you eventually will be so accused), you are moved to deny it. Other times, of course, you may see some truth in the accusation, but not quite in the same sense or for the same reasons as those who accuse you.

Point is that individual motivations are just that -- individual, localized, and perhaps not as significant or as meaningful as each of us (each of us being, after all, an individual) might suppose. "Emergent" behavior in games seems to be a required behavior for some larger system/structure/context thing that the individuals within that system simply don't – and, equally likely, can't -- grok.

Ganking may truly "mean" something like: "this a component of the rules system that sucks; it will be repeated until the game dies." From this point of view, ganking is similar to a leak in a tank. That leak makes these little emotional "sounds" that we then interpret as attempts to harm others or part of the "meta-game" (or whatever speculative other), only because we trapped inside our little, narrative-based ferret-like minds that misconstrue all sorts of system-related contexts and things. Deep inside our misconstruals, we describe the little water molecules that drop through the leak as “bad” and the little water molecules that remain in the tank as “good” – yet both sets are obeying those same basic principles that are way over their little water molecule heads (i. e., flow to the lowest point in the tank, or, say, the law of gravity).

The ganker is playing the game, no differently, no worse, no more immorally than anyone else. If you define the game in such a way that the ganker is not playing the game, then you need to look at your definition. Cause that part of your definition sucks and it will be repeated until the definition dies.


>There is a *difference*, Prok, between my *asserting* that "there is no norm which [I] can get behind," and my attempting to explore the treacherous territory that lies between descriptive and normative claims. If you think the normative claims are so easy to make, then go ahead and make them, Prok. My saying that I don't have any real answers was, "I don't have any real answers *right now*." I made the post in the first place because I hoped that the collective discussion of this thread would be a place where we might find the link between a purely descriptive account of social life and a critical theory-informed take. Your contributions, while elsewhere valuable, here shrilly (to be frank) steamroll ahead as if all the answers are already there and anyone not on board with them deserves a focussed and sustained attack.

Given that everybody on your self-selected blog in these 2 threads is demonstrably essentially a) neutral to griefing b) tolerant of griefing and c) a griefer, I would hope that your ostensibly *academic and open* discussion could tolerate a fourth point of view called "anti-griefer" that doesn't indulge in the jollying along of griefers that you are all doing on these pages.

Thomas, I don't profess to make prescriptions for game manufacturers or virtal world manufacturers for how to encourage, divert, ignore, suppress, subvert ganking or griefing.

But I do want you, as their theorist, and they, as the practitioners, to *take responsibility for unleashing the virulence and replication of this phenomenon at the dawn of the Metaverse*.

I'm deadly seriously. You may find it melodramatic, pompous, shrill. That's fine, it doesn't bother me, it's too important an issue to leave only in the hands of academics. Even by characterizing my very stern interventions here, you're doing something which is "framing a civilized debate" in just the way YOU want to have it. You're saying to ME, not to the GRIEFERs here, a stern reprimand, which is "You be in our debate, you are shrill, we don't like your idea, your posts are too long."

Meanwhile, to the people telling me to post pictures of my tits, you have no comment. None. Nothing. They don't get a reprimand. They don't get told that they're not appreciated. They aren't told that they are um...shrill. Could it get more shrill than telling somebody to post a picture of their tits in a debate? Hello? Yet you think this is "ok" and the sort of thing you "just ignore" or is "even humorous". Could you reflect on that *just a bit more* please?

I'm here to tell you that the barbarians are at the gates; in fact, they're right here in the room, laughing, jeering and catcalling. Can't you see them from your Ivory Tower?

If you are going to provoke debates like this where you will make meaning fungible and allow moral relativism slide-rulers to slide, and ignore the barbians in the room, then take responsibility. Say, you know, I'm content to remain in a permanent state of inquiry and study and reflection, because I believe that's freedom.

My problem with mounting that concept as free thinking and inquiry is that you've ceded the terrorists ground. The very people who can completely crash your web page, fill it with junk, down the server, bully people into silence, hound them out of games and worlds, are allowed to prevail. There isn't even a kind of tacit signal or nod that no, you cannot study barbarians by taking a completely agnostic and neutral position to them. There's no human solidarity, that says, "yes, Prok, I see what you mean, these people ARE awful, perhaps we disagree, however about how to deal with them."

