Is a Grief-Free Online Environment Really Possible?

Counter StrikeGrowing up surrounded by my brother and a mess of loud and sometimes obnoxious friends, I was no stranger when it came to gaming and trash talking. Whether we were swapping one-shot kills in Goldeneye, making fun of each others’ created characters in Wrestlemania 2000 or swapping insults during bouts of Bushido Blade, the smack we talked ran freely like milk and honey in the Promised Land. In my mind, this was just the way gaming was: friendly, fun and all in good sport. We dished out only what we could take, and only occasionally did the bad blood spill over into the real world, and usually it was the other way around.

My first extended stint into online gaming came with my late discovery of Counter-Strike my freshman year of college. What started as something just for pure fun soon grew into a relatively serious hobby. It was only when I dived in more deeply that I saw the gritty underbelly of the online world: griefing, racism, verbal threats and rage.

As much as I like to joke about some of these things, I really was astounded at this ugly side of human nature, which is obviously going to become more apparent the more people you throw into an anonymous environment. My first encounters with griefing and other things was in a Counter-Strike match, where a group of redneck-sounding guys were shouting racial epithets and slurs at anything and everything. After a shouting match between them and some other more vocal players in the server, the whole thing eventually degenerated into teamkilling and anger.

While we often joke about this kind of behavior, it really is disconcerting at best, and at worst horrid and sad. The recent dispute over the XBL ban of Black Ops players with swastika emblems only highlights that even nearly a decade later, we are still having the same issues when it comes to online gaming. And no, this isn’t about XBox Live and the typical stereotypical labeling it gets when it comes to kids and other obnoxious online brats. One needs to look no further than the Serenity Now raid of the WoW funeral to know that these people come in all shapes, sizes and genre preferences.

My experience has taught me that these people are cross platform, and the problem is more widespread than just the one service. It’s a bit dismissive to act like Microsoft’s service is the only place that idiots congregate on the Internet, and a bit obtuse as well. Are there more idiots per capita on XBL? Probably so, but that’s more likely due to the pool being larger. The bigger the area, the more idiots. It’s statistics, really. I feel like anybody with a reasonable amount of time spent online can testify that trolls and griefers are anywhere and everywhere. They’re climbing in our windows, snatching our fun up. HIDE YO KIDS.

Due to recent debacles like this, as well as many others, there are people out there calling for reform in the way that Microsoft polices its own service. But really, where does the responsibility ultimately fall, and is it being a bit too naive to assume that we can simply weed out every jerk out there that tries to use his anonymity to have fun at someone else’s expense?

Halo 3 Band of Bros

We could throw the blame on the publishers and developers, but how much manpower would it take to send that many “policemen” out onto the service, watching games and enforcing some kind of online law? Is this really where we want development budgets to go?

Another option would be to give the responsibility to the Microsofts and Sonys of the world, but even that carries with it a cost. As someone who dislikes paying to play online, I don’t like the idea of XBL getting even more expensive, and Sony would most certainly have to start charging in order to put that many enforcers out there en masse as well, when you consider how many millions of online environments are ongoing at any given time.

Really, the closest thing I can imagine to this online world of altruism would be in well policed dedicated PC servers. These are owned and operated by individuals, companies or clans, and they carry with them their own sets of rules and standards that all people in the game must comply and adhere to. Some of these are more lax on the way they mete out punishments than others, but when you find one that works well, boy does it shine. The only problem is, the more people will say that this is totally free to do on PC, that’s still just a lie. It might be free for you, but there is someone else paying to maintain and operate that server. It comes at a price for that person to have just the right online environment, and will if we want it to be more widespread in other places as well.

So what’s the answer, then? Honestly, I have no clue. To me, it seems that the idea of some sort of gaming utopia is a far-fetched one at best, but then again I have a pretty dismal view of the way humans will treat one another when left to their own devices, especially when no clear punishment or discipline is at stake. But the more I see things like this go on, and the more I join online games only to hear some of this same idiocy, the more I wonder if it’s too pie-in-the-sky to think that someday we’ll have a perfect service without paying a dime more for it ourselves.

What do you guys think? Is it naive to think that some day, we’ll have an online game that can rid itself of griefers? What was your first experience with griefing, and what are the things you hate the most when it comes to this kind of behavior in online games? Go!

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I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

6 thoughts on “Is a Grief-Free Online Environment Really Possible?”

