Just Call Me Griefer Sutherland

I like to think I’m a nice guy. I like to think that I play well with others. I like to think that I am fun to be around. I’m nice to those around me because my parents taught me that I should treat others the way I want to be treated, and that ended up creating a sense of empathy in me.

Unfortunately, that sense of empathy which I hold so dear to me in real life is checked at the door when I log into an MMO. Sydera at World of Matticus has a very interesting post regarding griefing, its root causes, and its ramifications. Her post really got me to thinking about what I have always enjoyed in MMOs, and I realized that I couldn’t find fault in the City of Heroes/Villains example that she used. The fellow she mentions has made quite a splash in the blogosphere lately because he “abused” game mechanics to impose negative consequences on other players. He then went online and began to write about it and defame them for getting angry. I don’t agree with what he did afterwards within the community, but I must give kudos to the way he approached the PvP combat in game. He did what it took to win, and it didn’t matter what the other people thought of him.

You see, I’m a griefer. And I’m a scammer. I thrive on negatively affecting other people in MMOs. And I have since the very beginning of my MMO career with Ultima Online in 1998.

UO was unique in my mind in that it was the first (and perhaps the only) online virtual world. Players could go anywhere and do anything at any time regardless of “level.” Because of this freedom, players who ventured too far outside cities and towns (which were protected by NPC guards who would 1-shot criminals) were fair game to being attacked my other players.

gankingAnd that’s just the kind of interaction and freedom that I became enamored with. I realized early that my PKing (player killing) actually affected the game world because, unlike NPC faction rating in games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft, my reputation in UO was solely based on how I interacted with other players.

It was brought to my attention in comments on Sydera’s post that I could positively interact with other people and affect their gaming life just as much, and I agree with this. I could. But then I would be getting less catharsis out of my gaming sessions because I would not be “playing” anymore; I would simply be being myself. Something inside me says (and it’s likely due to the prospect of internet anonymity) that it’s more fun to be the bad guy.

It was a new role for me. It’s something that I didn’t get to experience on an everyday basis, and so when I logged on, I knew that there was a virtual world waiting for me to be anything I wanted to be. And I knew I wanted two things out of that world: to impact the world itself, and to actually play and have a good time.

Eventually, people knew my character’s name. They knew Damien Wyrmsbane on Lake Superior because I was a jerk. My roommate and I ran scams on vendors, stole people’s weapons with his thief, ganked people in duels, whatever we could, but we did it all within the confines of the games mechanics. No exploits.

I couldn’t even legitimately sell things at the bank because people would laugh and say “Haha, no way. I know who you are.” I was proud that I had to log into an alt just to conduct legitimate business.

The fun I had in UO did not come from loot or items or anything like that, but from the interaction that I had with other people in a way that I felt was new and refreshing. I could have very easily helped out newbies, made them happy, and they would have gone their entire MMO careers utilizing the things I taught them. But I wouldn’t know anything about that myself.

Part of what makes griefing so fun for me is the notoriety. Killing someone so badly in PvP that they make a forum post about it made my day. Having people run the other direction when I came on screen was awesome because they knew that I had a pre-cast Explosion made me laugh. Learning to be someone else (and not even role-playing, per se) was a blast. It was cathartic because when I got tired of being Beej, I could be Damien. I would have lost that cathartic element had I perpetuated a virtual version of my real-life self; there would be no separation except that I was being nice across the internet instead of to someone’s face.

When the fun in UO dried up, other games came out that held my attention for a while, but none of them like UO did. I loved Star Wars Galaxies and the community there. But it was never like UO. I love the friends I’ve made in World of Warcraft, but I’ve never quite felt the “world” feel that I felt in UO.

The reason for this is that modern MMOs limit the interaction between players more than is really necessary.

IUO T2An a sandbox world, players will generally police themselves. Yes, there should be a penalty in game for being a bad guy (such as stat/XP loss for serial murders should you get “caught”), but for the most part, I think it should be up to the players to determine how and when they interact.

Current MMO design generally designates consensual PvP interaction with “flags” or “instances” and the rest of the game’s socialization comes from chat channels and cooperative goals such as dragon slaying or dungeon running. Even in PvP instances in games like WoW and Warhammer Online, there are still “team” objectives instead of free-for-all player interaction. If I want to turn on my friend, I should be able to do so. If he and I are out in the world, if I want to stick a knife in his back, I should have that privilege.

