The Second Person Shooter Podcast // Episode 2: Griefing and Counter-Gaming

2PS Podcast 2

Join us in our second episode as we discuss counter-gaming and spiral into profundity!

Link-Laden Show Notes:

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  1. Trying to think of an appropriate simile here…

    Saying “Twixt” was hated because his playing methods were “unpopular” is kind of like saying that that guy who always pays with a check at the grocery store, even though he has a perfectly good debit card, when 50 people are in line behind him is hated because he’s doing something “unpopular”. No, he’s not — he’s just being an asshole for no beneficial reason.

    • He was being an asshole FOR THE SAKE OF SCIENCE!!! I downloaded his 25-page academic essay on the project: “Play and Punishment: The Sad and Curious Case of Twixt.” Should be an interesting read.

      • lauramichet

         /  April 24, 2010

        I’ve heard mixed things about his project: many people saw his ‘discoveries’ as a bit worthless, since you don’t have to go into the digital world to know that baldly flouting community convention is going to make people hate you.

  2. The internet axiom of openness and freedom is its Achilles’ heel. The law of numbers means that the internet will always spawn someone to find your community’s weakness and be willing exploit it. A group of bored teens trying to be rule breakers and convention defiers, developing their identity by being what others are not, decide to kick over an online funeral, safe in their bedrooms built on a society of very real rules.

    We have real-world social rules for a reason. Nothing can be built if any individual decides to overturn all the rules on a whim, and “be individual”. Given freedom from consequence, people will do bad things. I have been known to sing in the shower, badly. I don’t sing at work, because that will carry consequences. I like my salary. No, really, I do.

    And that’s the most surprising thing about Twixt (even after reading the article). That indivudals evolve into community, and community has always been the heart of the best of the internet. Every internet community as far back as Usenet has had rules of play, moderators, and flame wars when rules – both implicit or explicit – are broken. Here we are 20 years on with a university professor totally shocked that he would be hated for breaking a community’s rules.

    I always find it sad, though, that as a result of the rulebreakers, enforcement is introduced. The community or developer gods of the environment will respond and find a way to prevent something which is perceived as harmful, and slowly, the openness recedes… making the internet more like the real world. We want openness; but we end up in a walled Eden, with guns at the gates.

    I suppose you could count the following as counter-gaming: Playing on Half-Life DM servers over 10 years ago, I got bored with standard avatars and chose the one no one else seemed to, Gina; I didn’t want to be some hard-ass marine, so cliche. Soon, I had another player hanging on to me, telling me I was a good shot. Then later, when I was killed by one of the other players on the server, my stalker messaged: You shot my girlfriend. I left the server, and never logged on with the Gina model again.

    • Whoa, man. That was longer than it looked in notepad.

    • lauramichet

       /  April 26, 2010

      concur concur concur

      I’m finding the community’s response more interesting than his observations

      But @Harbour Master: your image of the guns at the gates intrigues me. The question of maintaining the kind of liminality you seem to want in games– the openness versus the ‘walled Eden’ situation– is interesting on all sorts of levels. What kind of game could be the ‘most open’ and require the least policing? Games themselves are defined by rules. Games are MADE out of rules; rules embedded in their mechanics, in their code, etc.
      A philosophical and a practical concern rises out of this: is the essence of an open community a lack of rules, or is it a perfection of rules? On the practical side: would a perfect game for a perfect community be one where any kind of action is possible, or where actions are severely limited to prevent strife?
      Gnostic religions have this same problem. Early Christianity succumbed to the institutional church because an organization often needs structure in order to grow and persist throughout decades. Smaller, more-Gnostic sects had too little structure to compete, whereas the increasingly organized and rulebound institutional church provided structure, support, a sense of firm community, and the resources to expand. An analogue for the institutional church could be WOW, with its rules, regulations, and constantly re-organized and fine-tuned avenues of communication and cooperation. But I’ve got no gnostic game for you to compare against that. I should think.
      Indeed, whether we want structure or openness in our games communities is an important question.

      • Uh, Laura, if you could delete my duplicate comment – it ended up on the wrong thread. I was trying to reply to David Myers below…

        Coming back to what you said… David’s short comment made things clearer for me. It’s a game – it can’t be art! It’s a game – it can’t be a community!

        It’s not a question of game rules, it’s about what that game has evolved into. Once a game goes online, it ceases to be only a game. It becomes a place, a chapel where a community of like-minded people gather.

        Griefing is about gatecrashing that chapel and abusing its community – it is nothing to do with a game. People only grief where there is someone to watch and be appalled (your Garry’s Mod example was quite, er, revealing).

        Gaming in these worlds is a form of self-expression, so let me put it in terms of a place where you can discuss ideas. What kind of online community do you want to part of? A place you can post your thoughts, unfettered by moderators and thus run the risk of spam and psychostalker anarchy? Or would you rather be protected by a set of rules that would govern what you could and couldn’t say?

