Why Griefing = Drama: Broken Immersion

by Alphaville Herald on 18/02/08 at 10:27 pm

A virtual “world” creates an environment where griefers can do the most damage

by Mudkips Acronym

[I recently invited the founder and retired leader of the notorious PN invasion/griefing group to write an expanded version of his recent thesis on the serious business of griefing. Here is his response - the Editrix]

Poolsclosed“Griefing” takes many forms in Second Life, but the results are the same. There are dozens if not hundreds of “anti-griefing” groups, all devoted to filing abuse reports, I guess. Why does griefing and trolling ignite so much drama and controversy in online communities? And why do griefing actions get an amused or positive response from people not in those communites? The answer is simple: griefing exacts the toll that it does on Second Life for example, because it breaks the immersive experience users have – or attempt to have – in “virtual worlds”.

There are a few different types of immersion we should differentiate before proceeding. First off, a movie, game, or other “alternate-reality” has a set maximum immersion. For example, an action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger may be expected to have less immersion than a drama or romance film. We expect Arnold to be able to fly over tractor-trailers on a motorcycle, and we do not question this when it happens, even though the scene violates all we know about physics – and common sense! We can’t get too caught up in this concept: of course, we can be “immersed” in this movie while still maintaining a suspension of disbelief. However, it takes much more work to immerse yourself in a medium where often events are surreal: I call this phenomenon absurdity. A film that is in a normally “serious” genre often has high maximum immersion, so if it does not deliver on its implicit claims to reject absurdity, the viewer will find the film laughably horrible. This is one of the reasons parody series, like Austin Powers and Scary Movie, tend to do well in theaters alongside the very movies they mock.

Second Life has unwittingly set itself up for disruption

How does this relate to Second Life? As a self-proclaimed and marketed “metaverse”, Second Life raises the bar on its claim to immersion. Expectations are high of an experience that parallels real life. With banks, land ownership, and many other institutions that exist in “meatspace”, Second Life succeeds in delivering on many of its goals. However, by attempting to parallel real-life and create a immersive experience, Second Life has unwittingly set itself up for disruption. As immersion increases, toleration of absurdity or surrealism proportionally decreases. Even more damning is that in games, users are much more disillusioned when confronted with the absurd, because they have put their own time and energy into constructing the medium. In movies, one is not an active participant, and therefore has much less to lose from the surreal.

Before discussing the effects this has on griefing, let’s talk about Second Life’s internal workings. Often, the main complaint about Second Life is not about griefing, but of its poor technical performance. Its graphics are relatively low-end for today’s standards, but what annoys many residents (and would-be residents) is its tendency to regularly spawn immersion-breaking events such as avatar corruption, lag, and inventory loss. I have even heard comments bemoaning the lack of free airspace in Second Life: users attempt to fly around the mainland, universally slamming into crimson parcel blocking forcefields. These issues are a good cross-section of immersion complaints, and while they are not entirely reliant on the concept (any gamer will complain about lag or losing his hard-won items), temporary loss of immersion tends to exacerbate the problem.

even mediocre events of immersion-breaking are generally considered serious -– at least in-world

The unusual severity of the response to griefing, then, is simply a consequence of Second Life’s requirement of immersion. W-HAT’s absurd antics such as running through sims in giant pirate boats are only mildly disruptive: their main ‘punch’ is that of ruining immersion. Many on the “outside” get a kick out of this sort of griefing, and those who take it to even its barest minimum (for example, dressing up in silly clothes) can sometimes be classified as griefers. Pixeleen Mistral sent me an anecdote via e-mail, wherein she discussed her venture to a SL golf course, at one point dropping quite a few scripted golf balls instead of just one. The eventual result was that they all took off at once, angering the golf course’s owner. Reading about these events may seem humorous, but to some, classification of these events as “griefing” is prime facie.

Consider the following truncated discussion[1] in the chat log of the “Philanthropy and Virtual Worlds: Considering Civil Liberties” event, which took place in the teen Second Life grid (where, incidentally, PN does not even operate):

Anthony Pomeray: Did she say PN, or PM?
Nexii Malthus: PN!?
Nexii Malthus: Griefer group
Nexii Malthus: Very horrible
Nexii Malthus: They are the cause of this debate i bet
Nexii Malthus: they cause a lot of grief to avatars and sims

Anthony Pomeray: Maybe the PN group could be labeled as terrorists…….
Nexii Malthus: they for example put up horrible grief and spam that make all ye customers run away
Anthony Pomeray: Do you think the PN group could be labeled as terrorists?