After all, if you were studying, say, bank robbers, you wouldn't say, "Ok, you state government officials and people in American society, you all suspend your investigation and prosecution of all bank robbers while I have my study, because I want the field to be completely free and clear to arrive freely at all my conclusions."

No, instead, you'd say, "Bank robbing costs the US millions of dollars a year, and subjects some tellers and banking customers to injury and even death. Banks have sought a way to increase their security to address this destructive phenomenon. Meanwhile, we need to study the roots of what makes people rob banks. After our study, we may conclude: people rob banks because that's where the money is. We can then tell people to either take the risk to put their money in banks, or keep it all on PayPal."

But in this instance, you have no frame, and accept no curb on griefing merely to study it. There's no acknowledgement. You're saying you cannot have any utilitarian strings attached to your "study". But at the end of the day, I'd have to say, with a thread like this, you're performing as a handmaiden to these game companies who tolerate ganking and griefing and barely rise to the occasion to stop them -- because they want lots of paying customers, and that's the fun game that these customers enjoy most.

Everyone is hell-bent on pretending that games live behind firewalls that never, ever affect real life and will never, never pierce through the membrane. They constantly work overtime to prevent any analysis of how the influence young people in particular, because they are horrified at any Puritanical controls over fun, or any pseudoscientific, ideological control of gaming.

I sympathize with that problem. But I don't think you can remain so neutral to the destruction you are unleashing.

>I don't appreciate it. You don't have to participate if you've already made up your mind. That's fine. But please allow those of us interested in doing the math to do so.

So...no little homilies like that to the griefers here, eh, Thomas?

You are doing the math calculus to a nuclear explosion that *already is taking place* and you are hollering at me that I'm in the way of your sequestered math seminar, oblivious to the destruction outside the doors. That's what is so maddening.

I'm saying take responsibility for the nuclear calculus. I don't appreciate it EITHER Thomas, that I, as a victim of severe griefing, and representative of tenants who have been victims of severe griefing, are everywhere told to STFU, relativize, minimize, reduce, study, empathize, etc. etc. Always a court-ordered program to help rehabilitate the drunk driver and give him every chance. Never a compensation to the victims of drunk drivers, eh?

Thomas, neat way to eliminate ideas you don't like from a debate. Isn't that ultimately a more sophisticated white-collar intellectual ganking, too? Why is this discussion so precious and special that you have to so aggressively clear the room of people who won't do your math with your hackneyed formulas?


Ridiculous, Prok. Just ridiculous. You force me not to respond, because your attempt here is only a sham of an effort at productive discussion. For example, there are no griefers in this thread that I can see, so why are you chastising me for not dealing with them? The other thread you refer to is not mine -- I don't have control over it [either in the code or according to our practices of authorship here]. There are many other inconsistencies and personal attacks in your comment -- too many to enumerate. You have been, in the past, a provocative but productive contributor to my threads, and I hope you will be again, but I refuse to spend a lot of my time trying to respond when you're uninterested in views that don't already agree with you on an issue that is clearly of great personal importance.


Actually my point is more that all humans are griefers.

There are established theories regarding phobic reactions and I think they're worth mentioning in the context of "anti-griefer" . . . after all, those who protest loudly that they are not griefers and would never grief are perhaps only in denial? As is evidenced by the (self confirmed and logged) disruptive behavior of Prok during the "Open Source Debate" in SL, even those who scream "I am anti-griefer" are in fact exactly what they proclaim to hate. (As a note I would have, from a developer's point of view, also taken action against individiuals involved in disruption during an open meeting. I would also have never scheduled such an event in game, so Linden Labs got what was coming to them in terms of disruption.)


"You are doing the math calculus to a nuclear explosion that *already is taking place*"

I am doing the 11-dimensional non-deternministic linear algebra to an applied physics revolution that will *rock your paradigms*


What about chivalry and the knights' code of honour? Or any warriors' code of honour? Such a worthy warrior would consider it unworthy to battle, say, a defenseless old woman, but he would find it worthy to battle someone at the same level as his own strength or better.

These historical RL codes exist in games, too. If ganking doesn't help you level up, doesn't give you game gold or loot or rares, what's the point? It's sheer meanness. What's 'attenuated' about that? It's antithetical to an institution of chivalry with a pragmatic goal of keeping economic/skill advancement on track -- and that's ok.

A person who enjoyes ganking over and over again merely for the pleasure of having power over a defenseless newb and feeling themselves to be evil, is not a person playing a game. You'd like to find some way to call it a game, but it's not a game for one simple reason: it has no rules. There's only blunt force and ignorance.

