A Game for Griefers (and why I think it’s hard to make a good one)

These are my notes for “Game Design Concepts” Level 8 assignment – we were tasked with outlining the concept for a game that appeals to the player type “Griefer” or “Killer”. I never quite completed the assignment by posting this to the forums, since the text was (& is) all a bit of a ramble while I organised my thoughts. Despite that, I think there are some useful insights here – and I might clean it up later into some kind of essay. It is written in the context of Richard Bartles article on player types in MUDs, but is generally applicable to pretty much any sufficiently open and complex multiplayer game whether played online, offline or on-tabletop. Read on below the fold .. if you dare …

The archetypal Griefer/Killer player type primarily derives pleasure in causing grief to others playing the game. The most pleasure for the Griefer/Killer is derived when they break ‘social norms’ of the game accepted by the majority of other players, and cause annoyance to those other players who play within those ‘social norms’. Note that breaking social norms is well within the rules of the game, it’s just ‘unpopular’ behaviour to most other players.

The difficulty in this task is that Griefer/Killer players generally do not exist in a vacuum, but require other players with different goals to feed off. Any game that caters to only Griefer/Killers would have difficulty finding (or at least maintaining) players of other types. I don’t believe G/Killers would derive much pleasure from simply ‘killing’ other G/Killers, if all players in the game were G/Killers with essentially the same goals – kill or be killed – since this would be the accepted behaviour in the game, and no social norms would be broken. However, I’d predict that a group of ‘real’ G/Killers, if they kept playing at all, would find a way to play that would annoy everyone, hence deriving pleasure – but this dynamic would not be the intended way to play the game (or at least not appear to be).

One strategy would be to set up dynamics such that G/Killers were griefing other G/Killers. The problem here is that if it was obvious to those players that griefing was within social norms and generally accepted as ‘part of the game’, the griefing would  no longer maintain it’s appeal.

To take Bartle’s example of a MUD overbalanced to encouraging G/Killers – he proposes that this would be an arcade-style shooter, which would preserve the ‘thrill of the chase’, but sacrifice the main motivating activity of the G/Killer – the ‘parasitic’ griefing of other players. Parasites need hosts to survive, and other parasites usually don’t make good hosts to feed off. I don’t believe that a shooter, for example a FPS like Quake, is a ‘game for griefers’ – witness how a new specific class of griefer just emerges instead, now called the ‘camper’ or ‘teamkiller’.

To put things another way – G/Killers knock down, and don’t enjoy to build anything except maybe their reputation. There needs to be someone else to build – unless the G/Killers can be ‘tricked’ into building through their own prefered actions of knocking down. Even then, the fun for the building-Griefers may only be maintain so long as they remain decieved about the actual mechanics of the game.

How can the dynamic of G/Killers killing G/Killers by made into a compelling (or ‘fun’) experience for these players ? For ‘pure’ Griefer/Killer/Troll player types, this is very tough, but most players will in reality be a mixture of player types. G/Killers that have some tendency toward the Achiever player type can be catered for – one simple way would be to make scoring equivalent to kills, with kills being reset to zero if a player is killed. Maybe also taking the killed player out of the game for a short time, and broadcasting their humiliation clearly to the other remaining players would help enhance the need to feel superior (at least for those that were winning).

Another less ethical proposal is to create the Griefer game as an ‘overlay’ or ‘meta-game’ on top of some other legitimate game or activity that does not explicitly include the G/Killers as an accepted participant. As outsiders to a larger group of players with different goals, the G/Killers would have a fresh stream of hosts to parasitize, as long as they do not become too dominant and kill the game entirely. One example may be organised groups that make a game of trolling Slashdot, such as the obscure, possibly defunct, GNAA organisation ( http://web.archive.org/web/20040805015319/http://www.gnaa.us/ , NSFW, depending where you work ). Bartle also notes that, on the whole, the game played by a G/Killer is a solo pursuit. In this proposed griefing/trolling meta-game, G/Killers with some tendency toward socialization would probably have more fun, since they can chat and brag about exploits, further fulfilling their need for feeling superior to other players.

I had a quick look at the Game Design Concepts course forums and noticed that Matthew Johnson has come up with a similar type of idea, using existing forums or social networks designed for other purposes as the backdrop for a ‘trollish’ game. A significant difference (both ethically and with respect to catering to the targeted player type) is that in his design concept all players appear to be willing participants – see his “Facebook Diplomacy“.

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