  1. I think the a good solution like you pointed out was the online gaming clans. See when i go into my group of friend;s custom server in CS. Yes we were rowdy. But the griefing of other players was a minumun compared to Xbox Live. PErhaps I didn’t see so many new players like on xbox live so what? I got my friends.
    On Xbox Live. I met some really cool guys from around the world. decent not swearing every minute like some noobs Its amazing what u can do online. I met somebody from my hometown on xbox live while on xbox live.( I moved oversea). It was a surprise. It turned out I knew this guy and He was from the same high school I was. Naturally Its a big melting pot on xbox live. So you see! Grief Free Enviroment. Really hard. Yep.
    Rather just try to avoid those players. You can select as a preference on Halo Reach. Which was really innovative. Yep

  2. I think they need to revamp the whole ratings system. Its tough because no one is really gonna go out of their way to prefer a player theyll never see again, and hitting avoid player seems pretty useless too. Ideally, the +/- player ratings should be in-game. At the end of a match it should be pretty simple, thumbs up, thumbs down, whatever. Go a certain amount of time without an “avoid” and get some kind of bonus. Put a limit to how many negative submissions you can give so people who lost dont take their anger out on your rating.

    I dont know if well ever see a grief free online but if I went to go play and saw a “Find Match-Quickest” and a “Find Match-Similar Rating” option, Id be very happy.

    Please, put the assholes in one match and let the rest of us play.

  3. I think that there will never be a ‘utopia’ where we all say GG and compliment nice kills instead of spewing out negative statements. I think there will always be smack talkers and those trying to ‘get your goat’. It wont end. I think the best thing we can do without pushing it is what Raider66 said: more complex systems of preferring and avoiding, that can lead to more serious actions. That could be the wave of the future.

    I agree there are more trolls and idiots on XBL, for reasons like you suggested, but that doesn’t mean they arnt elsewhere. The mute button has helped tremendously, which Im surprised you didnt mention. If you cant get rid of them, make it so team-killing gets you booted and allow them to be muted. Thats worked well for me

    But I do not believe that this can be ‘fixed’. Friendly gamers can play with friendly gamers, the scum can keep yelling at the bottom.

    As for the Swastika deal. Seriously?? I hope they ban the other symbols too. That IS kind of stupid to single out one.

    While they are at it, ban the guy with the horse emblem with a pickle and cherry emblem at his nethers shooting a line at the monkeys face. I find that offensive too

  4. First of all, the internet is the Wild West. The Wild F*cking West to be precise. There are rangers that roam the wastes, small towns of relative harmony, and sheriffs that maintain order in the large scope of things. Normal people are the ones who don’t want any trouble (and in the case of games, just have fun). However, there are also outlaws, ineffectual authorities, and hideouts and cesspools for the outlaws to congregate. This is how it’s going to be on the internet probably forever, unless some organization pulls some tyrannical shit and ruins the fun of the internet for everyone by turning into a overly restricted and regulated realm. What I’m saying is that the internet will always have the good, the bad, and the ugly. Most gamers are “good”, i.e. they don’t want to be bothered by bullshit or trolls, and some of these gamers might take real steps to provided fun for all to the best of their abilities. You have the bad, which is when some developers or publishers fail to combat griefing well enough and the game/network becomes infested by assholes, douchebags, and e-pricks. And then you have the ugly; the assholes, douchebags, and e-pricks themselves. I really fail to see the fun in infuriating people, since even at my craziest I never like to ruin other people’s fun.

    Now, the main problem with the internet, or in this case, online game communities, is that there’s a whole lot of anonymity. Anonymity…really isn’t great. It’s not detrimental, but…it’s just there. The fact that the world is so huge in an unmeasurable way (i.e. virtually) means that anonymity is essentially inherent. Anonymity protects little kids from being raped and people from being stalked, and that’s good, but at a much more common level, anonymity breeds assholery-without-consequence. Without a way to easily track players’ behaviour and punish them for assholery appropriately, anonymity is inevitable, and inevitably a problem.

    I’m certain I’ve been an asshole some time in my online career, but I’m not a troll. I don’t go around searching for people’s harmony to shatter. The difference between a stupid decision and continued assholic nature is an important issue that needs to be understood. If you make a dick move one time, but otherwise are generally an alright guy, it’s imperative to NOT punish that player too severely. On the other hand, continued assholery needs to be able to be detected.

    Now that we know that anonymity breeds assholery, but you should not have hair-trigger severe punishments, here are some ideas to combat griefing while allowing players to not feel like their playing in a tyrannical society of “fun”:

    1.) Have an online network that tracks players’ behaviour. This could be per game or include all game history. It would take a lot of coordination between developers to allow the network to track players’ behaviour across different games and have a cumulative behavioural profile, so it’s probably best to have the behavioural profile just focus on behaviour in each game, separately. The simple fact is that it’s hard to quantify good sportsmanship in several different games because the style of gameplay may vary drastically, so “defending an area” might be helpful in a cooperative game but be unfair in a deathmatch sort of game. If profiles are per-game, that means that desired traits can be specially designed for that game’s mechanics and dynamics. This way, the cooperative game can prefer players who defend an area, while the competitive game can prefer players who don’t use the “noobish” weapons. These traits don’t have to be the sole deciding factor in matching players, and should be ignored if the player doesn’t want to use them, but for the players that do want to specialize their search results, these options are there for them and can be scaled in terms of strictness and priority.
    An issue that faces the behavioural profile idea in general is that if enough trolls band together, they might just go around defacing new players by giving them bad reviews simply to ruin their social credibility. Still, having a behaviour profile at least within a single game is an effective way to root out trolls as well as improve match options of players who are upstanding “citizens” and have basically earned their right to being matched with the good-natured players of the gaming community.