There is no rule to ganking. Ganking is the absence of rules, and therefore the absence of games and the absence of culture. It is nihililsm. The survival of the fittest or the ability of the strongest to pulverize the weak isn't a game, not even a game with simple rules. It isn't a culture, even a brutal culture. It's *absence of* rules and culture.

How can this be proved? Can't we have an endless open-ended scale for anything and everything to be a game, because we can always just describe it and apply descriptive rules to it? Yet, some things defy description because they are pointless.

Imagine worlds with only ganking. I think sociolotron is supposed to be one of them, no? Are they popular? Are they creative? Do they attract the multitudes? No. Because they are not games, and are not cultural. Thus any way to salvage them for even some noir, hip culture, or rescue them for some kind of even negative meaning which is still meaning, is so much arbitrary barbarism. And that's why most of the people posting here just aren't on the same page as I think most people wishing for some kind of social contract would want to be: they are prepared to embrance a non-game, without rules (not the "open-endedness which is a rule in itself), and the absence of culture as some kind of newfangled game in its own right -- just to make sure they're seen as being down with the people.

Once you can accept that thesis, then you can go to the next step. What is the best way to address nihilism and the absence of culture and the absence of rules-as-game?

Answer: grow the culture and the rules outward positively, support them. Ignore the ganking, don't fuel it by ascribing "motives" or an "unhappy childhood" or "a meta-game" or apologizing for it, but grow out what is the complexity of battle with equals or betters.

Answer: create routine disincentives, i.e. if you linger around a server without appropriate battles, you lose energy/points, etc. if you keep griefing events and shooting, your reputation poitns sink. There is a cost then to your negative anti-social behaviour. Of course, those who think if you signed up for PvP it should always include ganking capabilities will scorn this type of solution, and the "bad is good" school of thought will also prevail as some will actively seek negrates as street cred. let them. You can always grow the culture beyond anti-culture if you draw the line.

Answer: prosecute griefers and gankers if they significantly interfere with game play or the "enjoyment of Second Life" etc. (the penising of Anshe) by banning, IP block etc. That indeed is what is done already and that needs to be given a nod and encouraged. Indeed, 25 of the W-hat comrades of the posters you see on these threads (if they are not indeed their alts) were permanently banned from SL for their severe antics disrupting the grid.


@Prok: Is that you? *This* was a productive post. Much to chew on here. I'm happy to leave the earlier spat behind if you are.


You do realize that the company could not care less about your pseudointellectual drivel -- they just want to maximize profits and will do what they can to satisfy the most consumers possible. The end.


Any punishment with visible effect can be seen as anti-status and is therefore (sickly) desirable. This could include "losing rep" if implemented poorly. (This is also a terribly generic thought which is so ambiguous it's difficult to understand.)

Thus it's far better to examine the "negatives that you can't see" aspect. Hurt them in ways nobody is able to track. In real life if someone goes to prison it hurts them financially. They lose their wife, their house, their car, their job, their friends . . . and nobody really notices.

Maybe we can repo the flying mounts of any level 70 ganking level 1's in WoW.


Dear a non e mouse:

I think that the people who actually work in the industry who frequent this blogsite might disagree with you.


>Ridiculous, Prok. Just ridiculous. You force me not to respond, because your attempt here is only a sham of an effort at productive discussion.

You are being close-minded, Thomas, and that doesn't befit you. I've explained in great deal what the problem is: moral relativism, and pretending there is no bright line for civilization here. Indeed, you are drawing your bright line of civilization and civilized discourse *right this minute* by taking your chalk on the playground, and drawing a circle that does NOT include me. You were happy to sit in the other thread and "converse" with really hands-on, serial, serious griefers and ignore them, and then whirl around and slam me.

>For example, there are no griefers in this thread that I can see, so why are you chastising me for not dealing with them? The other thread you refer to is not mine -- I don't have control over it [either in the code or according to our practices of authorship here].

This is the kind of literalist, maddening, typical SL-forums type of pedantry that always fuels griefing, Thomas. My reference here is to two threads, and you know it. While the nastiness in THIS thread is mild, go to the other thread, and don't throw up your hands and say, in a literalist matter, oh noes it's not my thread. THIS thread REFERENCES the other thread and was SPAWNED by it, so it's really completely illegitimate to shrug it off and pretend no relationship to it!

