A history of griefing: meet the gamers who, if you’re lucky, only want to ruin your day for kicks

The second tier use more advanced tricks, but don’t actually create them. They typically have some skill or experience with the game, whether it’s having a character at a high enough level to mess with people, or simply a higher understanding of the rules than the newer players who typically become their victims. They’re the ones who’ll do things like abuse their character’s teleportation power to beam someone into a fire pit, or go up to a boss in an MMOG and ‘kite’ them into a public area. Sometimes, they’ll even go outside of a game to get their kicks. Swatting, for example, involves calling the police and trying to get a SWAT team (or the local equivalent) to burst in on another player by pretending that they’re holding hostages. It has spread beyond gaming, too, with Justin Bieber recently falling victim to this kind of prank.

The top tier of griefers are the celebrities who either find and exploit issues in the first place, or simply become infamous outside of their community. The DayZ helicopter gang are the face of that scam thanks to a video of them pulling it off hitting news sites such as Kotaku, though they could just have copied someone else’s idea. Team Roomba’s videos of griefing in Team Fortress 2, including creating teleporters to send players into the line of sentry gun fire and glitching the spawn room door to lock both teams in the starting area, have clocked up over 5 million views. Going back to the days of EverQuest, Fansy The Famous Bard would simply draw trains of enemies into players, but obnoxiously enough to become a known name.

The effect has a lot in common with the popularity of con artist archetypes. While we don’t necessarily approve of what’s being done, we can still appreciate the style and ingenuity of it as viewers. A successful celebrity grief is as much about showmanship as the actual scam/attack. In the DayZ ’copter example, you know what’s going to happen to the unlucky victim, with the friendly banter adding a level of ‘they’re not really going to go through with it’ tension to things. Team Roomba’s videos work as entertainment because they don’t simply show lots of people dying, but have voice chat recordings of the team’s frustration, and the griefers sometimes raise the stakes by turning the whole thing into a quiz show. It’s so audacious and yet ultimately so harmless that you can’t help but find it funny.

One of the best places to find regular griefer stories is a Something Awful thread called I Killed British (as an indication of its popularity, it ran to some 276 pages long at the time of writing). It’s a reference to a moment in the Ultima Online beta when a player managed to murder the supposedly invincible king during a public address. This wasn’t really an example of griefing, since it only worked because the developers had forgotten to put on the invincibility flag, but the player was later banned for other acts.

General it may be, but it’s a good way of seeing how regular people who grief see things, and where they draw the line. One person early on happily admits to ruining other players’ nights by drawing armies of monsters to them, but refuses to abuse another system to raid their corpse. More often than not, there’s little mention of victims’ reactions beyond “they rage quit”, with the focus primarily on the mechanics of each scam and how the griefer was smart enough to bend the rules in their favour. Where victims are brought up, it’s typically to be dismissed for their inexperience – being seen as weaker, they’re considered fair game – or mocked for taking things too seriously.

This isn’t a universal rule, however, and different griefers have their own ideas of what they want to get out of it. The group myg0t describes itself as “the harassment authority” and goes all-out for reactions, with any hack or cheat deemed fine if it gets victims shrieking into their microphones. In the world of Eve Online, where in-game currency can be used to pay for subscriptions, grifting is big business, with one record-setting Ponzi scheme pulling in enough to buy almost 3,000 months’ worth of the game.

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