By Dmitri Barvinok
Andrew, 16 and in 10th grade, plays Minecraft at least an hour every day, usually after school. He spends his time building virtual castles and complex machinery in a game that combines the creative power of building blocks and the role-playing element of a video game. Most of the time, he and his friends play on servers where they are protected from griefers.
A griefer is a bully in the world of online games. Griefers don’t play by the rules and attempt to cause as much distress and discomfort for other players as possible.
In Minecraft, griefers go after the creations of other players.
“I’ve seen seven hours of work get completely destroyed,” Andrew said.
Though many servers have griefer protections in place, those protections sometimes get in the way of regular players, Andrew said. Sometimes, playing against a griefer can be fun, since it becomes a competition and the game suddenly has a villain. Other times, griefers trick their way into becoming administrators of a server and destroying everything the players have built, which could waste weeks of work.
Andrew admits to having griefed himself. It can be fun, he said.
Minecraft players can become quite attached to their creations, especially as it takes many days, sometimes months, to create particularly complex or large structures.
These creations are important to the players, even though they are virtual, Andrew said. Though it’s not quite on the same level as his real-life possessions, he, and other Minecraft players, are upset when their hard work is destroyed.
According to Mike Ambinder, an experimental psychologist at Valve Software in Bellevue, WA, many people get pleasure from griefing others, and it often becomes a competition to see who can cause the most chaos.
Griefing can be very similar to bullying, as Andrew and Ambinder attest.
“The mob mentality is a phenomenon that has been extensively studied and definitely seems to be at play here,” Ambinder said.
The more players are engaged in destructive behavior, the more likely others are to join in.As with other forms of bullying, players sometimes get singled out and picked on.
“When people don’t know each other personally, that will never happen,” Andrew said, referring to the server he and his friends run, but he admits that things are probably different on large, public servers.
There here have been griefing concerns in a bigger game. Recently, World of Warcraft and the company that produces it, Blizzard, have come under fire for being lax on cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is recognized as a legitimate threat on social networks, but video games are often overlooked as battlegrounds for the same kind of behavior. One World of Warcraft player complained on the forums that a group of players was harassing people by impersonating players and bothering others, bringing blame on their targets. This is similar to Facebook cyberbullying when high school students create fake profiles of fellow students. They then post humiliating information about them, or harass others under their assumed name.
Controlling and preventing griefing is difficult. In World of Warcraft, moderators attempt to ban bullies, but they can’t get them all, because there are so many players. Minecraft servers can be protected against griefers, but the safeguards interfere with legitimate play, Andrew said.
Not all Minecraft servers are protected from griefers.
“I think it should be individually up to every server or person,” Andrew said.
Even if the server has anti-griefer measures, truly determined players will download modifications to the game that allow them to bypass server protections.
“Research –- our own and that done by psychologists ‘in the wild’ -– seems to confirm that incentivizing positive behavior is stronger and leads to longer-lasting effects than punishing negative behavior,” Ambinder said.
At the end of the day, griefing hurts video games and gamers, Ambinder said, and Valve is hard at work trying to discourage it.
As for Andrew, he will continue building and protecting his creations, hidden away on a private server.