I don't ask for it to be moderated or for the people to be IP banned. I ask for RECOGNITION that I'm not the barbarian here; they are. If you can't do that much, really, the cause is lost.

You know full well I am making a general sort of statement here: there are severe griefers very visible in this discussion, which spans two threads, the majority of which are in Marks' thread, that I ask you to respond to *as a phenomenon*. You ignore it. You have no reprimands for it. You have no judgement for it.

So I can see that rather than someone with an open mind seriously dedicated to the untrammelled inquiry of griefing, I can see you are already taking sides. Somebody who fights the griefers -- me -- becomes so unattractive to you in their struggle, as you filter out the nasty and goading remarks that make me struggle -- that you can't get past it. It is rather like people who go around only screaming about the Bush administration, because it's right in front of them covered by a free media, but never had a solution for the really serious problem of Islamicist fundamentalist thuggery, which is far away in countries without free medias.

>There are many other inconsistencies and personal attacks in your comment -- too many to enumerate. You have been, in the past, a provocative but productive contributor to my threads, and I hope you will be again, but I refuse to spend a lot of my time trying to respond when you're uninterested in views that don't already agree with you on an issue that is clearly of great personal importance

You're the one who is uninterested in a view here, Thomas, and seeking to belittle it, single it out for professorial reprimand, when you had nothing to say -- nothing at all, nothing whatsoevever -- to the horders of barbarians in this *discussion* even if not literally in this *thread*. That's how it is, you see. That's how it is *always played*. You're willing to create a game and a club that has "me and my high signal-to-noise comrades on a blog" and, ignoring the real noise-makers, disqualify a signal you don't like merely because it doesn't fit with your view. I don't ask that you *change* your view. I ask that you *concede that the barbarians are in the room, and you have let them in*.

That's how the griefers win. Because you and those like you refuse to take a stand. The penising of Anshe is always an endlessly fascinating emergent form of game play and form of culture. You never say: no penises.


Men rarely think of a world without penises. We're rather attached to them.


>@Prok: Is that you? *This* was a productive post. Much to chew on here. I'm happy to leave the earlier spat behind if you are.

A presumption to only recognize someone's identiy if their post pattern fits what you like seriously undermine's an individual's dignity, Thomas. It's wrong.

Seriously, Thomas, you who can remain so open-minded and reiterate a question about whether ganking is emergent game-play and ganking is acceptable culture *cannot* be so fastidious and squeamish about someone else on a blog, and decide whether they are "productive" or "not-productive" and issue little reprimands to them, and presumed incentives, all the way having nothing whatsoever at all to say to barbians who tell me to "post tits".

Either you are for posting tits, or you are not. I don't think there's a middle ground here. I'd like as *robust* a recognition from you that asking people to post pictures of their tits is NOT productive and NOT part of civilized discussion, something you feign agnosticism or deafness to, before you go through the richly satisfying act of declaring me "productive" or "not-procutive" in your gank-for-the-day.


So if you don't sream in outrage when someone spams a thread with "post tits plx" you are condoning the idiots of the internet?

I prefer my shades of gray. There's a lot more of them than the two of black and white that are being proposed at present.


/shrug. It's not okay with me. It's not productive. It doesn't contribute to the discussion. Point me to such a post in this thread and I'll deal with it. What does that have to do with this discussion? If I were in charge of every bad thing anyone did anywhere then your directives would have merit.

My only point about your posts here (with one exception) is that they are absolutist. It is obvious in them that you want absolute agreement with your view as the starting point for any further discussion. It's not that I can't handle a series of churlish posts (and yes, that's my opinion -- isn't that obvious?), I just have better things to do with my time. There's nothing more I can say.


Thomas Malaby wrote:

I disagree, Matt (as the whole piece lays out). Killing the dragon is not (necessarily, or even ordinarily) a foregone conclusion.

Whether something is a foregone conclusion wouldn't seem to have any impact on whether it's pointless would it?

It's a foregone conclusion that I will climax during sex, and yet I don't consider it pointless at all.



Well, Matt, if you're not interested in the main argument of the post, then what else can I say? I don't think the relationship between contingency and meaning can be dismissed so easily, /shrug. (And you might look at the revised version of the claim in my long post part of the way down.)


