Ganking, Stealing & Training: Bullying Or Viable Strategies?
Petter over at Don’t Fear the Mutant had an interesting post about his reaction to some players exploiting others (in particular to some bank heists in Darkfall). It got me thinking about ganking and stealing and all of the less savoury activities which occur in MMOs and how we perceive them. Are they bullying tactics that some players exploit to ruin the fun of others? Or are they legitimate strategies as allowed by the confines of the game?
Right back when I first started playing Everquest, I soon heard the words “ganking” and “griefing”. These were terms coined to describe activities that were outside of the considered norms of acceptable behaviour. For instance, in EQ it was possible to purposefully ‘train’ NPC enemies onto unsuspecting players and wipe them out completely. It was a side effect from the game design as enemies were incredibly tenacious and would literally chase you until you were either dead or reached another zone. They were also incredibly fickle and aggressive and had no qualms about focusing their attention on anyone else that got in their path. Fansy the Bard became infamous for this and it was an activity that was bound to not only irritate players but also attract the attention of the GMs.
A little later when I started playing Dark Age of Camelot on a FFA PvP server I had my first ganking experience. I distinctly recall my level 8 character being killed repeatedly at my spawn point by a level 50 Lurikeen Eldritch. Eventually I had to pull the plug and walk away because he just wouldn’t stop and, suffice to say, it put me off PvP for a while. However, unlike trains in Everquest, this was not considered a player offense and the GMs would do nothing about it as they deemed it to be a perfectly legitimate PvP activity.
Of course now we have games like EVE Online in which infiltrating corporations, betraying comrades and robbing banks are not only legitimate parts of the game but actually part of it’s appeal. It’s all very confusing. If I betrayed my guild in EVE I could be a hero but if I did it in World of Warcraft, I’d be the scum of the Earth. Where exactly are the boundaries and who defines them?
It seems to me that the more freedom the developers bestow on the player, the less they will interfere with the activities that go on within the games walls. So long as this made clear, players don’t seem to have a problem with it either. The other end of the extreme are games like WoW which heavily shackle players (not necessarily a bad thing) and protect them from ‘anti-social’ behavior. This of course stems into the whole risk vs reward discussion and even into the hardcore vs carebear debate.
Conflict seem to occur however when a players conceptions of a game don’t meet the rules of the gameworld. If you play Darkfall and don’t expect, at some point, to be slaughtered without mercy, you aren’t going to have a good time. Same goes if you play WoW and expect the freedom to kill someone who looks at you the wrong way but don’t have it.
The thing I don’t understand though is how available activities within a game can be branded as “good” or “bad”. This isn’t the real world and the developers have the power to influence and restrict or control any activity we can do. Should the player really be reprimanded for doing something that’s entirely possible within the game world? If it’s not desirable, it just shouldn’t be allowable within the game.
For instance, if Everquest allows trains then isn’t that a perfectly viable strategy for clearing out unwanted players from a camp spot? Why wouldn’t it be? And if WoW allows me to infiltrate a guild and pillage their bank then isn’t that just another part of the game? Why would it be acceptable in one game but not in another? When does an activity go from being a viable strategy into a bully-boy tactic?