I like to think I’m a nice guy. I like to think that I play well with others. I like to think that I am fun to be around. I’m nice to those around me because my parents taught me that I should treat others the way I want to be treated, and that ended up creating a sense of empathy in me.
Unfortunately, that sense of empathy which I hold so dear to me in real life is checked at the door when I log into an MMO. Sydera at World of Matticus has a very interesting post regarding griefing, its root causes, and its ramifications. Her post really got me to thinking about what I have always enjoyed in MMOs, and I realized that I couldn’t find fault in the City of Heroes/Villains example that she used. The fellow she mentions has made quite a splash in the blogosphere lately because he “abused” game mechanics to impose negative consequences on other players. He then went online and began to write about it and defame them for getting angry. I don’t agree with what he did afterwards within the community, but I must give kudos to the way he approached the PvP combat in game. He did what it took to win, and it didn’t matter what the other people thought of him.
You see, I’m a griefer. And I’m a scammer. I thrive on negatively affecting other people in MMOs. And I have since the very beginning of my MMO career with Ultima Online in 1998.
UO was unique in my mind in that it was the first (and perhaps the only) online virtual world. Players could go anywhere and do anything at any time regardless of “level.” Because of this freedom, players who ventured too far outside cities and towns (which were protected by NPC guards who would 1-shot criminals) were fair game to being attacked my other players.
And that’s just the kind of interaction and freedom that I became enamored with. I realized early that my PKing (player killing) actually affected the game world because, unlike NPC faction rating in games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft, my reputation in UO was solely based on how I interacted with other players.
It was brought to my attention in comments on Sydera’s post that I could positively interact with other people and affect their gaming life just as much, and I agree with this. I could. But then I would be getting less catharsis out of my gaming sessions because I would not be “playing” anymore; I would simply be being myself. Something inside me says (and it’s likely due to the prospect of internet anonymity) that it’s more fun to be the bad guy.
It was a new role for me. It’s something that I didn’t get to experience on an everyday basis, and so when I logged on, I knew that there was a virtual world waiting for me to be anything I wanted to be. And I knew I wanted two things out of that world: to impact the world itself, and to actually play and have a good time.
Eventually, people knew my character’s name. They knew Damien Wyrmsbane on Lake Superior because I was a jerk. My roommate and I ran scams on vendors, stole people’s weapons with his thief, ganked people in duels, whatever we could, but we did it all within the confines of the games mechanics. No exploits.
I couldn’t even legitimately sell things at the bank because people would laugh and say “Haha, no way. I know who you are.” I was proud that I had to log into an alt just to conduct legitimate business.
The fun I had in UO did not come from loot or items or anything like that, but from the interaction that I had with other people in a way that I felt was new and refreshing. I could have very easily helped out newbies, made them happy, and they would have gone their entire MMO careers utilizing the things I taught them. But I wouldn’t know anything about that myself.
Part of what makes griefing so fun for me is the notoriety. Killing someone so badly in PvP that they make a forum post about it made my day. Having people run the other direction when I came on screen was awesome because they knew that I had a pre-cast Explosion made me laugh. Learning to be someone else (and not even role-playing, per se) was a blast. It was cathartic because when I got tired of being Beej, I could be Damien. I would have lost that cathartic element had I perpetuated a virtual version of my real-life self; there would be no separation except that I was being nice across the internet instead of to someone’s face.
When the fun in UO dried up, other games came out that held my attention for a while, but none of them like UO did. I loved Star Wars Galaxies and the community there. But it was never like UO. I love the friends I’ve made in World of Warcraft, but I’ve never quite felt the “world” feel that I felt in UO.
The reason for this is that modern MMOs limit the interaction between players more than is really necessary.
In a sandbox world, players will generally police themselves. Yes, there should be a penalty in game for being a bad guy (such as stat/XP loss for serial murders should you get “caught”), but for the most part, I think it should be up to the players to determine how and when they interact.
Current MMO design generally designates consensual PvP interaction with “flags” or “instances” and the rest of the game’s socialization comes from chat channels and cooperative goals such as dragon slaying or dungeon running. Even in PvP instances in games like WoW and Warhammer Online, there are still “team” objectives instead of free-for-all player interaction. If I want to turn on my friend, I should be able to do so. If he and I are out in the world, if I want to stick a knife in his back, I should have that privilege.
I made more friends in Ultima Online by fighting and killing people over and over than I have raiding in World of Warcraft. There’s something about the respect that comes from a hypermasculine ass-whipping that cooperative interaction cannot touch. As much as I care about my WoW buddies and hope they come visit TN again very soon, the stories of how we met and why are much more blasé than making a Catfud go to bed angry every night because we wouldn’t let him outside of his house.
And that’s why I left WoW and why I’m looking for a new MMO right now. I want a game that I can grief in and have a free world to be a jerk when I want to be. Even PvP servers in current MMOs don’t allow me that freedom. It was just a lot of fun to be someone else. Modern DikuMUD-based MMOs are straying away from that kind of player-created content because interactions are limited to the wholly positive.
It’s like the old saying that you can’t have light without dark and you cannot know good without bad; well, you can’t know the upstanding players without griefers. With player interactions being limited to only harmless, supposedly positive means, the game worlds become bland. I don’t put a lot of stock in MMO communities after spending a few years perusing the official World of Warcraft forums, but I do think the people who inhabit a sandbox world like the original Ultima Online are far more adept at placing positive and negative monikers and penalties on behavior than any game’s mechanics.
After four years of being limited to a developer’s idea of what I can and cannot do to interact with my peers, I am moving on. I am thinking of starting Darkfall, Mortal Online, or an Ultima Online free shard called “Defiance.” I am tired of being limited to a grind for gear within just a few locations in order to “have fun,” and I’m tired of not feeling that I have an impact on the gaming world. For a while, people on Lake Superior knew who Damien Wyrmsbane was. There are probably even some who remember the jerk I was to them to this day, and if not my name, then what I did to them. I bet there are far fewer who remember or care about Lesserheal or Veneficus on Malygos-US because as awesome as I am, it’s hard to stick out in a game built around conformity and equality.
In the end, I think my comment on Sydera’s blog sums up my feelings pretty well: “I did it because it was fun. To me, interacting with people is the heart of an MMO, and the PvE component of MMOs has always been lacking. Even in WoW, when I raided, the fun came from my friends, not from the content. I griefed (and hope to do so in Mortal Online [or Darkfall], actually) because I knew that it was the only way that I would actually have an effect on the changing face of the game-world. If I killed a monster over and over, it’d respawn infinitely. If I killed a player over and over, he or she would remember me, and potentially go to bed angry or make a forum post about it. I had affected something outside of the developers’ programming, and that made me happy. To me, that’s player created content, not designing missions or the like.”