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Griefing is the act of engaging in a virtual environment for the purpose of causing havoc or creating grief for other players in a virtual environment.

Griefing can take place in a number of different ways on virtual environments ranging from forums to Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG), which are virtual environments that involve other players playing the same instance of a game. Griefing can be categorized into four different types - harassment, power imposition, scamming, and greed - and embodies actions such as team killing, prop spamming, blocking areas from access, leading groups of monsters to attack unsuspecting players, and exploiting errors in the game code to disrupt the game for other people. It is often viewed as a form of cheating.

Ethical concerns with griefing include harming of others in a virtual environment and griefing as a reflection of a player's personality in the real world. Efforts to combat griefing include banning of players by game administrators and reducing anonymity in a gaming environment to increase accountability.

The enigmatic Pac-Man Strikes Again[1]


Griefing is a verb used to refer to the act of performing activities for the sole purpose of causing harm in a virtual environment.

Griefer is a noun used to refer to players performing acts of griefing. A griefer is someone who engages with the intention of causing harm to others. Because griefers get pleasure from harming other players, they fall into the killer category of the Bartle Test, which is a multiple-choice test that categorizes players based on their gaming preferences.


A screenshot of a prank by griefers in Second Life

Though originally used to refer to people purposely causing grief in online gaming settings, griefing has come to describe various events that cause harm across numerous virtual environments. Griefing is often accentuated in environments in which there is a high degree of anonymity.

Videogame Griefing

Griefing commonly occurs in first-person shooters (FPS's). Harassing, screaming, and being obnoxious or vulgar in the game chat are often employed griefing strategies, as well as team killing, path-blocking, and committing any action that harms the griefer's team. Link to YouTube video of Halo 3 Griefing

In the virtual world Second Life, the Terms of Service regulate rules against griefing. One common method of griefing found in Second Life involves abusing the ability to script objects to harass other users. Common examples of this would be to build objects that are self-replicating and thus can litter an entire area of the game, cause lag, and also overload the server.

"Demotivational" poster which expresses one aspect of ganking.

In the popular massively multiplayer online roleplaying game World of Warcraft, many incidences of griefing can be found. One popular form of griefing is ganking. Ganking is usually a term used to describe the act of attacking another person in a very unfair manner, such as attacking someone with a large group of people or by being at a higher level so that the other player cannot defend him/herself. It is often debated by many members of the community whether or not ganking is considered griefing. Blizzard's official stance on the subject is that it is not a practice that will go punished by the Game Masters.

Griefing is a large problem is building-centric games such as Minecraft, since the open-world and free-building style allows players to modify other players' creations. While occasionally productive, many consider unauthorized additions to a building project to be a form of griefing, even when not directly destructive. Many servers have systems in place to prevent destruction on large scales, but many forms of griefing are hard to protect against.

There have also been several in-game incidents in World of Warcraft that have gained notoriety in the World of Warcraft community due to the controversial nature surrounding the griefing. One such incident occurred in 2006 when a guild called Serenity Now had a large number of players that had gathered in an area of the game to hold a funeral memorial service for a player that had died in the actual world. The people that were organizing the funeral service had posted on the forums before the event in order to let others know that it would be taking place and to ask people not to ruin the event. Despite their efforts at preventing the destruction of the service, the guild Serenity Now gathered together and attacked the funeral service and effectively wiped out all of the mourners. Though many people in the community found this event to be entertaining, Blizzard found it to be allowable within the rules of the game and many others were perturbed at the nature of this griefing. “The organization and presentation of it existed within the WoW universe, but the grief expressed by the players during the funeral was real grief, and the gamers were actually saying goodbye to a friend through a social ceremony” [1].

