Anatomy of a Griefer

Like it or not, you cannot be impassive to it:Julian Dibbell’s Wired article on griefing, specifically what we’re experiencing in Second Life — organised griefing — may very well become the ultimate reference essay on description and motivation in the mind of the griefer.

Dibbell claims that ultimately griefers want to have fun and laugh at things that people find so serious; the more serious we find something, the harder they’ll hit to be able to laugh at it afterwards.

Open to discussion is, naturally, what we can do about people that claim of themselves:

Asked how some people can find their greatest amusement in pissing off others, ^ban^ gives the question a moment’s thought: “Most of us,” he says finally, with a wry chuckle, “are psychotic.”

Worth reading it to the end. Then read about Prokofy Neva’s interview to Dibbell.

And then discuss if griefers are just the ultimate jokesters in a society that lost their sense of humour; if they’re dangerous psychotics; or just bored people who revel in the limelight, and suddenly having found out that there is strength in numbers, and that the era of the individual hacker sitting in their basements without any form of social contact except bragging about their feats on the forums is now over, and organised griefing — sort of “hackers together, going out for a laugh” — is a new trend for the 21st century.’

[UPDATE 20080202: Hiro Pendragon’s excellent essay debunking the Wired article should be required reading]

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About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I’m just a virtual girl in a virtual world…

  • Bromo Ivory

    I read the article – and found it fascinating and about what I would expect – he seems to minimize the boasting and showing off that griefers do to each other – they may do it “for the lulz” but mostly to outdo each other – be the Alpha.

    The culture reminds me of the phone phreaking in the 70’s and the phone modem hacking in the early 1980’s.

    As laws and technology changes – and the more of the real economy ends up in the virtual world – they’ll be treated as criminals just as the hackers in the 1980’s started to get arrested – pretty much killed the brazen portion of the culture.

  • I have been wondering about griefing ever since I went to the RL supermarket after an SL ‘attack’ by the Puny Nigras. What if someone were to start throwing milk cartons around the (RL) place, or shopping trolleys even? What’s up with that?

    I still don’t really get it. Taking internet too seriously? Making me cry over a computer game? How the f*** do they know how I react to their antics?

    Maybe there’s nothing to understand, unless you’ve majored in psychological disorders.

  • Personally I can see their point – we take most griefing far to seriously. But by the same token there’s a difference between gooning and griefing. Cleaning up their crap can spoil my day, and not simply because it annoys me in and of itself. It takes time away from real work that I do, and which I would rather be doing.

    Crapping on someone’s doorstep for the lolz is something every kid knows some other kid that’s done. Folk usually grow out of IRL – so making a hobby out of doing it online and not outgrowing it to me reeks of immaturity.

    If they’re going to have their lolz the respectful thing would be to keep it in their closed forums, or if they don’t want to be respectful open up their forums to the kind of inane trolling they practice.

    I love goons, but griefing and sim crashing is just lame. I don’t think that’s taking it too seriously at all, as I guarantee the PN and such crews would very quickly find themselves taking it extremely seriously should they find their own channels under sustained and effective attack.

  • Dunno, Pavig… how serious do they take their lulz given the amount of time they put into griefing?
    And that’s not at least as laughable as those SL residents who get angry when you say the G-word (G * A * M * E)?

  • Pavig is right, they are just a bunch of immature lamers. There is a big difference between somebody that do griefing as a (violent and nasty) way of social critique and somebody that just fills own ego with script taken from the forum, running a free avatar and crashing a sim.

  • The Wired article goes to explore the whole issue a bit further than looking at the “lone griefer”. I guess that the “lone griefer” is just bored, immature, and has difficulties in accepting social elements. And is so closely connected to the “script kiddie” culture that it’s not worth studying as a social phenomenum.

    Now the “Organised Griefing” that the article mentions is much more interesting. We’re seeing gang-like behaviour. We’re seeing a social structure which works systematically to destroy other people’s work, enjoyment, or business, at an expense of a few laughs. There is not even a “political” or “artistic” message (both used in the past to justify obnoxious acts; in that regard, the politically incorrect buildings done by the W-Hat could vaguely be classified as both “political” and “art”). There is, however, a philosophy beyond their action: We, the griefers, are willing to spend time to coordinate our efforts to show you how you are wasting your time in attaching any seriousness to your work.

    It’s almost nihilistic in nature. And, as something worthy to be studied, very interesting.