"Ganking", or any other form of "griefing" behavior for that matter, is an emergent behavior by definition, if you're talking about emergence as related to systems theory (or information theory). Because these behaviors are not specifically designed, supported, or precluded, they are strictly emergent. That a human is the actor of the use case is irrelevant, from a systems perspective.

In my opinion, the reason this discussion and that which spawned it are magnets for flames and spats is that you are mixing systems theory notions with broader philosophy and social sciences questions.

In the context of the game, ganking is emergent.

Why people choose to gank in the context of a broader societal or existential state is a different question, which does not relate to the systems questions except perhaps to better inform the future design of those systems.


/agreed, randolfe_. I wasn't seeking here to question whether the ganking is an emergent property of the system, but rather to inquire both into some avenues for describing it, analytically, and evaluating it, critically.


@Prok: I 100% agree with you about the moral non-relativism (in my personal belief structure, we'd call it "evil") of the griefing behavior that you've been the victim of. It is, I'd say, the result of using virtual world tools to do real world harm. There is no excuse for the threatening, assault, blackmail, violent language, etc. that you (and many others) have been subjected to in both SL and other virtual worlds, and to use "it's just a game" as an excuse is insane.

It would be like saying, "The voice coming out of the plastic thing next to your head that threatened to rape your daughter isn't *my* voice... it's a bunch of noise that carried down a set of copper wires, was converted to digital signals, then back into sound, and you heard that. My voice? How could it be? I'm in Hawaii and you're in Pennsylvania!"

The mitigative effects of technology, distance, time, class and economy don't mitigate morality. If it's illegal, immoral, wrong, evil, etc. to harass someone and give them grief using your voice, a letter, the phone... then the same intent/effect is wrong if created using virtual tools. Period.

But Prok... All that being said... the mitigative effects of fiction *do* mitigate morals. They have to. Otherwise I would feel 1,000,000-times the same abject, moral horror when watching Alderaan blow up in "Star Wars" as I do when watching "Schindler's List."

I think Thomas was careful (almost comically so) to distinguish one-on-one, PvP ganking in an MMO as a very specific type of behavior. We are not talking about using the platform to initiate real-world harm, to assault the player (as opposed to the toon), to do violence to the environment (r.e., flying penii), or to disrupt any flow that occurs outside the magic circle. We are talking about a player performing an allowed, in-game act that is, potentially, meaningless from a "point" perspective. "Pointless" on many levels. Thomas argues that it is, in fact, pointless. Others have said it isn't, and have made good arguments to that case.

Prok -- I am with you on the moral framing issue. But it is also incredibly important that we differentiate clearly between types of behavior that are based on shared, agreed-upon fictional conceits, and those that are virtually-enabled RL experiences.

Why do I say this? You made the excellent point that your child understood ganking to be simply "asshole behavior." OK. That's fine. But is it *in game* asshole behavior? Teaching kids the difference between three different kinds of asshole behavior is very important in life:

1. Within the rules, but bad-sportsmanship assholery.

2. Outside the rules, but not the law.

3. Simply unlawful, RL, evil assholery. As said before, I'm with you. Bad is bad. No gentleman (or lady) asks to see a lady's (or gentleman's) tits outside of a personal relationship.

Numbers 1 and 3 above are, I think, fairly easy. You have to disallow #3 -- and I don't think Thomas or anyone here is allowing assault-via-toon into the realm of acceptable behavior -- or you say that virtuality is an excuse for immorality, and I don't buy that.

But you also have to allow #1... because game rules that try to also set morality rules are doomed. Games are governed by rules, not morals, and rules aren't about morals. Jumping, checking, tagging, etc. aren't moral choices. They are tactical ones. *How* we play (and how we live, work, love, buy, sell, etc.) are governed by moral choices that are going to guide us regardless of the venue. To try to design morals into the rules of games invites, well... a total lack of meaningful fun.

#2 is the trickiest area, and that is where Thomas, and others, are trying to figure out what constitutes "rules" vs. "law," I think, if I may put some words into others' mouths.

First, we have to agree that ganking in WoW is not #3.

Next... There is no written code-law that says, "Thou shalt not gank on PvP servers." It is, to any degree that it can be called griefing, an unwritten rule-law; the law of good sportsmanship. If we agree on that, it then falls into #2. Against a rule, but not any law.

If, however, as some here have stated, there are gameplay reasons for the behavior, then it has moved from #2 to #1. That movement would constitute "emergent" behavior and is, as such, very interesting to game/social theorists.