Nexii Malthus: They have done a lot of grief and caused harm to simulators which has caused them to crash
Alex Harbinger: In the future, I can see VR crimes being treated IRL. Although that’ll take a while v.v
Anthony Pomeray: Yes, I believe that they can be considered legally criminal because they are denying right to businesses and people.
Nexii Malthus: they intrude on events, large or small
Nexii Malthus: Denial of service is a crime
Anthony Pomeray: If they prey on people weaker on them that can be considered criminal, and even terrorist activity.

Note here something rather interesting. While much of the discussion could be explained away by claiming that the participants are ignorant of the definition of a “terrorist” or a “terrorist action”, we see here that real life definitions of quite serious events are being used quite trivially, attempting to expand the term to include putting up “spam” and scaring away “customers”. What would motivate one to compare the actions of a group that drops cubic objects with flying Mario particles in the sky to, of all things, terrorism? While the PN attempt much more disruptive actions than “putting up horrible grief” (I assume this would refer to particle spam, for example), here we see a throw-away use of a real life concept to explain a event which is clearly much less serious.

the traditional model of internet trolling does not fit many griefing groups

It would be silly of us to actually believe Anthony Pomeray views these events as equivalent to real-life terrorism. Terrorism has been defined many times by many different experts in political science and other fields, none of them even remotely similar to Pomeray’s. While I debate semantics in the work that inspired this article, it is unnecessary here: the usage of the term is most likely just for shock value. My point is that even mediocre events of immersion-breaking are generally considered serious events – at least in-world. Out of Second Life, however, such events are found generally humorous by those who watch them on video-sharing websites or see them in media like blogs, because those people do not have any immersion, or investment into the “world”.

In summary, the traditional model of internet trolling does not fit many “griefers” or griefing groups. There is little good news for those who want to get rid of them forever: Second Life’s own attempts in creating a virtual “world” rather than a implicitly less immersive game creates a environment where griefers can do the most damage. This is hardly a new concept – the PN, along with W-HAT and others, have repeated the ‘Second Life is not serious business’ mantra for a long time. Only now, though, can that concept be explained in concrete terms. The only prescription is to perceive griefing events in the manner in which they are often intended: to poke fun at the “metaverse” and its institutions. Users of online communities must step out of immersion and judge griefing events on their own merits – for their own sake.

[1] Global Kids’ Digital Media Initiative, “TSL transcript from “Philanthropy and Virtual Worlds: Considering Civil Liberties” event”, http://www.holymeatballs.org/2008/01/below_is_the_transcript_from.html

64 Responses to “Why Griefing = Drama: Broken Immersion”

  1. Darkfoxx

    Feb 20th, 2008

    Oh, and if you need me PN my ingame name is Darkfoxx Bunyip. I’m a co-owner of the GYC in Silvestone. Just try and get your lulz from me.

  2. ^ban^

    Feb 20th, 2008

    “Griefers have to respect others’ SL experience.”

    But it’s more fun not to. Invest money in something that will actually get you REAL MONEY.

    This link is related: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v373r0to8Pk

    Also, the responses to this article are GREAT, and mostly seem to follow the formula of:

    1) You might have a point.
    2) But it isn’t breaking immersion
    3) Continues on to explain above statement, and fails whereupon the poster demonstrates in an excellent manner what immersion is, all the while trying to say that it is not, in fact, immersion.

  3. Ava Cartier

    Feb 21st, 2008

    Second Life is no more an investment than going to a movie or reading a book. It’s supposed to be enjoyable, regardless how much money is spent on it or in it. Why is it necessary to undermine a person’s reasons for being in Second Life? Oh, I forgot: it’s fun.

    You want others to understand what you do and maybe even embrace it, or at the very least get the brooms out of their asses, but you’re making it impossible for this to ever happen. I love acting like an idiot in SL as much as the next clown, but to force it on those who are not interested repeatedly is not acceptable. Manners and consideration and horrible ideas like that come into play at some point for normal people.

    I’m sure I’m going to get skewered for this, so hop to it!

  4. Marc Woebegone

    Feb 21st, 2008

    Galatea Gynoid you are crazy to think that idiot cartoons that are griefed in SL share anything even remotely close to the victims and families of 911… grief on!

