Friday, February 04, 2005

Games, griefers and blogs

The recent Satin Pajama Awards at A Fistful of Euroes became interesting as an example of game dynamics. As soon as there was a contest with participants, audience, supporters and a ranking list, a fairly level-headed and serious-minded blog turned into a gaming site in an instant.

What developed was strategies in order either to influence your audience to win. Some used promises like le petite anglais who promised to pose in a satin pajama if she won, some played the nationalism card, always ready to be activated in Europe, while others tried to be nice guys and make people go vote for others (my strategy was linking - I linked twice, once when I saw I was in the competition, and then, cunningly, as I saw I was nr 2 and it was the last chance for people to vote.)

As in all other games I have so far played, on- and off-line, of course we got both cheaters and griefers. The cheaters were still playing the game. I am basically too lazy to go from machine to machine at the college, and vote over and over again, but that's the kind of cheating which was more or less expected: that if you had access to more than one machine, you would vote more than once. This is taking advantage of loopholes in the rules in a way which does not really exploit the system unfairly, as the same exploits or cheats are available to everybody.

When the competition got ugly and national between two blogs, some of the players wanted more influence than the average participator, and developed exploits which took some extra effort. OK, I would have been able to clear the cookies from the computer and vote over and over again, but I really don't have the time, so that's one resource not available to all who would like to vote. At this point it's still exploitation or cheating, it's not yet griefing. The grief-play appears in the comments at two different blogs, at The Glory of Carniola and a fistful of euros.

One voter chose to make an issue of the exploits everybody knew of and had access to. This caused considerable grief, enough that Michael Manske of tried to withdraw from the competition in order to make certain Petite Anglaise won, and also made him close his blog for comments to avoid a flame war. At AFOE (a fistful of euroes) it caused enough grief that they are considerign changing the rules for the next award.

This is typical of griefplay. It causes personal distress in people who try to play the game fairly, and it causes rule changes, frequently at the code-level, to make the griefing impossible. It is also typical that the grief player does not consider his or her actions to be griefing. To them it is just one more exploit, and everybody can do it if they like.

The problem with grief play is that griefers only respect hard-coded rules, and barely that. If griefers can hack the code to get an advantage, they do that. If it is possible, it's permitted, is their rule. Griefers are the reason for umpires. They are the ones who will consider breaking noses and kneecaps a fair way to beat the competition at soccer. Everybody who plays some kind of game know one of these. They do however rarely know themselves.

Consider however that griefing is also relative to the people who are being ruffled. If they are a little sensitive to certain types of criticism, it will not take much to define exploting the game as grief play. And in that case the griefer doesn't need to break a single kneecap before causing distress.

I don't consider these different types of game behaviour to be limited to online games, but it is amusing to observe it so clearly online. Griefplay may be more common online, as in real life griefers tend to become excluded from playing quickly. The anonymity and larger player base lets griefers play their own version of the games with less danger of censorship. I suspect that griefplay is closely related to the flamewars particularly common on discussion sites.

Hmm, need to read up on that.

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