League of Legends, a very popular MOBA (Massive Online Battle Arena) game, is also very susceptible to griefing. Griefing in League of Legends is very unique because in a game of League of Legends, there are two teams of 5 players, and if one player falls behind significantly it become incredibly difficult to come back from. Griefing in League of Legends is more commonly referred to as "Inting" (short for Intentionally feeding), meaning that the player is purposefully giving the enemy team kills, gold, and resources, thus making them significantly stronger and more powerful than the team with the griefer. This phenomenon is one of the primary reasons that League of Legends is know for being so toxic, and players frustrations can be very clearly seen on League of Legends or other gaming forums as well as Reddit [2]

Media References

South Park's representation of an average griefer

A popular media reference to ganking is in an episode of South Park entitled "Make Love, Not Warcraft". In the episode, an overweight man named Jenkins (in reference to Leeroy Jenkins) is described as having "absolutely no life" and is terrorizing the World of Warcraft and making the game unplayable. The characters in South Park begin to abandon the game. The boys of South Park ultimately join into the game and after some cooperation on behalf of Blizzard, they defeat the griefer Jenkins. [3]

A poster for "Professional Griefers" [4]

Deadmau5 recently created a tribute to griefing. He released a track on August 29, 2012 titled "Professional Griefers" featuring artist Gerard Way. Deadmau5 has been known to refer to himself as a griefer [5] and this song both reflects that in its meaning as well as the over-the-top music video made to accompany it. [6]

Other Environments

In 2008, Internet griefers attacked a forum that is run by the nonprofit Epilepsy Foundation. The griefers placed JavaScript in a number of different forum posts which effectively redirected the users' browsers to a web page which had a complex image on it that was designed to cause seizures in both pattern-sensitive and photosensitive epileptics. RyAnne Fultz, a 33-year-old sufferer of pattern-sensitive epilepsy clicked on one of the legitimate-looking links in a forum post posted by one of the griefers and went into a state of paralysis. Other forum users reported getting migraines and headaches after being tricked to click on some of the links posted by the griefers. The Epilepsy Foundation had to temporarily close the site to remove the messages and increase security.[7].

Other examples of griefing, such as the spamming of duplicate images onto a page so as to make it unreadable, can be found in the THE THUNDERDOME.

Four Categories of Griefing[8]

The four categories differ along these criteria:

  • How explicit is the intent to grief when in that play style
  • The kind of rules the play style breaks
  • Developer and player perceptions of the play style


The griefer’s intention here is “to cause emotional distress to the victim” although in some cases, harassment can be unintentional if the person does not know that his/her behavior upsets other players (i.e. using a term that may be offensive). In harassment, the griefer does not benefit from his/her actions, aside from maybe the enjoyment of seeing the victim suffer. The rules of conduct of many MMORPGs prohibit harassment.

Types of harassment include, but are not limited to slurs, intentional spamming of a chat channel, spatial intrusion, event disruption, stalking, eavesdropping, and threatening. Griefing in the form of harassment is especially common in online forums, where members enjoy taking conversations off-topic, intentionally disagreeing with the common opinion, or to just start controversy, in order to harass a specific member, or the community as a whole. This is also known as flaming or trolling. Destruction of other players' progress, whether through impeding a team by being less than unhelpful or intentionally destroying other players' creations also falls under harassment.

Power Imposition

Power itself is not perceived by many players as griefing. Instead, it is considered griefing when “power superiority is manifested through other actions (i.e. player killing) or coupled with other griefing types (i.e. harassment)”

The use of loopholes or underhanded methods to cause another player’s death may be considered griefing. The act of killing another player could be considered griefing if:

  1. The victim’s death offers little or no direct benefit to the player
  2. Verbal abuse accompanies the act
  3. The act is repeated several times
  4. The act is facilitated through the use of loopholes

“Rez killing (when a player resurrects the victim and then kills him/her again) and newbie killing (the killing of new and frequently inexperienced players for fun) are also perceived to be grief play if the player does not significantly benefit from the action, regardless of the Law of Code.” Ganking can also appropriately fit into this category.


Scamming refers to a fraudulent business scheme or a swindle. The following are forms of scamming that are also considered grief play:

Trade Scamming: When the scamming is exploitative of poorly designed trading systems
Promise Breaking: When a player promises to do something and then upon the exchange of money does not fulfill their promise
Identity Deception: when a player attempts to deceive by presenting him/herself as someone else


In grief play, the motive for greed is to benefit, regardless if the action annoys other players. The intention is just to get ahead. The following are forms of greed:

Ninja Looting: Taking loot that was earned by another player, by speed, guile, or a cheat.
Kill Stealing: Where a player attempts to gain benefit by participating in the killing of a mob that is already engaged in a fight with another player or team.
Area Monopolizing: When a player or a group demands exclusive access to an area (for example, in order to be sole occupants to an area where a mob or resource appears)

Effects of Griefers

Many users view griefers as simply a plague of disruption that is there to cause havoc in the game environment simply for the pleasure of causing pain or trouble for other users. As technology and the expansiveness of video games and online environments advances, the opportunity for greater incidences of griefing only continue to advance as well. Some have theorized that griefers, in the future, could result in large scale pranks that may be viewed by some as potential acts of terrorism and may induce civil authorities to take legal action against griefers.[9]. Griefing also negatively effects many video game companies, as it is a big reason for people quitting the game and moving onto a different style of game that is less "Griefable".