  5. Darkfoxx

    Feb 21st, 2008

    “Oh, and if you need me PN my ingame name is Darkfoxx Bunyip. I’m a co-owner of the GYC in Silvestone. Just try and get your lulz from me.”

    hehe :D

    Oooone litte, tiny, minute littel detail tho: I’ve not been involved with the GYC anymore for over a month now.

    Try and keep up, boys ^.^

  6. shockwave yareach

    Feb 21st, 2008

    The griefers have as many different goals as they do tools. But boiled down, it’s a group of people getting their kicks by disrupting other people’s fun with no threat of reprisal. There is no negotiating or discussion with a group of people who believe that being able to do something makes it morally acceptable to do it. It’s possible to kill billions of real people and end life on Earth by pressing a button – that doesn’t mean it is acceptable to do.

    Some griefers are this way due to youthful indifference. Some are misguided in thinking that anything they _can_ do is okay. Some lack empathy and don’t understand that their actions in disrupting a game is no different than flipping over people’s chess boards in the park. Some have the silly idea that “nobody should take it seriously”, forcing their opinions down everyone’s throats like their viewpoint was handed down from God. It is very humorous that the people who say not to take things seriously are so serious about their message.

    In an earlier day and age, they’d be chaining bears and shooting at their paws to make them dance. Today, they crash our sims and disrupt our recreation. After all, why should they care? No consequences for them to deal with…

  7. MachineCode

    Feb 21st, 2008

    I don’t personally care much for walking in and annoying people, I just want to see how far the grey goo can spread. Does this make me more or less evil than the other guys? Frankly, I was lost at the first mention of terrorism and “Leninist propaganda.”

    object_rez(key child){llGiveInventory(llGetInventoryName(6,0),child);}

  8. anonymous

    Feb 22nd, 2008

    here’s the thing shockwave, most of these people do it because they know there’s no doomsday button that will end the world. SL is virtual, the only way people get killed is if they kill themselves, aka, they do it to themselves.

    Sure the server goes down for a few minutes, people are inconvienced, it starts back up, all is well, the day goes on.

    Now, I doubt most of these people would just press a button that would end the real world as that would, kill them in reality. That’s the other thing, these griefers recognize the line between what’s real and fake. unlike you, who equate their actions inworld to stuff they’d do in reality. Yeah, I doubt you do the things you do in SL IRL, if you do, I’d be amazed that you could fly around in the air.

  9. ?

    Feb 22nd, 2008

    “3) Continues on to explain above statement, and fails whereupon the poster demonstrates in an excellent manner what immersion is, all the while trying to say that it is not, in fact, immersion.”

    Your logic confuses me sir.

  10. D.

    Feb 22nd, 2008

    “Your logic confuses me sir.”

    ehm… there’s logic? Cause I havent seen any on this blog for a looong, looong time…

  11. RoFLKOPTr

    Feb 22nd, 2008


    We don’t kill people, you stupid whore.

  12. fuzzy

    Feb 23rd, 2008

    If only there was another group that was dedicated to pre-empting Griefer activity by preventing their actions from working the way they intend, call them ‘anti-griefers’ then the griefers might get a taste of the bullying, the frustration they cause and the sadness that their actions display. They might see it from the other perspective. But probably not since they’re emotionally immature or, actually mature and malicious.

  13. Death Wish III

    Feb 23rd, 2008

    Fact is, ^ban^ and RoFLKOPTr, if you did what you did to people, in RL, in some states people would just blow your brains out and be done with it, and they’d be legally justified in doing so. Fact is you do it here in SL cause you’re all pussies with no balls (hence the closet furriness of most of you).

    I saw the shit you compiled on intblubber on encyclopedia dramatica and on your own wiki, including the statement that he keeps a machine gun by his desk RL so better not raid him RL. I lolled at that. Completely proves my point. He lives in New Hampshire, where its legal for him to blow you away with no legal repercussions, if you pulled a real raid on him. If you guys had any balls you’d go anyways. Lemme know when, I’ll meet you there… c’mon, do it for the lulz….

  14. I dont speak for the whole of the PN, Deathwish, but heres my ultimatum: If you do an IRL raid on intblub’s house, and manage to get him to run out the door screaming in a rage, so will I.

    Also, you seem to be under the godawfully stupid misconception that the PN is based in the Northeastern United States.

    Fucking idiot, we come from all over the globe, and so there are plenty of us that cannot do IRL raids on you USfags without wasting about 2k-3k USD to get over there.


    srsly, the stupidity of some people confounds me…

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