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Jun 092011
 
 
Editorial by Vagabond ‘Tony’ Carter

We’ve all seen them… rezzing replicators, spamming regions with obscenities, flooding your screen with whimsical to pornographic images and sounds. Crashing sims and viewers for fun, and with countless other attacks they claim it’s ‘just a game‘ and “we do it for the lulz” – even using illegal computer programs to steal from legitimate real life (RL) businesses, and harass residents in-world.  Some going so far as to track down a resident’s real life information and make harassing or threatening phone calls, and in very rare cases a few have traveled miles to mock their victims at their doorstep with veiled or direct threats. Who are these people and what motivates them? While the term is used in nearly all multiplayer online games,  in Linden Lab’s Second Life and other MMO’s we call them Griefers.

I’m not going to pretend this is simple. This is a complex subject, and  the motivations of griefers and griefer groups do vary from person to person. However,  there are some common threads which are found in the behavior of griefers all over, and it is those I will examine here. Later, I will delve into the serial griefer.. a much darker subject. To begin, let us look at a few unfortunate un-truths:

No one Begins as a Griefer

Oh how I wish that were true, I could stand around in Help Island showing off the wonderful things that can be seen and done in Second Life. Offering suggestions on how to deal with conflicts in a safe and sane way when they do arise and there would never be another Woodbury, PN, Troll Manual, or Plastic Duck again. The Patriotics Nigras were born on the 4Chan boards, after ruining Habbo Hotel for thousands of users. The question was posed as to whether Second Life was similarly ‘raidable’, and in December of 2006 they staged a raid on three of Second Life’s sandboxes with a raiding party of some 26 members.   It was the largest operation Second Life had seen up to that time.  By March of 2007, the 4Chan group in Second Life was disbanded with the aid of the very person who had founded it once she realized what the group had become.  The Patriotic Nigras would go on to torture Second Life until their demise in June of 2010.

Woodbury began in a university communications class room with Dr. Edward Clift pulling the strings of  then-student Jordan Bellino, the person who would later become known as Tizzers Foxchase. Both groups are now persona non grata, PN having been removed from SL back in 2005, and Dr. Clift and his students had even received notice from Linden Lab Legal Dept. that they were not to have any further presence in Second Life in April of 2010.

The evidence here suggests that with groups at least, yes people have and do create initial accounts for the sole  purpose of griefing. This is not always the case,  and there are those for whom a little guidance would go a long way. Unfortunately for them Lindens guided tutorials focus more on the functionality of Second Life than the social interaction side of things. It is here that citizen groups like the Justice League Unlimited /League of Heroes,  **Police Department** and others can make a huge difference.

In other situations a person may ‘become’ a griefer by choice, though usually this stemming from a personal conflict with another resident. Some use failed relationships with groups over clashing ideologies or xenophobiaas an excuse; in the case of relationships it may start as simple hateful or angry IMs and escalate to other nastier forms. Those sort of griefs tend to be targeted and otherwise leave others ‘out of it’. In cases of xenophobia (note I do not use homophobia as that is really just a subclass of the same), the targeted group is perceived as ‘strange’ or aberrant and rather than let them be and simply avoid contact, the offender chooses to harass and torment the group in question with similar escalation.

Griefers are simply misunderstood,  and are creative people who ‘push the boundaries’

No, an avante guard artist ‘pushes the boundaries’. A griefer outright breaks the rules. These rules are clearly stated in the Terms of Service and Community Standards documents available to all users and agreed to on initial log in – in fact log in is impossible without checking off the “I Agree” box presented by the client, a statement that the user has indeed read and agreed to the rules. While art may be thought provoking and may anger some viewers, the difference is the intent. The intent of rezzing Nazi emblem baring megaprims in a public sandbox, for example,  is not artistic, but is intended to disrupt its normal use and trigger as much drama and  discord possible.

Peacekeeping Groups Create Griefers

This is a cyclical argument and fails logically, the idea is that griefers attack sims in order to get a response from peacekeeping groups. Considering the actions of legitimate peacekeeping groups are limited to filing abuse reports with as little actual interaction with the offenders as possible, this falls on its face. All this does is get Linden Lab’s attention on the offenders and their accounts banned, and there is no generative  force at work here.

Now to be fair,  I should mention that peacekeeper groups should not be mistaken for what I like to call ‘sand box militias’.  These are other groups which make the mistake of using the griefers’ own tactics against them, usually and ultimatey violating Terms of Service in the process themselves.  They are really no more than griefers themselves at that point, perhaps with delusions of nobility, but the ends do not justify the means here.  Three years ago these sandbox militia were very common, but the League has set a new standard for peacekeeping, and militias are all but unknown now.  There are still some so-called “police” groups, but apart from the **Police Department** these are as much roleplayers as genuine patrolmen.