    2.) Essentially an extension of the behaviour profile, have a matchmaking search system that can track preferred profile traits. Similar to Halo Reach’s player profile search preferences (Chatty vs Quiet, Team Player vs Lone Wolf, etc.), each player would enter their gameplay and social preferences and be able to search for other players that fit those preferences closely. To increase effectiveness, the use of a behaviour profile can allow players to be more strict in requesting friendlier players or more competitive players. If a troll has caused too much grief, that troll could be blacklisted, or at least flagged to show that he’s an asshole and that upstanding players should be wary of his antics. If a troll wants to redeem his former crimes, he can be put on probation and thus the upstanding players would be wary of him but, if they’re kind enough, give him a chance to redeem himself. It could be more or less complex and strict, depending on the players’ preferences. This might lead to a rift between elitist upstanding players, trolls who might have finally realized that griefing comes at a possibly irreversible price, and the new players that might just screw up at first but be labeled as trolls even though it was just a mistake. Perhaps the upstanding players won’t devolve into such elitist, but it’s possible. If anything, there should be a preference that determines how strict a player values other players’ behaviour profiles.
    Another extension of #1 and #2 is a search playlist that just finds players parties. If players are sick and tired of playing alone, they can use search preferences and, if they like, utilize behaviour profiles to find an optimal match for a party of other players that they want to play with, whether cooperatively or competitively. This might be the best way to allow people of similar tastes to come together and have fun together.

    Those two (and a half…?) points are my main ideas to allowing people to avoid griefing. Basically, just give the players the ability to search for other players that, based on search preferences and behaviour profiles, they will be able to have fun with, whether or not they want only strict results and upstanding players. It might take a lot of coordination to incorporate and utilize the behaviour profiles. It might require a lot of oversight to prevent trolls from giving new players bad reports. It might take time for the behavioural profiles to form because the behaviour has to be performed and evaluated, which means that players would not be able to get optimal results via the behaviour profile search options during the beginning of their online experience, which might turn players away if they feel they aren’t seeing the benefits of the profile quickly enough. Nevertheless, these measures are much better than simply letting trolls persist and not combating them at all, so the obstacles should not be feared but merely respected until they are overcome. At the very least, being able to find a party, small or large, of people with certain preferred characteristics, strictly analyzed or not, should allow players to find friends and not feel like they’re alone against a swarm of moronic brats and invasive assholes. It can also players who want to play large-lobby custom games to get together, meet each other, and have a blast without having to use the ranked competitive multiplayer search engine to find games.

    Comments or other ideas? It’s still a fairly new idea on my part, but with enough intuitive options for players to choose from when searching and ways to prove themselves in their behavioural profiles, along with a way to get honest results from the good players and not believe the lies and exploits of trolls, these can be early steps toward allowing players to optimize their experience with other, like-minded players.

  5. I think a huge reason that CS 1.6 still gets played the way it does is because there aren’t “Lobbies” or quick-match systems. Half the fun of having people come in yelling racist things or breaking the rules in YOUR server is egging them on until you ban them.

    As long as there are public servers with quick-match systems, there will be far more morons around running rampant. We pay to have our server up, our forums and website up, and all the admins volunteer (obviously). it sure builds a great community and that’s really what is missing in console gaming.

  6. This topic really strikes a note for me. Over the past few years I’ve played a few MMO’s, Runescape, World of Warcraft, and Warhammer Online, and in ALL of those MMO’s, friendly competition always escalated to tasteless insults, to griefing/trolling and it’s really sad because I believe it’s just human nature. The anonymity that allows a human being to hide from the consequences is a perfect way to show the true character of a person. In fact I have a very recent example, I still play Warhammer Online from time to time, and here’s a link to the Warhammer Forums. A person on a server that I used to play on, actually calls himself “ArmOfGod” and literally goes around the forums and in-game calling himself god and basically just lives to grief every single person he meets. And by “lives to grief” I mean he has kept up this charade since he started playing warhammer when it came out 2 years ago. He created the account with a bunch of friends with the sole purpose of pissing off as many people as he possibly can. Here’s the link to a recent post dedicated to him, note his responses (recently added a new self-proclaimed nickname Omnipain) Also that guy Nibblez is no better.
    Honestly online gaming has turned me into a real cynic.

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