I especially like a good fight when it occurs unscripted and out in the wilds of the world. If you catch me unaware while I'm grinding out one of TERA's BAMs or plucking gold from an ore vein in Aion, I'll be more than happy to cross swords (or trade frostbolts) with you. Winning or losing isn't important to me; the constant threat of attack heightens my enjoyment of and connection to the game's universe.
Unfortunately, open world PvP doesn't attract exclusively those people interested in fair fights. And in the games that make it possible, a certain small segment of players is working hard to ruin everyone else's good time. I speak, of course, of gankers.
Anatomy of a ganker
To my knowledge, the word "gank" evolved from "gang attack." Being ganked in PvP is different from being attacked normally; in a gank, the odds overwhelmingly favor the aggressor due to the aggressor having some sort of advantage over the target. A large level disparity, immense gap in equipment quality, and the presence of multiple players are all unfair advantages that tip the scales in the direction of the player setting up the gank. Gankers are by definition not interested in finding opponents on similar footing. Instead, they seek easy targets that can be dispatched quickly and with minimal effort.
If you've ever been a level 15 newbie and found yourself instantly killed by a level 90 backstab, you've been the victim of a gank. If you've ever been running dailies only to be set upon by a group of five players at once, you've experienced the pain and embarrassment of a gank. And if you've ever gone AFK to grab a sandwich and come back to find that only your corpse remains, you've learned a hard lesson about the nature of ganking (though, really, that one is kind of on you). Defenseless players are prey and powerful players are the predators.
The problem, however, isn't that ganking exists. One should expect to take a few lumps when leveling through a world where player vs. player combat is enabled and getting ganked helps you to learn situational awareness that will benefit you later in the game when AI-controlled enemies pose a greater threat. The problem is that ganking increasingly seems to be the only world PvP anyone ever does, and the transition has a number of negative consequences for both the victim and the offender.
Destroying the experience
Perhaps the most obvious downside to ganking is that by engaging aggressive ganking, you are actively ruining someone else's game experience. This is especially true if you elect to corpse camp or hunt the victim player, killing him or her multiple times just because it's something you can do. There is absolutely nothing fun about being a low-level character and having some level-capped jerk follow you around until you're forced to log off or switch zones. MMOs and other video games are in many ways power fantasies; having another player repeatedly stomp your face in will often sever the delicate threads that hold up your immersion and could sour you on the game completely. In my time in TERA, for example, I have yet to see a single open world PvP fight that looked even close to fair, so my approach to open world PvP in that game has devolved to trying to stay as far away from it as possible.
There's another angle here, though, and it's one worth exploring. New players are experiencing the world for the first time, and what they're learning about PvP is that it's all about ganks. They don't learn the joy of arranged duels to the death or how to turn an unexpected attack into a narrow victory. Instead, they learn that cheap kills are all that matter. There are three possible outcomes here, and only one of them is actually good for the PvP community. If a player's experience with PvP revolves solely around being ganked, that player will either avoid PvP entirely in the future (bad for PvP servers and games), become a ganker because it seems like the thing to do (perpetuating the lame-cycle), or find the urge to seek out fair, engaging fights through the leveling process and after reaching cap.
Which of the three seems least likely to you?
Destroying yourself and PvP along with you
There's another, less obvious downside to ganking of which many gankers don't seem to be aware. If you spend all your time picking on defenseless players who are unable to fight back, you're not going to be prepared when a real fight comes your way. The first time another player of your level shows up and pancakes you into the ground because your entire PvP skillset centered on the "find someone 30 levels below me" strategy, your whole ego trip is going to come to a grinding halt. Will you stay and fight? My guess is that you won't.
In living the ganking lifestyle, gankers perhaps unknowingly decide to ruin PvP even for the people who like it. As soon as the ganker is met with an opponent that can't be dispatched with one sneak shot, the ganker moves on to find a new place to terrorize players who can't put up any sort of resistance. If you're the type of player who rushes to gank reports to hand out some mace-in-the-face-themed justice, you're probably more than familiar with the pattern. Gankers always seem to lose their confidence when a real fight shows up.
This means, sadly, that real fights are extremely rare in the world of PvP-enabled MMOs. Thanks to instant-queue battlegrounds, the only PvP-minded folks left waiting in the world are the folks looking for easy pickings. After all, if gankers were such elite PvP masters, they'd be throwing down in arenas, not picking on noobs. Some games have been developed with a PvP focus in mind and draw players who enjoy that type of gameplay, but traditional MMO PvP seems to be accelerating down the path of "gank or be ganked."
Gankers are killing more than newbies -- they're killing the spirit of PvP.
Save our PvP
There's nothing wrong with an occasional gank. Getting one-shotted by another player is a rite of passage for anyone daring enough to set foot on a PvP server. And ganking can often set off a chain of events that ends in a massive PvP raid storming capital cities and taking out faction leaders. But when it becomes the only way in which enemy players are encountering one another in the world, ganking poses a significant threat to the spirit and viability of open-world PvP design.
So stop ganking. Or if you do gank, don't go running when someone shows up to even the odds.
Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews and not necessarily shared across the staff. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!