We have to be careful, Prok, not to throw out the gankers with the truly criminal or evil. The worlds are filled with assholes. If we limit what our games and worlds are capable of in order to stop all behaviors that are troublesome... we run the risk of letting some very mean, very narrow-minded people define "troublesome" for us.

Game worlds are fictional. Much of what happens in games is contrived (as Thomas says). Many of the goings-on in SL are quite contrived and -- consensually -- fictional. If we ascribe RL consequences on a 1-to-1 basis to every act... yikes.

The important trick is (and will be, increasingly) to define *how* we define our interactions. And to allow spaces where different levels of social interaction are possible, probable and acceptable.

Context in RL is heavily dependent on the fact that your physical self is there, can be restrained, and often connected with bits of your life. Context in virtual worlds and communicative media will, more and more, need to be defined by agreed-upon parameters.

And one of those parameters will always be, "How agreed-upon are the parameters?" IE, "Do we allow chaos? And, if so, how much?"

In checkers, there is very little chaos. In Azeroth, quite a bit more so. In SL, even more.

You will *not* get emergent behavior from systems with little-to-no allowance for chaos. You will also get no emergent behavior from systems with no checks on chaos. Where there are no rules, only assholes have fun. Where Big Brother rules as the only asshole, there is no fun at all.

[PS: I have no idea if that last statement is true, but it was fun to write.]


@Andy: Hey, that's really articulate. You got all the major points in my mind.

Also, want to point out that in College there's a wierd card game called asshole where each round of play establishes a pecking order for the next round. And as per the ruleset, the one above you can give you "asshole" commands to do stupid stuff and you'll have to do it.

Who would want to play this stupid game? Stupid and drunk college boys?

Two elements of the ruleset that mitigates the negative and chaotic rules are:
1. That on the next round you could be the head asshole and reprisal is a bitch.
2. There is an unclear social mores that allow the group to collectively negate any stupid commands.

The ganking situation as structured by Thomas is not pointless because people have pointed out that:
1. Actions have consequences and one follows the other (ripple effect)
2. They are playing at a different level (the metacontext argument)
3. The chaos of it is the point (pure chaos is not without meaning)
4. Behavioral meaning (all humans are gankers)


Thomas Malaby wrote:

Well, Matt, if you're not interested in the main argument of the post, then what else can I say? I don't think the relationship between contingency and meaning can be dismissed so easily, /shrug. (And you might look at the revised version of the claim in my long post part of the way down.)

Ahh, sorry, I hadn't really read the whole thread.

What I think I've started to realize here is that we should be talking not about meaning vs. meaninglessness, but rather of the contrast between confirmatory, institutionalized meaning, and emergent, contingent meaning (I alluded to this possibility in the post, but didn't follow through on it).

We all hear people referring to 'functional' and 'nonfunctional' items in MMOs, and drawing some big line between the two, so I will forgive you for making the same mistake. ;) (kidding, mostly!)

It seems to me that functional and nonfunctional are other/simpler ways of saying that items have either 'confirmatory, institutionalized meaning' or 'emergent contingent meaning.'

I guess I've always had a bit of a problem with making that divide, aside from the fact that as a developer, what the players believe is true, is true at least in terms of how you work with them, modulo the possibility of convincing them that something else is true.

In any case, while of course I recognize there's a distinction, I don't think it's generally a particularly important one. For instance, couching this argument in the terms I normally hear set in, it's about whether, if it's ok to 'sell' virtual stuff in a game-world at all, should functional as well as nonfunctional items be sold by the developer?

I understand the desire to draw the line between the two, but I feel it diminishes virtual worlds to do so. It strikes me as very much the real-world equivalent of saying that money (has confirmatory, [effectively] institutionalized meaning) is important, but that love (emergent, contingent meaning) isn't, or perhaps that when it comes to sex, only the quantifiable physical act matters, and that there's no difference between a one-night random hookup and the same physical act with someone you love.

Beyond that kind of hippy talk though, doesn't meaning reside, ultimately, with the viewer, not the thing? In other words, you could give me a level 60 character in WoW, and it would have no meaning to me, as I'm not interested in playing WoW. On the other hand, you could send me an Ecard with a graphic of a fluffy animal embedded in it, and I'd likely feel at least a brief moment of pleasure (before wondering what's gotten into you...)