    Then we have the whole consequences of their acts. Why should we “tolerate” a small group of people to spoil our work, our fun, and our business? Are they simply enacting their freedom of expression — using violent means? Where do we draw a line of what’s acceptable or not? What is more important — the ideology and the message of a group of 150 people, or the hard work of 12 million? Why would actions that would be (at least) classified as minor demeanours in RL are “shrugged off” and “accepted” in Second Life? What kind of society do we plan to create using virtual worlds, if we allow and tolerate such disruptive behaviour?

    And then, going further, my question remains. Is this kind of behaviour even acceptable? Is it normal (where “normal” obviously means: fitting into the average, expected behaviour of a society where every human being is but a part) or simply deviant? Deviant behaviour can be either corrected, or tolerated. Under which circumstances should we apply the former, and when should we allow the latter?

    In my personal morals, any kind of behaviour that prevents others of their freedom, their leisure, and their means of work (all of them unalienable human rights…) is deviant behaviour and not tolerated, and is to be corrected.

  • I personally appreciated the article in Wired even if it is slightly slanted towards the griefers, at least by comparison to the general view of griefers. In any case, it achieves an important service of presenting the motivation of this sub-culture, without which one cannot make a correct judgment. Ethical issues are never black and white and the motivation behind the actions is as important as their effects.

    I disagree that these organized griefer groups are driven by a desire “to destroy other people’s work, enjoyment, or business”. I believe that they are rather acting as a form of protest and I think that Dibbell makes this same argument very well. The griefers methods may be primitive and sometimes simply misguided and that is why I will disagree with them. But what they are protesting about is as valid as almost any other group’s views, they have a right to express it (it depends in what form though), and we have a moral obligation to listen to them. RL protests that turn into destruction and looting are also wrong, but there always serious problems behind those protests too that society cannot afford to ignore.

    My understanding is (not only from the Wired article, although it has helped in consolidating it), at a high level, about the role and purpose of the Internet. The griefers are an extreme of the opinion spectrum, yet still a valid one. They do not have the right to impose their opinion on the rest of the society, but a contrary opinion is somewhat also imposed on them even if it is done simply by outnumbering them. It represents the conflict between the serious Internet and the tongue-in-cheek Internet that used to be intertwined but have increasingly become separated. [Unrelated to SL, my favorite example of this separation, a separation that I regret and that I see as a great loss for the Internet.]

    I sympathize with the griefers’ opinions even if I disagree with the form that their protest takes. They are wrong in disregarding the opinions of the rest of the spectrum and in taking the road of violent protest. However, I equally deplore the way such a large section of this spectrum also refuses to listen to this one extreme of the spectrum.

  • An edit to my comment. It should be:

    “My understanding is (not only from the Wired article, although it has helped in consolidating it), at a high level, that this protest is about the role and purpose of the Internet.”

  • They may protest about common issues, nobody discuss that. But rezzing self-replicating device on the help island to “show” that internet is not serious thing is not protesting about common issues. Nor is destructing private proberty (even virtual proberty counts as such) on private islands. That is an activity of somebody who should turn off computer, get outside and find somebody to start having sex with.

  • dandellion, I have said that I disagree with the method they use for their protest but that I find the reason for their protest valid. I don’t understand which part do you argue with, because on one hand what you are describing is the method, but on the other hand you are focusing on “protesting about common issues”. What do you mean by “common issues” anyway? Is “common” a measure of validity for their reasons? Are you still contesting the validity of what they are protesting for? That’s where I would disagree and where I am making my point that too many people are dismissing the reason for the protest by raising only the method as an argument.

    BTW, most of the griefers actions rarely destroy virtual property and usually only cause annoyance. Your argument can be turned around on you and say that you “should turn off [your] computer, get outside and find somebody to start having sex with”. Really, most of the griefers’ acts are the equivalent of blocking traffic in RL, which can cause losses of revenue to businesses besides just inconvenience (just as in SL) and are forbidden by law. But I hate it also when this whole thing gets blown out of proportion, including associating it with terrorism, racism and antisemitism. I can confidently say that, as a Jew and knowing what is behind the griefers actions, I find these actions to be as antisemitic as Borat.

  • Common issues as opposed to private ones. Like it is not the same if I protest against grid performance and against my neighbour’s prims peeking into my parcel. Commonness can be justification for some actions.

    I agree with you that we shouldn’t dismiss the reason they do those things for.
    But I really don’t see that griefers are protesting anything. They are just enjoying getting other people annoyed. Right?