        But I’ll drop in a disclaimer, which may surprise you. I actually have little interest in online worlds and I’m probably more of a walled Eden freak. I like my moderators and prozac at the end of the day. What I do have an interest in is how online worlds are evolving. Because we’re all going to be there one day.

      • gotcha covered.

      • peasefan2000

         /  April 26, 2010


  3. dmyersloyola

     /  April 26, 2010

    “Community standards” do not usefully exist until these are codified — as in game rules or, in rl contexts, as law. This is the great achievement of democracy: to evaluate and, if necessary, reject the self-serving assertions of those in power. Until that moment — the moment of codification (and sometimes even thereafter) — “community standards” are simply a rhetorical means to identify, ostracize, and oppress those who, for whatever reason (eg, skin color, accent, religious belief), are perceived as threats to the “community.”

    For an online situation similar to that of Twixt in CoH (although bereft of an objective set of game rules), I recommend exploring further the Ludlow SL observations summarized here:

    For a more thorough discussion of the relationship between play and griefing (aka “bad” play), I can point you here:

    • My goodness, it’s Twixt masquerading as David Myers!

      David – I understand that we can say that a community standard of conduct has no reality until it is given flesh by an official statute of some form. But the way you have framed this, in terms of an absolute framework, has made me realise that perhaps we are missing a subtle point.

      Consider a “community standard” to be more akin to a set of morals; there is a clear divide between morality and legality. Adultery falls into the former category (despite a few legacy laws that have managed to hang around in Western society) as we have no desire to legislate individuals’ private behaviour. It is simply good practice not to lay down with your neighbour’s wife or husband.

      That is, Twixt’s crime was not of an illegal nature, but of an immoral nature, contravening unwritten rules that everybody held in high regard. Many of these online groups are fuelled (as well as griefed) by a counterculture; people didn’t come online looking for hard-edged boxes with rules, they went looking for alternative freedom. Making laws and enforcing them is just not what these online communities are about – they are often about fellowship. Social networks are the current buzzword, but the idea of a place where you hang out with like-minded people online goes all the way back to BBSs; look at the WELL, still around after 25 years.

      But of course these places are open to anarchy because unlike real world morality, there are few effective consequences in the online medium – which is why these situatons often escalate into tracking down the people in the real world. Death threats are the brutal side of consequences made manifest. Korean online culture is a great hotbed for these stories.

      What the online shopkeepers know is that community is what makes their worlds real, compelling and dynamic. Once these worlds go live, the community takes over – and it becomes a careful balancing act to retain control yet keep the people happy. Clay Shirky wrote an interesting piece on the difficulty of designing social software in 2003 “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy”

      It is often left to communities to police themselves, particularly when they start to use an online world in a manner that was not foreseen by the developer gods. But once they start to take up guns and walk the streets at night hunting down immoral behaviour – they are no longer the innocent community they once were. I’ve only skimmed your Second Life link so far but its moral vigilantes seem to fit the bill of a community destroying itself.

      It’s quite possible you have covered some of this ground in your work – I know that you have been researching this field for some time and wanted to get a flavour of your research rather than just take the newspaper summary of the Twixt issue. But a lack of time…

  4. onebitedan

     /  April 27, 2010

    so at kent’s request i’m posting a thought i shared with him via IM. (i’m averse to posting things on the internets for some reason) i apologize for laziness in fixing capitalization and any general lack of clarity.

    in my government class we’ve essentially been talking about the state of nature and the formation of commonwealths, and i thought it provided an interesting framework for thinking about what was going on in garry’s mod. at first laura’s discussion of garry’s mod reminded me of the hobbesian state of nature (Thomas Hobbes- The Leviathan, of Calvin and Hobbes fame), where there is no covenant forming a commonwealth, so there is no injustice, and thus everyone has a right to do as they please to anyone. but then there’s the fact that it would seem wrong if one player did this to her, which invokes a more Lockean view (John Locke- 2nd Treatise of Government, made famous by the hit TV show Lost), where there are natural rights that even in the state of nature must be observed. given this perspective, i wondered if a better application of hobbes in the situation might be the notion of implicit covenant. by entering that server she implicitly agrees to abide by whatever anarchical popular sovereignty has been established. and given that in the hobbesian view once one enters into a commonwealth’s covenant their will is handed over to the sovereign within the commonwealth (again in this case an anarchical popular sovereignty), no injustice can be done to her by the sovereign because by entering into the covenant she becomes part author of the sovereign’s act. so essentially she implicitly wills, is the author of, her avatar’s rape.

    just a thought from your friendly neighborhood non-video game playing gov major.

  1. Garrysmod anthropologically « Second Person Shooter

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