Potential avenues for MMO companies to deal with griefers

Ah, the MMO griefer. Most of us have encountered them, or been them, at some point. It can be frustrating to deal with but griefing in MMOs is enabled by the very nature of most online interaction -- anonymity -- and there's not much that can be done about that. Or is there? Much has been written on eliminating griefing before, and will continue to be written we're sure, but Allen Varney at The Escapist has a different take on handling griefers.

Varney writes, "The motive to block and frustrate griefers masks what might be a great opportunity. Can we distract would-be griefers? Can we make the game so unpleasant for them they leave voluntarily? Sure. But go further: Could we turn griefers, despite themselves, to productive ends?" His article "Wanted: Ganked or Alive" points out how the behavior of griefers is something that can be predicted and exploited.
Varney writes: "Like spammers, griefers can be exploited because of their strong motivations. Griefers obey psychological compulsions to push boundaries, demonstrate superiority and punish perceived arrogance and naiveté. Some griefers rationalize their pathological actions as 'teaching a less' to their victims. These compulsions make the griefer vulnerable to shrewd manipulation or punishment."

He gives some potential examples of how MMO developers or operators can curb griefing, namely by implenting a bounty system. As EVE Online players know very well, bounties by themselves do not dissuade players from inflicting harm upon one another, and an especially high bounty can actually be a badge of honor in addition to making the offending player a target. But what if, as Varney mentions, bounties in an MMO go beyond offering other players rewards for taking out the griefer. Having NPCs hound a flagged griefer could be a different story, and Varney cites the example of proposed bounty hunter NPCs in Age of Conan.

Wanted: Ganked or Alive also looks at deception in MMOs, and how this can be employed against griefers. "Many griefers work confidence games, deceptively cultivating a victim's trust, then betraying it," Varney writes. "A deception strategy makes development of that trust more difficult by making the griefer distrust the game itself." He suggests that game developers could provide misinformation to a flagged griefer, for example showing weaker players as stronger or vice versa, leading to a potentially grim end.

On the idea of altering a griefer's perceptions, he also points out a related scenario where the griefer appears to be isolated from the community. Other player avatars do not display, turning the massively multiplayer online game into a single player RPG with no fodder for grief.

He also looks at the notion of griefer profiles being shared among game companies to identify their subscribers as such, and how the communities themselves can organize and work together to reduce griefing. While not all of Varney's suggestions would be easy or even feasible to implement, he does provide some food for thought.

Why not take a look at "Wanted: Ganked or Alive" and see what you think? What concepts have you envisioned for dealing with griefers?
This article was originally published on Massively.