    //When I said destroy, there is a passage in Wired’s text about destruction of virtual goods.
    Racism maybe stands behind some of them, maybe not. We don’t know that for sure, but hardly that we’ll be surprised.//

  • Elsbeth Writer

    I agree with dandellion. If the griefers are protesting something, why haven’t they mentioned what it is? In 4 years??? I believe they are boys (however old they might be) who use their computer knowledge to “show the adults”. As in “They won’t let me do what I want, I’ll show them!” Griefing may well be a giant tantrum. It’s pathetic, actually. They really do need to get out of the basement and get a job. Productive people don’t have to find “lulz”.

  • “Common issues as opposed to private ones.”

    I hope you don’t mean what I think you do. It’s ok to protest against something that affects all of us (including you) but it’s not ok for a minority to protest against the majority of SL?

    “I really don’t see that griefers are protesting anything. They are just enjoying getting other people annoyed. Right?”

    Wired does not call it a protest, the griefers themselves don’t use the word to qualify what they’re doing. But Dibbell is doing a very good job at presenting the culture behind these groups and what they stand for. I understood some of it before, but I didn’t know until this article how they were all interconnected and connected to Something Awful. It is a culture with its principles and these griefers groups stand up for that culture. I call that a protest. It is as much a protest as a mob that goes around burning cars even if they don’t have a spokesperson announcing it as a protest with a list of items that they protest about.

    It is a protest when it is targetted at individuals like Prokofy or Anshe. Right or wrong, those targets are not picked at random or just for the celebrity factor. As for the racist images and remarks, they are made purely to shock and to make the point that whatever happens in this medium should not be taken seriously. That has been stated by griefers many times. That is another form of protest to me, as misguided as it may be, and I recognize the point as valid even if the opposite argument is valid too.

    I’m not sure what passage you are referring to from Wired about destruction. A passage that stands out in my opinion is: ‘Still, even the fiercest of Prokofy’s antagonists recognize her central point: Once real money is at stake, “serious business” starts to look a lot like, well, serious business, and messing with it starts to take on buzz-killing legal implications.’

    See even Prok’s most recent attack on griefers. It does not talk about destruction or material damages but mostly “harassment” and “stalking”. And that is coming from someone who is calling someone a griefer for commenting on his blog or calling Lindens griefers for using sarcasm when they talk about him.

  • “Common issues as opposed to private ones.”

    I hope you don’t mean what I think you do. It’s ok to protest against something that affects all of us (including you) but it’s not ok for a minority to protest against the majority of SL?

    No, that doesn’t man that. Try to read the next sentence too and you will see what I mean.

    From what you say, I see that you call what griefers do a protest but I still don’t see what they are protesting against. Unless that is some kind of teenage protest against the system as such. Or against “seriousness”. Well, that is ok too… that kind of rebels gave us a lot in the past (I do think this). Our culture is moving thanks to adolescents that are protesting over olds. But, may I ask, what griefers gave to our culture?

    Damage I mentioned is that space ship in EVE online…
    I never read Mr. Neva.

  • A protest is only a protest when it’s clear what the objective is. If I get 50 of my friends and block the nearby highway, the police will swiftly remove us. If I get 50 of my friends and block the highway while carrying flags and banners it’s a protest and the police will not act as swiftly.
    Griefers don’t protest anything, that line only serves to give their actions some legitimacy. Not with me, sorry.

  • I have to side with Laetizia on this issue, Lem. What kind of protest are griefers making? The message is (according to Wired): “let me have a laugh at your seriousness and ridicularise it”.

    Now it’s obvious that the above is a message (a concept, a political statement, even an artistic ideal), but I wouldn’t classify it as a protest. What exactly are they protesting against? That we are too serious? So a griefer is someone that prevents others of socialising/having fun/making business because, from the perspective of the griefer, all the rest of the world is “too serious”?

  • Call it whatever you want, I’ll still call it a protest and it is against the rest of this society that they see as taking the Internet seriously. Indeed, if it has a message and the message is understood, it is a protest. And if we were to call it just a message, how many people ever listen to it?

    When a mob runs in the streets, burning and looting, it is still a form of protest because you know what triggered it, even if they don’t carry signs and publish a list of demands. I admit that the griefer groups are not very communicative about their motivations, but they occasionally get involved in the debates and you can hear their voices if you listen. More importantly, there have been plenty of people from outside of the groups discussing this, the Wired article is not the first, maybe only the clearest and the more authoritative. And this is what bugs me, that there is so much explained there about what there is in terms of motivation and culture of the organized griefers, and yet people hear only what they want to hear. Dandellion, for instance, picks on one instance (the destruction of the EVE ship) that Wired presents as an exception and that is even technically impossible in SL and she focuses on that.

