Griefing people … for SCIENCE!!

A story that has been doing the rounds and caught my eye today was that of a  Professor of Mass Communications who deliberately riled up the CoH community and then wrote a paper (link is to a word doc) about it.

The way the story is being reported is that he went to a PvP zone on his superhero character and attacked supervillain characters. Players in CoH aren’t big on PvP and tended to use the zone for farming or private duels and he disrupted that, so they (over)reacted very harshly. Lots of smack talk, death threats, and so on.

And I thought, “Oh the horror, forcing people to PvP in a PvP zone! Whatever next?”

I was put right by my husband and friends who also play the game. Lum goes into this in more detail too. It wasn’t just that he was forcing people to PvP, he was actually teleporting them straight to NPCs who would kill them instantly, thus incurring extra xp debt/repairs that wouldn’t have happened in a straight player vs player fight. This would be known as griefing in most PvP-type games that I have played, although sometimes training people onto NPC guards is a smart tactic. Just … not generally when there is no skill involved and no chance for the victim to either fight or escape.

My friends weren’t just pissed off or amused though. (If you want to avoid gankers in that game, then just don’t go to the PvP zone, right?) They were utterly outraged.

Looks like valid research and a valid paper to me

Here’s my conclusions:

  • I think there’s enough material there on how players behave (cue huge overreaction) when their agreed norms are breached to make a decent study.
  • I think it’s interesting that the devs allowed such an unbalanced power into the game and didn’t fix it, even when lots of other players had complained. If anyone was ever considering PvPing in CoH (and I’m honestly not sure why they would), then I’d stop that thought right now.
  • I think that the fact that players didn’t trust the devs to stop the griefing affected how they responded. In a game where devs were quicker to hotfix PvP imbalances, they’d probably have just reported him and moved on. As it was, they felt powerless to stop him.
  • I’m surprised that Twixt had evidently played the game for awhile – because he says so in his paper – but didn’t explain why his particular form of PvP/  griefing was so outside the normal rules of behaviour. He seems to think it was just because he was making people PvP in a PvP zone.
  • He’s not very clear in general about what the game rules actually are, or how the game rules can be fuzzy or change over time in a MMO. eg. an ability that is legit in one patch can be fixed in the next. His goal wasn’t to change the rules though (which is what is likely to happen when you find an exploit), it was to break the social rules whilst still keeping the game rules.
  • I’d love to see him try it in a more PvP oriented game. Or one where the devs have more resources to fix stuff, or are just generally more on the ball.
  • The majority of CoH players clearly did not want to PvP. However devs had been trying to introduce it as an element to the game, it didn’t work.
  • Why on earth did the supervillain players not band up and stop him? They were PvP flagged. Was there an imbalance on his server that meant they were always outnumbered? Or some other reason they couldn’t take the law into their own hands? I’m curious as to whether anyone tried to stop him in game or whether they just left it as smack talk on channels and forums.
  • Shame he didn’t actually do this on a supervillain; being a known griefer would have been a great way to build up some immersion and player notoriety. And it would have been an intriguing way to grief people, bend the local rules, but still in a sense be playing in the spirit of the game. (I know that wasn’t his goal but it’s interesting to me that you could do it and argue that point.)
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26 thoughts on “Griefing people … for SCIENCE!!

  1. I believe that other players did band together to stop him, according to the article. He was able to shrug them off.

    Either he was a high level in a lower level zone, or he used the same teleport power to help him overcome the odds. I’d bet on the latter.

    I’m not really sure it does make a great study. It seems pretty obvious to me that when you act like a jerk in a community, then the community will ostracise you. That’s pretty much human nature.

    • But surely one of the supervillains could have grabbed the same power and used it on him?

      I just think it’s a shame that he had to use griefing tactics here. It would have been more interesting if he just forced people to PvP in the PvP zone without bringing that into it as well.

      • Not being a Coxer I’m not sure of the zone layout, but I’m guessing that particular zone only had Hero guards. Even if the other side had the power, all they could have done was teleport him to another part of the zone.

        I agree. The fact that he not only used griefing tactics, but also (I heard, not verified) ran away when someone or some group showed up who were able to beat him, shows his true colors. A run of the mill griefer who just happened to have a platform to cry out from.

