Good Grief

November 5, 2008

While having lunch with friend, we came upon the subject of “griefing” in videogames. He had mentioned an article he read in the Times about online griefers and Craigslist harassment spilling outside of the Internet space. In response, I bought up an old Computer Gaming World article I had read called “Confessions of a Online Hitman” (I believe that was the title) of a gamer who was hired, almost like a mercenary, to purposefully go online to games such as Halo or Counter-Strike to annoy a particular player whether it is closing in specifically from the opposing team or just hindering and irritating the player as a teammate. The extent that this gamer would follow the gamer from match to match is outrageous and frightening.

I’m sure we are all aware of the funeral raid in World of Warcraft from the clan Serenity Now. There is the humorous Team Fortress 2 videos from Team Roomba. And of course, VentertainMe whom Shawn Elliot had introduced to me takes Ventrillo harassment to genius levels. The best griefing comes from creative individuals that know the limits of their victims psyche and capitalize on their annoyance. These griefers think intensely outside the box and to their credit it can produce hilarious results. But there is also the presence of the psychotic in these individuals. They show little remorse and purposefully hinder the enjoyment of others. This is not Internet trolling. This is bullying. And yet the majority of gamers condone these actions. I myself am guilty of such an act. I make no qualms with the fact that I utterly enjoy these videos. It is strange how much entertainment we can partake in from another persons’ suffering. Of course we can rationalize it believing that because this is merely a game the stakes are so low they become inconsequential. We also admire the thought and methodical nature that goes into how there griefers approach their prey.

Kieren Gillen had interviewed Team Roomba months ago in The Escapist. In the article, FLOOR_MASTER (aka Ryan) makes one of the most telling statements about griefing and our enjoyment of the practice.

The move to griefing videos was prompted by the most dangerous of influences: plain boredom. ‘You run out of things to do and start looking for unconventional ways to have fun with a game.”

“Boredom” is probably one of the most telling facets in all media. I remember a discussion I had with one of my professors about the French New Wave and avante-garde. When it comes down to it, boredom is probably the most important element in creation of the new, the different, and groundbreaking. It can be the foundation for the divorce from everything in the previous movement. This sentiment of boredom can easily be found in games with its repetitive and rudimentary design to the routine of multiplayer matches. And that may be why we appreciate griefing of this kind so easily. It lets us view the game in a different light- at a different angle. I have recently come across commentators claiming that griefing is becoming an art-form. But we must tread lightly to how we respond whether it is enjoyment or disdain because the further we go down the rabbit hole we may not like who we see when we reach the end.


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