How griefing got its game

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When there are no repercussions, some people will start to do crazy things.”*
* Trump 2016!

It’s so odd to see this connection looking back to my time with online gaming in the early 90’s with the early multiuser games on single line Citadel BBS systems, griefing then was pretty hard because the popular games often didn’t have maps. It was all very Zork/AmberMUSH, etc. So finding someone to fuck with wasn’t that easy. On top of that they were just as likely to be a badass since there were no real cues about other players other than a name you may or may not know. The closest most folks could come to it was by organizing “hit lists”, which ironically were sort of meant to help retaliate against bullies. But if you’ve been getting bullied and suddenly you have the power stopping yourself becomes an issue.

The first time I saw and participated in what someone today could probably recognize as “griefing” was in the Ultima Online game. My experience was that the early beta players were all basically OP and were messing with every new player. So before even buying the game people would pre-form prototypical “guilds” (first time I ever heard the term in this context of online gamine was UO). So you wouldn’t be solo when you started. This game also was the first time people were really using grinding exploits found online, and there were a ton of them. And that exploit sharing community was also where the griefing exploit community originated. The same boards that told you how to use a wall of fire to level up your magic resistance told you how to trap player ghosts in keeps with empty chests or how to force a player to flag criminal so you could kill them w/o taking a hit to your reputation.

In my own click we would fuck with randos and n00bs, but I don’t think we ever targeted people or messed with the same people over and over very often. Mainly we would give people bad directions, teleport people into really hard dungeons, or my favorite one took advantage of a glitch for a brief period that caused people who tried to cast a certain spell to flag criminal. We would wear white robes and walk around pretending to be ghosts saying “ooOOOooOOoooo” which is what ghosts speech looks like if you don’t have the spirit speak ability. And people would cast res or ss on us (can’t remember which one was glitched) and flag criminal, at which point we would kill them and make fun of them to their now actual ghosts.

In retrospect it was pretty shitty I guess, but then again I never did the kind of racist/homophobic/sexist stuff that seems to be the stock and trade of griefers and trolls now.

I also think one difference is that there were repercussions. We were not invulnerable or anonymous in the game. We got looted ourselves often enough, at least at first. And the game had bounty-boards too, locked player ID’s and bounty boards seemed to keep some kind of balance when I played the game.


Honestly, it’s not different than a lot of the terrible behaviour you see in real life. Only difference is that the bullies don’t need to worry about getting punched, somebody calling a teacher/bouncer/cop. etc.

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