Or, to put it another way, why should we feel that a sword +3 (as opposed to a sword) has inherently more meaning than a red sword (as opposed to a sword), when human kind in the physical world shows every inclination towards drawing very little distinction between the two? Slap a Prada label on a dress and essentially the same dress drives up in price no different from slapping a bigger engine on a jet.



@Matt: Dude, that's a huge can of worms. Andy Warhol had a lot of good things to say about value and how it's determined, especially as it relates to art. And, yes... value is entirely relative at one end of the spectrum. My one-night-stand sex/love tryst might hold more meaning/value for me than your 22-years of marriage has for you. "Eye of the beholder," etc.

And, in the end, you can't take it with you. "The love you take is equal to the love you make." "What does it benefit a man if he gains the world, but loses his soul?"

When we talk about means of exchange, however, we start down the path of economics, which has nothing to do with "value" and everything to do with "worth." IE, systems of determining *relative* value, so that multiple people can exchange things. Usually many times, usually over many platforms. I can't trade my appreciation for music (though I value it highly) for your exceptional swimming ability (much as I might want to); there is no means of exchange. To exchange value, two things are needed: a means to make the exchange (a platform), and a method of determining value.

Two systems like WoW and SL seem very similar because the platforms are so similar. We have players with toons; we have virtual assets; we have tokens as money. But in the case of WoW and many other MMOs, the method of assigning initial value to objects is solely at the discretion of the authors of the fiction, whereas in SL, it is almost entirely up to the market.

If Blizzard decided to create an artifact that had incredible powers in game, it would have huge value to players. What would determine the price would be its rarity... which would also be determined by Blizzard.

In SL, the price of an object will have very little to do with what Linden says. What does "powerful" mean in SL? Or "strong?" The valuation of items depends on what a user wants to do with them, not what the fiction demands be done.


Once again, WoW provokes more discussion than serious issues. Amazing. This does however speak to the larger issue of bullying in general - ganking is essentially the same thing as grade-school bullying of bigger kids over younger kids, and we haven't quite figured out why bullies bully, either.

As for WoW, I never understood why they haven't made gray-level players count as dishonor points -- you can kill a low-level NPC and be punished with dishonor, but a living breathing human, you get no punishment. Odd. I can understand the counter-argument - that low-level players would gang up on higher level players, but, DAMN, that'd be something to see, wouldn't it? That sounds like a real challenge!

But you're right, it's clearly not about the challenge to gankers / bullies.


@Matt: I frankly don't see how the functional/non-functional analogy applies -- I'm going to assume that it has some specific meaning for where you come from and leave it at that.

The more interesting (to me) part of your response is the next bit, where you start talking about money versus love. But it's quite unclear just what position you think I'm arguing, and therefore what you're arguing, so I'm going to ask you to clarify things a bit. I'm certainly not arguing that institutionalized, confirmatory meaning (one could also call it "received meaning") is somehow "better" than contingent meaning, which is what you seem to be suggesting I'm saying in the money vs love example. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the clarification, but I'll try to soldier through with some responses that I'm guessing connect.

I *am* following through on Weber's speculation that institutionalized meaning, while not inherently pointless or bad, always runs the *risk* of leaving actual human experience behind. The argument is that a *system* for interpretation that begins to be rationalized (that is, where consistency across cases comes to be enforced) begins to become decoupled from the human practical experience that animated it to begin with. At that point, Weber says, we may come to think something (say, the rule of law) is meaningful only because we're told it's meaningful.

The circularity of it actually fits quite well with the examples of seemingly endless consumption that you allude to at the end. Many people who have written (critically) about consumption have argued that what's going on is a similarly empty cycle of consumption for consumption's sake.

So, in what you're saying just before that (and maybe this explains the confusion I mentioned above), it seems like you're saying that I'm arguing that institutionalized meanings *always* trump contingent meanings. I'm not saying that at all. But the suggestion is that institutions have a lot of reasons and resources, in some cases, to measure outcomes and direct action, and that this *competes* with meaning of the contingent kind, which is drawn from primary experience.

There are many examples of this in other domains, though people haven't applied them to games before (that I know of). The classic example in the study of the "great" religions is between mysticism and dogma. The first, legitimized by individual experience (often expressed in narrative), always lies in tension with a set of rationalized meanings controlled and defended by a priestly hierarchy. The second is not "better" than the first, and it doesn't always "win", but who has the money? ;)

Anyway, as I've said before here, this is definitely working without a net in this territory, and I appreciate all the thoughtful responses.


