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.)