Monday, July 28, 2008

Ganking or Griefing?

The ganking is griefing opinion

The Escapist had a poll back in June in which 45 of 66 respondents (68%) felt that “ganking” was simply wrong. A quick perusal of the comments on that poll and you’ll read opinions like:
  • The only time ganking is okay, in my opinion, is when you do it to stop someone from ganking.
  • Cowardice. Unless it's in a really funny situation, I can't really see the satisfaction in killing someone several levels below you.
  • Ganking takes the fun out of the game. If you're the ganker, it can't possibly be fun to kill someone with no hope of fighting back, unless you are exceptionally mean or cruel.
In this Terra Nova article from 2007 , Thomas Malaby proposed that ganking is a form of griefing in which “Gankers [..] are getting their jollies in an endless circle of confirming their own expectations, mistaking the increasing number of notches on their belt for actual personal development.” Second Tense, a blog about Second Life, expanded and surmised that “Ganking is Mere Bullying” and therefore unethical and immoral unless it is a desired component of the game.

Ultima Online, SWG and EQ2 developer Raph Koster responded to the Terra Nova article on his blog: “A miner is trundling along trying to get ore to town for the purposes of building a commercial empire, while a [Player Killer] is there playing another game entirely[.]” Or as the GoonSwarm alliance in EVE Online would say, "You may be playing EVE Online, but be warned: we are playing Something Awful."

Now it’s worth pointing out that Raph wasn’t defending ganking or making any distinction that ganking is anything other griefing. In fact, his argument only seems to support the idea that ganking is in fact griefing. Raph continued, “Interestingly, the miner in our little example is perfectly capable of regarding the marauding [Player Killer] as equivalent to just another monster. [..] Instead, he’s angered more because he sees this monster as a player. [..] The complete disregard for the feelings [of the victim] is only possible because the victim occupies an uncomfortable position midway between real person and score token. If they were a just a token, the ganker would not bother.”

This distinction is important. It’s a foregone conclusion that my level 69 warrior can solo a level 69 non-elite monster. I ascribe meaning to the encounter because it provides experience points and a loot drop. The meaning ascribed when level 69 warrior kills a player controlled level 42 priest is that another player was inconvenienced or bothered by the player kill. The same result could have taken place if a wandering elite (like a Fel Reaver) had trounced the player, but it takes on a particular importance for BOTH victim and ganker that the unit doing the killing was player controlled. The conclusion is that ganking must be considered griefing because the primary reward is the joy that comes with knowing that you disrupted someone else’s game experience.

The ganking is NOT griefing opinion

One of the biggest problems with defining griefing (or ganking) is that it’s subjective. It’s completely possible (if not likely) that what I do and do not consider to be griefing may be wildly different than yours. So for the sake of making sure we have a common understanding, let’s start by reviewing the definition of both terms:
  • Gank: (4) To kill, ambush, or defeat with little effort; used in online games.
  • Grief: (2) Cause of sorrow or pain; that which afflicts or distresses; trial; grievance. (4) hassle, abuse
Purely by definition alone, the word Gank uses no language that is synonymous with any of the phrases used to describe Grief. So strictly speaking, Gank does not equal Grief. However, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to think that killing, ambushing or defeating can cause sorrow, pain, hassle or abuse. The problem is that the measure of hassle or abuse caused is completely subjective. In other words, if the victim feels no pain was it really abuse?

As pointed out in Raph’s example above, the miner and the Player Killer were playing two entirely different games. But what if they weren’t? What if the miner KNEW that he could get ganked and that was part of the risk of mining in that particular area? For many people, myself included, that’s part of the appeal of open world PvP. Simply knowing that such bad guys exist make the world that much more of an exciting place. I certainly wouldn’t welcome a real-life ganking, but in an online world I am willing to accept a certain amount of risk. The amount of risk varies on the individual, which is why many developers make design decisions to avoid things like perma-death or XP loss. Even so, the risk associated in a game like Eve is much larger than in a game like WoW.