Ok. Heres my take.

Eve Online, the game I play ( I do actually have an SL account, but man, what a dull world ) , is something I consider overloaded with meaning. I mean on the surface, its quite repetative. Planets here, moons there. Stars over there, and lots of spaceships and spacestations. And thats about it.

What makes the game amazing, is the big meta-game of "RISK" thats going on in the lawless zones. Huge alliances of thousands of people slugging it out for top dog and land.

Some groups (ie, my own goonswarm, or the band of brothers) are basic "genocidal expansionist" in mode. Fortunately its a game! Some groups (For instance Ushra'Khan, a minmitar liberation front, or Jericho Fraction, an anti-statist anarchist insurrection) are playing for ideology. Some groups are just happy to have a bit of space land and potter about keeping the cobwebs out the cupboard.

For all those groups, home is where the heart is* (well except for Jericho, who are anti territorial), and intruders will be shot on sight.

Thing is , almost ALL the lawless space is claimed. That means if a hapless miner turns up wanting to grab some asteroids, well, he's going to get the shit ganked out of them, and it REALLY IS MEANINGFULL.

Its meaningful, to the defender who feels a degree of invasion that his 'nations' territory is being comprimised, and its meaningful to the miner who just got his mining shit vaporised.

The thing is, what makes eve-o and ganking meaningful is the tangible sense of loss and acomplishment one gets from a fight. Sure just gang banging some newbie is a bit rough, and frankly I dont do it (unless they come into goon space without permit. Big alliances often use unaligned newbies as spies) , but ganking in the game usually serves a strategic role.

For instance destabalising the industrial backbone of an enemy invader might be acomplished by throwing 3 or 4 high level players, or perhaps 20 mid level players, into cloaking ships behind enemy lines in the 'safe' mining areas. The economic flowback is that the enemy loses production abilitys , players leave the enemy team in frusturation, and the enemy starts to crumble thus hastening defeat at the front lines.

And personally thats a lot more interesting than eves famed 200vs200 mass fleet battles.

Griefing saves lives.


"Aren't there ever anti-griefers? Self-designated virtual vigilantes or Virtualantes (hehe) who lie in wait or chase prospective griefers and give them a taste of their own medicine?

If so, this playing out of human behaviour, may not make for Disneyfication, but it is interesting to me at least. And if as drama it interests players, the griefer vs antigriefer (virtualante) scenario may make the initial business loss worthwhile on a macro scale, bringing new players to the orperation."

Actually. Yes. I have no idea about WOW, but in Eve online, theres pirates (aka "gankers", eve also gives the added bonus of ransoming your 'victims' for loot. Ie 'give me 100k isk or your mining ship gets it') , and there are "anti pirates", people who go around hunting down gankers. Newbies who venture outside the safe domain of "high security space", are generally advised to stick close and befriend the anti-pirate forces. Some anti-pirate forces will offer themselves as an ingame service (Ie, your group goes on a mining mission, expecting to make 50mil isk. You pay a couple of anti-pirates 5-10 mil isk to stand guard and make sure pirates leave the miners alone), and so on.

The emergent gameplay is awesome. It ought be said however, if you dont want to pvp, especially above your raisin', eve might not be the right game for you.


"Aren't there ever anti-griefers? Self-designated virtual vigilantes or Virtualantes (hehe) who lie in wait or chase prospective griefers and give them a taste of their own medicine?

If so, this playing out of human behaviour, may not make for Disneyfication, but it is interesting to me at least. And if as drama it interests players, the griefer vs antigriefer (virtualante) scenario may make the initial business loss worthwhile on a macro scale, bringing new players to the orperation."

Actually. Yes. I have no idea about WOW, but in Eve online, theres pirates (aka "gankers", eve also gives the added bonus of ransoming your 'victims' for loot. Ie 'give me 100k isk or your mining ship gets it') , and there are "anti pirates", people who go around hunting down gankers. Newbies who venture outside the safe domain of "high security space", are generally advised to stick close and befriend the anti-pirate forces. Some anti-pirate forces will offer themselves as an ingame service (Ie, your group goes on a mining mission, expecting to make 50mil isk. You pay a couple of anti-pirates 5-10 mil isk to stand guard and make sure pirates leave the miners alone), and so on.

The emergent gameplay is awesome. It ought be said however, if you dont want to pvp, especially above your raisin', eve might not be the right game for you.

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