I made more friends in Ultima Online by fighting and killing people over and over than I have raiding in World of Warcraft. There’s something about the respect that comes from a hypermasculine ass-whipping that cooperative interaction cannot touch. As much as I care about my WoW buddies and hope they come visit TN again very soon, the stories of how we met and why are much more blasé than making a Catfud go to bed angry every night because we wouldn’t let him outside of his house.

And that’s why I left WoW and why I’m looking for a new MMO right now. I want a game that I can grief in and have a free world to be a jerk when I want to be. Even PvP servers in current MMOs don’t allow me that freedom. It was just a lot of fun to be someone else. Modern DikuMUD-based MMOs are straying away from that kind of player-created content because interactions are limited to the wholly positive.

It’s like the old saying that you can’t have light without dark and you cannot know good without bad; well, you can’t know the upstanding players without griefers. With player interactions being limited to only harmless, supposedly positive means, the game worlds become bland. I don’t put a lot of stock in MMO communities after spending a few years perusing the official World of Warcraft forums, but I do think the people who inhabit a sandbox world like the original Ultima Online are far more adept at placing positive and negative monikers and penalties on behavior than any game’s mechanics.

After four years of being limited to a developer’s idea of what I can and cannot do to interact with my peers, I am moving on. I am thinking of starting Darkfall, Mortal Online, or an Ultima Online free shard called “Defiance.” I am tired of being limited to a grind for gear within just a few locations in order to “have fun,” and I’m tired of not feeling that I have an impact on the gaming world. For a while, people on Lake Superior knew who Damien Wyrmsbane was. There are probably even some who remember the jerk I was to them to this day, and if not my name, then what I did to them. I bet there are far fewer who remember or care about Lesserheal or Veneficus on Malygos-US because as awesome as I am, it’s hard to stick out in a game built around conformity and equality.

In the end, I think my comment on Sydera’s blog sums up my feelings pretty well: “I did it because it was fun. To me, interacting with people is the heart of an MMO, and the PvE component of MMOs has always been lacking. Even in WoW, when I raided, the fun came from my friends, not from the content. I griefed (and hope to do so in Mortal Online [or Darkfall], actually) because I knew that it was the only way that I would actually have an effect on the changing face of the game-world. If I killed a monster over and over, it’d respawn infinitely. If I killed a player over and over, he or she would remember me, and potentially go to bed angry or make a forum post about it. I had affected something outside of the developers’ programming, and that made me happy. To me, that’s player created content, not designing missions or the like.”

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. As much as I like WoW – and as much as I didn't really get into UO, I do have to say that being an incredibly annoying PvP point bank for CoM (named "The Chosen One") still makes me smile fondly…

    And I agree that MMO games are a little too candy ass these days.

  2. If you can get into a good corp(guild), and live with the some what slow gameplay, and unmoddable UI, EVE Online sounds like what you're looking for.

  3. Aaaaaaaaaaaaah! An Ultima Online veteran! I absolutely adore Ultima Online, I played on various shards and free shards for a long time.

    BTW, you were even known to German players on the server Drachenfels. Damien Wyrmsbane was taken as an example that there are better name options for PKs than "b0n3d00d" or so. 🙂

    So you were one of these "barstewards" that were killing people in Ultima Online! Did you wear a strawhat and a skirt, too? 🙂

    I was no PK, but I kept several red ostrich mounts. I always used them when I was on the warpath, riding the "red ostrich of revenge". :>

    We probably helped to create Trammel and Felucca, the PvP/PvE split that still exists in most western MMOs. I think it would only have required GMs to stop some guys who went over the top, i.e. knew no limits. Like hunting a certain player nonstop for weeks and doing nothing else till GMs reacted and banned the whole guild for extreme harassment. But such extremes were not the norm.

    Now we have worlds where dying is less annoying than a few raindrops on our clothes. While I consider myself to be more of a carebear than a killer, I totally miss Ultima Online's freedom.

    I still think the game mechanics are still interesting and modern designers should take another look at them, as the world of Ultima Online was and is so much more of a virtual world than the zone-worlds of EQ/WoW.

    Some of the guys who killed me in UO became my RL friends and are still my friends today, this never happened in WoW to me. I found some friends in Guild Wars, on the other hand. While I actually despise this arena style Guild versus Guild PvP, it reminds me more of e-sports.