The problem is context. If two people have the same expectations that ganking is simply a part of open world PvP, then it’s simply an aspect of the game – not griefing. Even the Second Life blogger I mentioned above acknowledged that ganking was acceptable if “specifically stated otherwise as a desired component of the game.” At the core of this issue is the idea that if someone willingly participates, then it is not unethical or immoral.

By contrast, griefing or causing sorrow or pain, is clearly unethical and immoral in all instances. No rational person would willingly opt-in to get abused and hassled. The idea that “you win when they quit” is most certainly in this category and something I classify as disruptive game play. However, the problem is still context. For some people, simply repeatedly getting whacked while trying to turnin a quest is getting griefed. For others, it’s an actual abuse of game mechanics (like tricking someone to flag themselves for PvP). Or it may simply vary on circumstance – no big deal if I am just traveling, but a huge deal if I am at the end of a 15 minute escort quest.

On a personal level, I draw the line at the exploitation of flawed game design. This would include things like intentionally standing in a place that made navigating or clicking something difficult or impossible, or tricking someone to flag themselves. It would not include world PvP if the game system allowed it. The game design is the important thing here as it’s the intent of the actual designers. In a game like UO or AoC where players can achieve bad reputations, the mechanic is built-in to provide negative consequences. Likewise, in a game like Eve, you learn to be part of a Corp for protection. Alternately, in Hello Kitty Online, I suspect that world PvP doesn’t exist at all and any attempts at such a thing would be griefing. At the end of the day, it’s the game designers that need to be blamed for how people behave in their games and only people who step outside of the intended rules are the true griefers.

I am also a big believer in Karma and the Golden Rule. Treat others as you would have them treat you. In Warcraft, this means I follow a few extra personal rules. I don’t gank someone more than three or four times in a row. I don’t gank people during escort quests or while fighting elites unless previously provoked. Now just because I follow these rules, it doesn’t mean that I consider it griefing if someone does these things to me. It’s just a line I don’t cross personally and anyone who ever did such things to me gets on my special little list of personal paybacks. I recently spent close to an hour ganking such a fellow the other day on Sunwell Isle.


Scott said...

I'll use your definitions of ganking and griefing, and tie them into how I relate them.

In my little bubble-world opinion :) I consider only the first kill to be ganking. "Hehe I ganked this lowbie noob!" Get my jollies and move on.

However, if I kill the same player repeatedly, even twice, it's now griefing.

If I know there's some risk of PvP or being ganked, that's a consequence I accept for choosing the activity I'm doing in that area. The problem is, this is not an even playing ground. I'm the one taking the risk, while there is no risk for the ganker/griefer. At worst, the only "risk" is that I might be able to call friends to help. But how long will it take them to respond, travel, and arrive to help you? While I wait, how many times have I been repeatedly killed or how much time have I spent in ghost form while the griefer corpse-camps me?

One kill, fine, again that's the risk I took. Two or more kills, and this guy is now griefing me; he is directly impacting my gameplay in a negative manner, perhaps even going so far as to demoralize me, the actual player, in which case yes that is "pain" and considered abusive behavior.

If there is risk for the ganker as well as the gankee, something severe enough to deter ganking to an equal degree that knowing he may be ganked might deter the gankee, then perhaps we're onto something a little more "fair."

But as it stands, the higher-level and better-equipped ganker/griefer has almost zero risk at all and we become his plaything until we give up and logout.

sid67 said...

Based on the poll over at Escapist, I would hazard to say that a large group of people would agree with you Scott. Others, like me, view it more in a cat-vs-mouse context. If I can get away (!) without getting killed, then that can be a pretty enjoyable part of the process as well. The problem is that I have my bubble-world and you have your bubble-world and someone else has their own bubble-world. And of course, our little worlds change based on circumstances and even mood. This is partly why I think we have to step back and base our ultimate decisions based on what the game developers thought was appropriate. People may not play by the same rules as you or even be playing the same game. Your point about deterrents to repeated ganking is well taken and definitely a step that developers should take if they want to eliminate that behavior in a game. Design elements like that make the “rules” a bit more clear to all people on each side.

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