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.
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
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.