    Even AION and EVE are quite restricted: Most of EVE's universe is safe 0.5-1.0 security space, and outside the gates people never found me in 0.0 if I did not want to.

    AION has two fixed factions, and I really wonder if it is going to bring back at least some of the old UO feeling.

    BTW, I blame Kalgan for ruining Ultima Online! Yeah, he was known as "Evocare" to Ultima Online players and he turned the Lost Lands into a theme park. The whole Harbinger of Evil or what it was called stuff with the Champions of Evil was basically the idea of some EQ-twisted raider-mind. He later went on to become one of the lead designers of World of Themepark. :>

  4. Are you serious? There were people outside of LS who knew who we were? Awesome!

    My buddy Golgorian was a straw hat/skirt guy. I was a shortpants/fancy shirt/sash man myself. And our other friend we ran with was shortpants/doublet.

    And I had no idea that Evocare is Kalgan! Oh, wow! I agree that he is part of the reason that I left the game. One single PvP facet with all new non-PvP ones as well as items-based combat is what made me leave the game to begin with. It makes sense that what eventually burned me out in WoW would be the exact same thing.

  5. Many German players started on US servers and many kept their chars there and some only switched to play on Drachenfels when they had latency issues. I started on a german free shard because I was young and had no credit card, the major problem for german UO players, as credit cards even nowadays are not too common in Germany. I have one because it makes online business so much easier.

    The early German UO players read english forums, as there were no or at least not many german ones. 🙂

    I remember me talking in Buc's Den about PK's and why they usually have silly names and if they are alts of bored players or not. Someone said that they have even sillier names on the US servers, and someone else disagreed and listed some "proper" PK names!

    Then we discussed if "Wyrmsbane" is a cooler name than "Doberman" (the local Drachenfels PK no.1, rumored to have a T1 connection) or not.

    I guess this player remembered you because you must have killed him at least once…! :>

  6. Intriguing angle, Beej. I'm waiting on Mortal Online as well…. I won't give my money to DF based on the asinine elitist community.

    Here's hoping it's as engaging a game world as they claim!

  7. Wow, this is pretty dark stuff here Prof!

    My griefing came economically in MMOs. I ran my own guild on WoW called "Monopolistic Tendencies”, (just me and all guild tabs bought out, tons o' space), and I would monopolize positions within the WoW marketplace… not only because it made good money, but also for the extreme sense of satisfaction I got doing it… causing other investors/speculators to lose money because I had all the resources available to undercut and fiscally harass, (aka. grief) them. Got more than my share of private messages cussing me out, which only fueled my ego as my supposed notoriety rose.

    I don’t play the WoW market anymore, but it just goes to show you griefing comes in all shapes and sizes XD

    Griefing comes in many styles!

  8. Awesome article 🙂 It's so interesting to read how someone, who seems like such a nice bloke, is a completely devil in MMORPGs 🙂 Just goes to show that you can't judge people by their in game actions! And you're very right, the emotional side of it makes these games worth playing. I suppose it's why I can never fully engage with WoW – it's too much of a game and not enough of a virtual world.

    @Longasc I like the security system in EVE. It's nice being able to stick to areas and know you won't get ganked (or less likely too) but that the really valuable stuff is in the dangerous areas of space. It's the perfect balance for me.

  9. @Gordon: Give it some more time, you will see that there is not so much incentive to go out to 0.0 at all. The good missions are still in 0.4 space, which is still safe enough.

  10. 0.4 is by far the LEAST safe space in the game. It's identical in NPC security to 0.1-0.3 (i.e. only sentries) and there are all the pirates knowing that someone will soon come by, not knowing the difference between 0.5 (highsec) and 0.4 (lowsec) 🙂

  11. The problem with most MMO companies is that they see griefers as a customer service problem. I see griefers as an opportunity for virtual worlds to become alive and as you way more of a "world".

    These companies have all but eliminated any sort of inconvenience that another player might cause to their fellow player. Gone are trains, unleashed mobs, attackable NPC's of your own faction — just to name a few.

    Griefing is really a symptom of having not being able to change the world in any appreciable way. If more mechanics existed that let players have a meaningful impact on the world then there would probably be less griefers and more builders. There would probably be less idiocy in chat as speech seems to be one of the last frontiers that the devs have not figured out how to control.

    Still I think griefers have their place. They can be outlaws, revolutionaries, troublemakers that live on the fringes of society. They present an incredible potential for making MMO gameplay immediate and gripping. But somehow we've lost that in a WoW dominated world.