      • According to the article Lum quotes he was standing at the guards so if you walk up to him the guards kill you. Evidently the guards are friendly to him and hostile to enemy players.

      • You guys sound like you haven’t read the article. You should, it’s hilarious!

        Never having played the game, but reading the article, apparently the teleport power only works a certain distance so it almost sounds to me that the villains deserved it anyway. Just stay away to a point where he couldn’t do that. On the other hand he used several other tactics besides that as well.

        I applaud the guy. Seems weird to me to play a superhero/villain game where neither side attacks each other. That’s like people who play on PvP servers and get really pissed off anytime they get ganked. Don’t play on a PvP server moron!

        Anyway, perhaps I just don’t understand since I don’t play that game.

  2. People already mentioned it, he was griefing people and then really wondered that people started to hate him?

    He played CoH for a while, he should have got an idea that people get angry over other players for less.

    I wonder if he really got the idea to write this paper before he turned on the power griefing mode or if this is just a justification for acting like a jerk.

    “… the social pressures against this sort of play in CoH/V seem drastically and overly harsh, even unnatural.”

    He could have studied so much more. How impossible it was for players to react in any other way. How people were angry that he was not handled by GM staff.

    I know of much worse player griefing, in UO a certain guild bullied a player by killing him over and over nonstop, camping his house and hunting for him, for months for no particular reason other than an immediate dislike of the player’s char by one of the leaders of their guild. They did not bend rules that much as Twixt did, but they still got terminally banned in the end.

    This is a rather weak essay/study, but it shows some flaws of game design – players tried to stop Twixt, but they could not. Support reacted very late.

    About the PvP element: Guild Wars also tried to turn players into pvp players with pvp as endgame content, but the huge majority never got into more than the more casual pvp modes.

    I wonder how people will love AION, this “PvPvE” element seems to be the all-out warfare that true pvp players like and claim to like, but I wonder how many will cry about balance issues and quit for that (fake) reason. Probably more because they do not want to PvP and get killed so much. Unlike DAOC, opposing faction players can invade your home areas, above level 20 there is no safe zone anymore. But it will need 1-2 more beta weekends for a majority of players to become pvp ready, i.e. to advance to level 20-25 and starting kicking butt.

    • Thought you might like this one :) The other interesting thing to me is that, like I say above, my friends who actually play CoH were absolutely outraged by this.

      Me, coming from WoW (and games which have a bit more PvP in them) was more like “So he made them PvP in a PvP zone, why is it such a big deal?”

  3. My question is, was he ostracized for “not following the rules” or because he was such a damaging influence that simple self preservation dictated his being removed and the validity of his behavior strongly discouraged. After all, punching someone in the face as a form of hello would be breaking our societal rules, but people would more likely react badly simply because getting punched in the face really hurts, than for some esoteric preservation of societal order.

    I guess, I’ve been on the wrong side of, “you’re not within normal so bugger off”, and to some extent it actually gets on my nerves that it’s getting equated with people responding badly to getting griefed. Just doesn’t feel like it’s fair to all involved.

    • Yes, I’m curious about that too. I am quite sure that players can be absolutely vile to each other for breaking ‘social’ rules. And I’d be very interested to see more of a study on that.

      But when someone steps far enough across the line to be seen as deliberately ruining the game for other people and those people are powerless to stop him, it’s easy to understand why reactions might be extreme. I mean, in real life if someone punches you in the face you can at least report them to the police for assault. In the game, you can’t even do that. And they may just keep on doing it until you quit if they’re a griefer.

      So yeah, I agree with you. It would be a more interesting (and useful?) study if griefing wasn’t involved.

      Would love it if he followed up by getting a job as a community manager :P

      • One could argue that the players were ruining the game for him. He constantly asked why heroes weren’t helping him. And the game’s premise seems to be built on heroes vs. villains which still makes no sense to me that they created that PvP zone into a safe haven…

  4. If you read the comments on the Nola article, some players who knew ‘Twixt’ chimed in and told their side of the story. Basically they say he died frequently. But if you’re playing to grief (not to advance) does that really matter? You respawn and keep at the person you’ve targeted for griefing that night.

    From the little bit of digging I’ve done, Nola is presenting a very skewed view of the events.