However, griefers do not necessarily have a solely malicious effect on their environments. For both in-game and non-game griefing, griefers expose vulnerabilities and flaws in virtual environments. This leads to security patches and improvements that may protect these environments from being attacked by those whose intentions are not simply to cause grief, but are attacking for personal gain or profit such as malicious hackers.

Ethical Implications

According to Luciano Floridi, "Information Ethics" determines what is right and wrong on the basis of four basic moral principles which include the idea that "entropy" or harm should not be caused and should always be prevented and removed from the infosphere. [10] Floridi also mentions that "The duty of any moral agent should be evaluated in terms of contribution to the sustainable blooming of the infosphere, and any process, action or event that negatively affects the whole infosphere – not just an informational object – should be seen as an increase in its level of entropy and hence an instance of evil." [10] By this characterization, it is can be deduced that griefing, which is essentially causing nothing but harm in an environment for no other reason than to cause harm, is a source of entropy (harm in the infosphere) and violates the basic moral principles of Information Ethics as according to Floridi. In this way, griefing could be interpreted to be an unethical pattern of behavior.

Griefing also has ethical implications as a form of cheating. Though the term "griefing" does not always encompass violating the rules of an environment, many perform it through the manipulation of the rules or the environment.

Richard Bartle discusses how griefing may reveal certain characteristics about an individual. [11] Bartle mentions a study conducted by Nicholas Lee in 2002 that involved subjects that played (massively multiplayer online roleplaying games). The study was used to analyze the motivations that people have for acting the way they do in online games, and it revealed that some people use grief or "the desire to objectify other players for personal gain" as motivation behind their actions. Bartle describes that the players that identify with this kind of motivation are likely to fall in the killer category of the Bartle Test or, in other words, tend to be people that like to "dominate others." [11] This illustrates how griefing can be an indication of an individual's ethical behaviors and tendencies in a virtual environment.

Preventing Griefing

To prevent griefing, gaming communities and moderators typically ban griefers. For example, gaming company Blizzard Entertainment, known for their MMOG subscription-based game World of Warcraft, reacted to griefing by banning more than 5,400 accounts in April of 2006. However, this was considered a costly method of moderating the gaming community, as it required staff to deal with support lines and resulted in losing money due to terminating that many game subscriptions.[12] Stephen Davis of IT GlobalSecure suggests that simply banning players is not as effective as having a strong community system in place. He argues that features such as friend lists, reputation statistics, and member abilities would reduce anonymity and create a closer tie between players and the game, therefore decreasing the likelihood that players perform griefing by adding more accountability.[12] There have been other efforts to minimize the frequency of griefers. For example, Riot Games, the creator of League of Legends, has created a set of metrics to determine when the worst times for harassment and negative experiences from other players occur to find a solution for the problem[13] Riot Games acknowledged that there is an acceptable level of trash talk that can be tolerated but once escalates to more hurtful phrases is when actions should be taken.

See Also


  1. Stacey Goguen, Dual Wielding Morality: World of Warcraft and the Ethics of Ganking
  3. Wikipedia:Make Love, Not Warcraft
  4. Professional Griefers poster
  5. Music: deadmau5
  6. James Montgomery, Deadmau5 And Gerard Way Duke It Out In 'Professional Griefers'
  7. Hackers Assault Epilepsy Patients via Computer, WIRED! March 23, 2008
  8. Defining Grief Play in MMORPGs: Player and Developer Perceptions
  9. The Griefer Future, Jamais Cascio, June 23, 2008
  10. 10.0 10.1 Floridi, p. 24
  11. 11.0 11.1 Bartle 2003
  12. 12.0 12.1 Davies, M. (14 June 2006). Gamers don't want any more grief. The Guardian. Retrieved 2012, from

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