Read this interview with Jenova Chen (designer of Journey). Included in the interview is quite a convincing explanation of why people become griefers and what designers could do to minimise it in games, IF they wanted to.
“I am a competitor,” he says. “I play and love competitive games. You know, I was champion at a fighting game in high school. I was a StarCraft champion in college. I still play DOTA. I love to win. I love to win. When it comes to making games it’s not like I love peaceful games. I make this kind of game because I want to win as well. To me the measure of a human’s greatness is the value they can contribute to society. The game industry doesn’t need another shooter; it needs something to inspire them.”
There’s this assumption in video games that if you run into a random player over the Internet, it’s going to be a bad experience. You think that they will be an asshole, right? But listen: none of us was born to be an asshole. I believe that very often it’s not really the player that’s an asshole. It’s the game designer that made them an asshole. If you spend every day killing one another how are you going to be a nice guy? All console games are about killing each other, or killing one another together… Our games make us assholes.
The thing is, everyone is seeking for maximum feedback. If you push someone in the pit then the feedback is huge: the other guy dies, there’s animation, sound, social tension and the opportunity to revive her. These things combine together make pushing another player into a pit much more satisfying than just pushing somebody into the wind.”
“I see,” I say.[…] “So what happened when you removed collision detection?”
“Players started looking for other ways to get more feedback. Helping each other yielded the most feedback so they began to do that instead. It was fascinating.”