    “I’m surprised that Twixt had evidently played the game for awhile – because he says so in his paper – but didn’t explain why his particular form of PvP/ griefing was so outside the normal rules of behaviour. He seems to think it was just because he was making people PvP in a PvP zone.”

    I believe he knew exactly what he was doing, but presented events in a different light to the Nola reporter so as to make him seem more sympathetic and so get more exposure. More exposure means (potentially ) more sales of his upcoming book on the topic.

  5. Pete S: Thanks for linking that. It does sound from his blog that he knew exactly what he was doing … maybe he played for 4 years, was getting bored and thought it might be fun to wind people up and maybe get a paper out of it. I still think it’s interesting but he really should delve more into his own motivations and involvement. As he really isn’t an independent researcher in this.

  6. A few thoughts:

    1) Playing to win.

    http://www.sirlin.net/ptw

    Really no different from what the Goons do in Eve or what some level 80 ganker does in Stranglethorn Vale.

    2) What has stirred people up is his use of forums, even a newspaper article where he portrays himself as a misunderstood genius for clicking his exploitative “I win” button.

    3) COH managed this appallingly. To miss this they must never play their own game or read their own boards. If they saw this and left this guy to carry on that’s just stupid. It was obviously bleeding player enjoyment out of the game and although eventually fixed was left far far too long.

    4) I hope anyone banned or threatened with banning for running the Meow mission player-created dungeons for fast exp sees the funny side of this guy NOT being banned. After all using an exploit to grief people and ruin a whole aspect of the game is trivial compared to getting exp slightly faster. Not.

    5) I don’t believe he has research funding for this. I believe he secretly has research funding for a project relating to the behaviour of online communities when you harass and annoy them and this is how he is performing his investigatory research.

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  8. Well, the above wall of text might offer some insight into the peculiarities of City of Heroes, or might just be a load of drivel. It’s all fun and games…

  9. Great post that should make people think.

    I read his article and well … what can you say. He didn’t play the way others in game felt he should play. And in the end they shunned him from the community even though he stayed within the bounds of the game’s design.

    I’ve never played CoX but I’m assuming it is primarily PvE by the fact that players would farm in the PvP zone rather than actually PvP. He tried to make them PvP and for the most part they didn’t like it. He beat them using a tactic frowned upon but still within the rules of the game. Whether it showed high level of skill the end result was: he won. That’s the point of the zone, right?

    I’m sure every MMO has a few players that others do not like. Those that “need” on every loot drop even if it’s not for their class. Healers who don’t heal or rez players lying right at their feet. Players who always seem to beat other players (they must be hacking).

    Was an interesting read and shows the diverse reactions players have responding to Twixt.

  10. I feel it’s just too late in the game to be studying or experimenting with this social system.

    I don’t rightly know, but I also think it’s safe to assume studies by groups/analysts/individuals have already studied this aspect(maybe even to death).

    I would have found this much more interesting 5 years ago.

  11. Krosuss, every possible exploit and abuse of game mechanics is within the bounds of the game’s design. It shows a flaw in design, but people usually have some common sense and know that they are abusing them.

    Especially when they start getting massive flak they should think about it.

    This is when jerks engage dick-mode and even try to justify their behaviour by writing a research paper about it. Really, someone from his own university should rip this paper apart, it is a shame to academia.

    • Not saying I agree with this guy’s study or not. I simply found it interesting. You’re right about game design flaws or broken mechanics that players can exploit. And they will exploit.

      I play a bright wizard in WAR. For months folks complained about an ability called Rain of Fire (an AOE ability). Used in conjunction with a few broken tactics it was simply lethal when multiple BWs stacked these — a game changer. It wasn’t in my rotation so I rarely used it. Despite all the clamor I chose not to use ad nauseum knowing what it could do. I caught some flack from friends but to me it wasn’t me actually playing well, rather I was using something that wasn’t working properly and winning because of that.

      Many BWs relied on this spell and often that was all they’d use. It wasn’t banned by Mythic but was surely broken yet plenty of BWs spammed it to death. It’s been fixed but the other faction was screaming to high heaven about it — the player community crying out about something everyone knew wasn’t working as intended. Some folks take that road and justify it by what you said … it’s within the game and not labeled an exploit, so it’s okay.

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