    Yes, their protest is against the “serious” Internet and against the people who take it seriously at the other end of the spectrum. Businesses, extropians, role-players (no offence, some of my best friends are in those categories). And yes, they do bring something to our culture. You may laugh, but I consider flying penises to be indeed a contribution to the SL culture. It brings balance and it keeps most of us somewhere in the middle of the seriousness spectrum.

    What makes you otherwise think that you understand what motivates these organized griefers? There are all these comments spreading like memes that griefers are bullies, they must be doing it because they enjoy hurting people, what other reason could there be? But how do you know that? It is really a meme, carried on by enough people saying the same thing. I doubt that you have directly interacted with any organized griefers (I can’t say I have either beyond reading some of their public comments, but I ended up seeing something true in all of the arguments). For once, someone like Dibbell comes along and shows there is more behind this and yet that doesn’t get through to most people. I cannot do it better than Dibbell and I’ll just give up. Nobody even really has to understand, I only think it is interesting and useful if you do.

  • It strikes me that these griefers are amongst the most immature people that are likely to be found, and, given the immaturity of many, that is no mean feat.

    As to their motivation, why do they think that the internet, in particular, is too serious? Why do they tolerate seriousness in everything but one particular mode of communication? Why are they not setting off stink bombs in offices or standing outside funeral parlours with water pistols? The answer, no doubt, is because it would be far easier to catch them doing that, and that they would see people’s distress first hand and might feel uncomfortable about it.

    It is extremely probable that the real reason that these people focus their attention on the internet is not because they have any set of beliefs about how seriously that the internet, in particular, ought be taken, but because it is easier to get away with things like that on the internet (and especially in virtual worlds and multilayer games) than it is in person-to-person situations, and because the human effects are more distant, and therefore those who perpetrate the immature acts are less likely to be made to feel uncomfortable.

    These people are not “psychopaths”, as the person interviewed suggested: if they were, they would draw no distinction between standing outside the funeral parlour with water pistols and griefing in online environments. They are just little boys who haven’t grown up and want to have their immature fun without feeling bad about it or getting caught. They are the online equivalents of people who spray graffiti on trains or set off fire alarms for fun, except that the latter tend to grow out of it by the time that they reach about eighteen years of age.

  • Babs

    Makes me laugh that griefers are now trying to legitimize themselves as some sort of Tricksters on a mission to teach the rest of us not to take life (first or second) too seriously. C’mon. They are goons and thugs with no other intention than to ruin the fun of someone else or, that other wonderful motivation, prove their superiority and establish control over others (everything about humans and human society that makes me sick to my stomach). To top it all off griefer attacks are often targetted at the self-identified minority cultures, such as Furries, and often involve racial and homophobic slurs.

    Sure, Mario heads proliferating throughout my virtual tea party is not really a big deal, but let’s not legitmize and mythologize what are essentially online fascists with nothing to contribute except grief and destructive power struggles. These people aren’t working for your liberty folks, despite what they’ll say in public.

    It’s a simple rule for a free, open society: you are free to do as you wish, have fun any way you want, as long as you are not interfering with the basic rights of others. Griefers get their jollies by trampling the rights of others, and as such they are fascist shit.

  • Indeed, if it has a message and the message is understood, it is a protest.

    I wouldn’t bet that message is understood. Nor I would bet that they tried to get understood. And let’s stop pretending that there is a message at all.
    That story about seriousness was just made up to make a bit of publicity. What is so bloody serious about furry community? What is so serious about help islands and sandboxes? Nothing, they are just high traffic areas.

    And Dibbell is not one who is trying to understand the fenomenon. Or he missed to share that in his article.

    Lem, when you protest you say why you protest and you do that loud, clear and often. I’ve spent too many of my days on the streets not to know how those things work. If you talking about soft protests in the form of cultural movements (very common to XX century) even those have signs, symbols and manifestos. If you talk about a teenage that do a crazy haircut to protest against society (though that kid is protesting just because of hormonal shock and a bit of adolescent frustration)… well, go to your parents and protest, they are the only who need to listen. And when that kind of protest go out of the family and start damaging other people’s property, then it is not protest anymore, it is deliquency.

  • Coyote

    @Elsbeth said she ‘believe[s] they are boys (however old they might be) who use their computer knowledge to “show the adults”‘.
    She’s quite right, and I thought the article made that point nicely — especially the accompanying photos. Prok may well rail against the pic they used, but pair that with the opening photo and you clearly see the age-old story of adolescent puffery (literally, here!) vs. Mean Old Mom.