    Deep down most players really want to make their mark on a their virtual world. What's the point of persistency (one of the big selling point of MMOs) if we can't affect anything beyond our personal levels and gear?

  12. @Gordon: I also have a side where I am a nice guy. Especially in games where, as Wolfshead mentions, there are no other interactive avenues. I am also the kind of person who actually interacts with my friends in a very positive way ingame and develop some very deep bonds, and the "backstabbing" I mentioned in my post was generally from making a joke and having them fall victim to friendly fire when it would be funny rather than any malice.

    @Wolfshead: I think it's a shame that MMO companies see griefers as customer service problems that need to be eliminated. I agree completely that it's the actual persistence of the world that makes griefing so appealing. If the world and game is going to be the same with or without me, then I will make whatever mark I can. Where in a game that allowed me to build/destroy things that mattered in the world itself, I'd likely put my energy into doing that, for good or bad, instead of focusing on individual players.

  13. I still think people need to differentiate between griefers, scammers exploiters.

    Also, I think there is "legal" griefing and "illegal" griefing, which usually meant players used exploits or hacks.

    I also used the "guard" NPCs in Ultima Online as a trap for players, but only really careless players fell into that trap.

    I would not wonder if people would thoroughly hate me and create forum posts and all that about me if I would have had a "teleport" feature like Twixt had it in CoH.

    I also wonder why people have a problem with "scamming". Why should player support interfere? I just sold you a piece of crap for one million? Your problem! I just tricked you into losing something precious? Clever trick on my part, silly on yours.

    Why should customer support punish me or protect you from this?

    Can people not differentiate between going to the police in the real world and playing in a virtual world?

    In UO you had the option to kill scammers with your axe, you could even hire bounty hunters and put a price on their heads.

    I also know nobody who fell more than once for the same scam, and after getting hurt a bit, people got much more careful and well… I hardly know anyone who got "scammed" more than once!

    "Exploits & Hacks":
    Using exploits and hacks is a completely different matter. "Speedhacks" really pissed me off. 🙁

    Sometimes there is a grey area which is mostly to blame on the developer and obvious flaws of the game mechanics, where it is hard to put the blame for abusing them on teh players.

  14. "My griefing came economically in MMOs."

    Word! My most favorite aspect of games is the economy, and playing the "Used Car Salesman" is insanely fun! Running "legit" scams, undercutting the competition, then taking out the market. Freaking love it!

    Beej, you find a good game with as much freedom as UO (and decent design), let me know, I will so hit that up with you.

  15. "I also wonder why people have a problem with "scamming". Why should player support interfere? I just sold you a piece of crap for one million? Your problem! I just tricked you into losing something precious? Clever trick on my part, silly on yours."

    100% Agree!

  16. Nope, you're not "exploring your dark side." You're being a fucking douchebag to people who have no possibility of fighting back. No, this isn't some noble sociological experiment, it's you showing your true colors.

    If you did this bullshit to your own family members, they'd rightly call you out for being a fucking douchebag.

    The fact that you don't personally know the strangers you're harassing doesn't suddenly make it "okay." Sorry, you're just another asshole, nothing special at all.

  17. I dreaded the day I would have to say this, but I don't appreciate being cursed at.

    While I disagree with what you say about me, you have every right to say them to me, even here. What you do not have the right to do is use profanity on my blog which I do my best to actually make readable.

    I'm not going to edit it out and censor it (as I am opposed to that kind of moderation). I will however ask that you mind your language, or I will have to resort to that kind of moderation. I want a debate of ideas, not a contest of who can string together the most expletives.

    I might be all the things you call me, but in the game, I do nothing that's exploitative. I might prey on players who were weaker or unable to fight back, but that is allowed. It might make me less of a nice guy than some people, but so be it. I play the game to have fun, and being able to "create" content that I feel has an impact is fun to me.

    I never said it was "okay;" I said it was fun. I said that it made the game more open and interesting for me. I never said it made me a good person. However, it did serve as catharsis for me in that I was a generally happier person when I was griefing in an MMO because I was able to expel that kind of demon when I was online rather than taking out my frustration on my family and friends.

    Like I said, I might be those things you called me, but if you don't mind, would you refrain from the swearing next time? I just want to talk about this stuff, and you don't sound any more in the right by using the F-word than by not. I promise.

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