This notwithstanding, peacekeepers do not create griefers.  This is like saying, “If there were no law enforcement in the world, there would be no criminals.”  This line of reasoning does not even stand up under the most casual inspection.

*****

Myths out of the way, we are left with the question of motivation. Why would someone do this sort of thing. It rolls down hill to effectively one concept : POWER.

Ask a griefer why they for example , filled a sandbox with dancing Marios and sound spam and the answer, after the usual rants and abusive remarks, is almost universal: “for the LULZ“.  Well, what does that mean? Clearly in Textspeach LOL means ‘laughs out loud’, and the word “lulz” is a 4Chan corruption of this, but what is so funny? A sim full of Marios and sound spam is far more annoying than funny. The sim is effectively useless to anyone during such an attack, even to the griefers. The laughs, sadly, come from the reactions from other sandbox users, the sight of other residents fleeing the sim, or shouting / swearing at the griefers over what the griefers view as ‘just a game‘.

Just a Game…

Games have a number of elements to be considered games,  this comes in something called Games Theory which I will summarize here as best I can,  comparing these to Second Life.

  1. Games have players: Check, Second life has players/residents.
  2. Games have rules: Check, Second Life has rules (the Terms of Service and Community Standards).
  3. Games have Goals, with clearly defined winners and losers (less clearly defined in non zero sum games) : ok… here we have a problem. Second Life has no set goals.

Second Life is not then by strict definition a Game, it is best described as a platform on which many activities including games can be held. So, what is the game griefers speak of? It is their game, they have set their own goal, one of control. When a griefer or griefing group has effectively rendered a sim useless , they claim to have Control over it. This is nearly universal, a griefers “lulz” usually run along the lines of “I did THIS! – I have POWER!” If this sounds familiar, it should as this is tied very closely to bully mentality and has similar roots.

As with dealing any bully, this power can be removed by largely ignoring them. Shutting off particles or sound, sitting on the ground and continuing whatever you were doing as if nothing were happening (while of course filing an abuse report).

But while this is true in most cases, some griefers are so focused on what they’re doing that they don’t really care whether you react or not.  They’re going to keep going, until in some cases they crash the sim you’re on, escalating the stakes until ignoring them is simply impossible.  There is a type of griefer who is so desperate for attention that they absolutely will not stop until they have caused you so much financial, emotional or physical damage that ignoring them becomes dangerous in and of itself.  Griefers like this have a pathological drive, and cannot be educated, “calmed down” or reasoned with.

The need here is for personal empowerment and peer approval, this is why a number of griefers will post their deeds on YouTube as if to say “Look what I can do!” . The average real life age of griefers is between 13 and 17, a period when most of us  not in the ‘popular crowd’ were feeling unappreciated or put down by our peers. There are obviously more constructive means of acquiring peer approval and personal empowerment , but these seek the fastest and most destructive path. Typically this ends when they are faced with consequences in Second Life, this means a ban.

Chillingly this leads to the worst of the worst… the Serial Griefer.

In the exact words of once such griefer, Robble Rubble, posted on this very website:

“Being banned is a liberating thing sometimes, when before you would approach a
situation with the idea “oh I could be banned for this, I better not do it.” But
after you have been banned you stop really caring as much about being banned leading
to more freedom and risk taking. Nothing is really making me hesitate when I do
horrible things anymore. It’s not a hard process to reset my router and run a program
to change my hardware ID, it takes only a couple of minutes and I am back.”

These are the words of a criminal mindset. Rubble here (and other serial griefers like him) has given up on caring about consequences. In the same way a hardened criminal might say “So what, I get arrested I do my time and get fed and housed for free, then I’m back with a new fake ID”. This really should frighten, as it does as this sort of sociopath leads in but one direction, and it isn’t pretty. Unless this mentality changes this direction manifests in two possible outcomes in the end if taken all the way to its logical conclusion: prison, or death. In the end this sort of person is mourned, not for their loss, but for the wasted potential – unless somehow they manage to awaken before they actually take that final plunge off the cliff and turn their lives around.  Not all do, and I’m quite serious about the death part.  Some of these guys end up dying as an indirect result of some of the poor life choices to which they are led by their self-destructive, nihilistic personal philosophies.

That may seem a harsh assessment, but compare this situation to real life laws. In animal abuse cases, for example, the question is often raised “If this person is willing to do this to a defenseless animal, what exists in their mind to prevent them harming other persons?” I offer the following echo of that, “If this person cares so little for consequence in a virtual setting, what barrier exists to prevent them doing harm in the real world?”

The answer is very often, and very chillingly the same: “None”.

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