Sympathy for the Griefer: MOOrape, Lulz Cubes, and Other Lessons From the First 2 Decades of Online Sociopathy

Jullian Dibbell

Pwnage, zerging, phat lewts — gaming has bequeathed upon the new century a rich vocabulary of terms and concepts, but none, perhaps, is so deserving of the century’s attention as the notion of the griefer. For Johan Huizinga, there were just two significant types of pathological player, the cheater and the spoilsport, but the griefer is neither quite one nor the other. Griefers generally enjoy the games they play, but by definition what they enjoy even more is robbing other players of their enjoyment. They are corpse-campers, noob-baiters, virtual rapists, whatever it takes, depending on the nature of the game at hand, to annoy their fellow players the point of logging off in a huff. By definition also, then, griefers are no fun. But that’s not to say they’re not having fun themselves. And what’s interesting about their brand of fun is that it almost inherently depends on locating that elusive edge of gaming where it bleeds over into very real life. From the days of Mr. Bungle in the living room of LambdaMOO to the armies of self-proclaimed Goons at loose in Second Life and EVE Online, the actions of griefers have provoked the rest of us into deeper examinations of the complex alchemy of seriousness and play, of levity and weight, that make online worlds so compelling. And as those worlds begin to interact with real-world economies in more and more significant ways, the role of the griefer in helping us understand them becomes more important than ever.