  • The problem with the WIRED article – and many other discussions about the phenomenon in academic circles, too – is that the term “griefer” is strongly connected with creativity, artistic expression or some form of “protest”. I am not denying the fact that all of this *might* be involved with *some* of the organized griefer groups.

    But the vast majority of the griefers you meet on online platforms are just adolescent boys (of any age) shouting for some attention with the only means they can imagine: annoying or attacking others. Their methods are rarely creative. 🙂 My 8yr old son behaves like this, too, especially when he is tired or bored. Most children do so during certain phases in their development. It is especially widespread among groups of boys where griefing (bullying, destroying stuff, clowning around, disturbing other groups who do “serious” stuff etc.) is an easier way, often, to get attention/ acknowledgment/ reputation than creative accomplishments. It is annoying but nothing to worry about, too much.

    But it is rather sad, when the boys get stuck with these behavioral patterns. And there is not need to glorify this behavior.

  • Sunspot

    As to their motivation, why do they think that the internet, in particular, is too serious? Why do they tolerate seriousness in everything but one particular mode of communication? Why are they not setting off stink bombs in offices or standing outside funeral parlours with water pistols? The answer, no doubt, is because it would be far easier to catch them doing that, and that they would see people’s distress first hand and might feel uncomfortable about it.

    Yeah, I wonder about this too, it’s an excellent point, and thank you for making it. Especially the part of why they focus on just the internet mode of interaction. I think you hit it on the head – it’s because they can get away with it online. All the other stuff is just a smokescreen, in my opinion.

    That’s OK though, because some day, sooner than later, the rest of the world is going to catch up to the net, and they won’t be tolerated anymore, not anymore than juvenile delinquent vandals are in first life.

    I want to address Lem for a moment.

    Lem, I completely disagree with your assessment of these griefers, but I will humour you, for the sake of debate.

    So, let’s say it IS a protest. Great. In life, (and the internet is part of life, despite the bizarre desire many people have to cordon it off as “not real life” – do they do that with telephones and while at sporting events too, one wonders?), if you want to have a protest, you inform the city you want to protest in, or you end up in jail, and even then – if you hold an approved protest, if things get out of hand, people still end up going to jail, and they get criticised.

    Simply labeling an event as a protest doesn’t afford it some sort of immunity from law, criticism, nor widely accepted societal norms. Most of the time, these kids do their dirty work on other people’s property – not the hallmark of a true protest. I would entertain your point more, if most of the antics these kiddies pull were done mostly on Linden owned land, but that’s far from the case.

    My goodness, if I used your definition for protest, my little cousins who were caught vandalising their neighbourhood (and their school) last summer could be viewed as protestors. I’ll think I will just stick to my thoughts that my uncle and his wife are terrible parents. And they are.

    As far as you going on about “listening to them”, meh – I am not here to, nor am I obliged to, nor should anyone EXPECT me to listen to the “protests” other people’s failures at parenting; I am here to entertain myself and make some money. I get enough of dealing with other people’s parenting disasters in my first life, thank you. Further, I really doubt that simply listening to them will get them to stop.

    We already heard…

    … and we got the message – we’re too serious about the internet, and many of us disagree.

    I’m not going to change because of teh opinions of some kids on teh internet.

    Lastly, I want to point out the supreme irony in all this “this is a form of protest” stuff. If this is indeed a protest, then it strikes me that it is the griefers who are taking the net too seriously.

    Onto the original topic – the article. I am a subscriber to Wired and just got around to reading that article yesterday. While I appreciated Dibbel’s info about the history of SA, et al, (I knew quite a bit already, but he filled in some gaps for me), I really did not appreciate his kid gloves portrayal of griefers.

  • Excellent point, Sunspot!

  • Oops, I messed up the post. This was the excellent comment:

    “Lastly, I want to point out the supreme irony in all this “this is a form of protest” stuff. If this is indeed a protest, then it strikes me that it is the griefers who are taking the net too seriously.”

  • Corcosman

    Shortly after coming to SL I was sitting in a crowded area one night. A dozen different conversations were going on at the same time in open chat. People were talking about things trivial and serious, technical and humorous. Sort of like cocktail party chatter.

    A person showed up and attempted to engage the crowd. The more experienced people were ignoring this person, so I did too.

    After a few minutes the person began repeatedly screaming, “LOOK AT ME”. Eventually everyone stopped talking. The dog and pony show that had been prepared was executed and, predictably, resulted in an ejection and a ban.

    In the end, “Look At Me” may be the complete extent of any griefer’s motivation.