Griefing – what is it exactly?

When gamers in multiplayer games deliberately act against the server rules or community guidelines and prevent the progress of other players, this is called griefing. People who behave in this way and cause (virtual) grief to other players - this is the literal origin of the word - are therefore called griefers. Learn more about the term itself, what it looks like in gameplay, what the motives are for griefing, and how it can be prevented.

The term griefing

Strictly speaking, griefing has been around ever since video games, or multiplayer video games, have existed. The term itself dates back to the late 1990s. Instead of navigating the virtual world according to the rules and purpose of the game and either competing with other players or cooperatively achieving goals, there are always players who detract from a positive gaming experience. It is important to point out that Griefers “only” annoy the other players with their behavior, but do not disrupt or change the program itself – it is distinct from modding.

In the cosmos of Internet phenomena, griefing lies within the realm of trolling. This term refers to the process when people deliberately want to annoy others through statements or behavior. Although trolling on the Internet is more common in online discussions, trolling can also occur in games.

Cheaters and hackers should also be distinguished from griefers. They usually use additional programs or program bugs to profit from unfair advantages in the game. Although there are also people in these groups who cheat obviously and want to disrupt the flow of the game, this does not count as “classic” griefing. The latter means playing the game in a normal way, but behaving in the game in a way not intended by the developer. Griefers do not hack and cheat, they just play the game in a socially unacceptable way – you could call it bad gaming etiquette.

Types of griefers

Depending on the game and genre, malicious players act differently when griefing. What they all have in common is that they enjoy spoiling the fun of other, normally acting participants in an online game and try to cause as much damage as possible or prevent others from progressing in the level. They will do this by any means - except playing the game normally.

Griefing in Minecraft

Since its initial release in 2009, the sandbox survival hit Minecraft has built up an enormous popularity, which unfortunately also leads to frequent appearances of griefers in multiplayer mode. Instead of surviving together with up to 98 other pixel characters in the procedurally generated block world, exploring caves, mining resources, and constructing powerful buildings, griefers want to prevent exactly that.

To do so, they deliberately dismantle blocks, for example, therefore destroying constructed buildings, steal everything that was laboriously produced and deposited in crates, kill laboriously captured and tamed animals, or attack players directly as well as indirectly - for example, by attracting creepers.

Furthermore, griefing is also identified in players who try to block the movements and actions of other players, intentionally obstruct paths by placing blocks or other obstructions. Roughly speaking, griefing is anything that borders on vandalism and is not in the spirit of the community.

A special case is the so-called server griefing. In this case, the griefers do not only aim at taking away the fun of the game from the other players, but also have the goal to either overload the whole server or even crash it. It is true that a server grief can occur in all games that use dedicated, hosted servers. However, this special form of griefing is closely associated with Minecraft.

Griefing in FIFA

The annually released soccer simulation from EA Sports is one of the most successful game series ever. The multiplayer mode is particularly popular, in which soccer fans from all over the world can compete with or against each other, and is the main reason for many players to pick it up again every year. As with Minecraft, FIFA’s great popularity also attracts many griefers.

As a rule, an online match lasts twelve minutes (six minutes per half). However, there are many cutscenes before, after, and during the matches, for example when the teams enter the field, when the ball goes for a corner or when new players are substituted. The players on both teams usually skip these videos by pressing a key in order to not unnecessarily prolong the duration of the game. If both players press the skip button during a sequence, the sequence stops and the game continues.

This is exactly where the griefers come in: They do everything they can to keep the game duration as long as possible. They do this by running every video sequence without exception, cheering exuberantly when they score a goal of their own, and watching extra replays. They may also behave in an extremely toxic manner, for example by only scoring own goals, playing the balls out of bounds, or attacking the opponent excessively. In this way, they provoke their opponent and force them to abandon the game. The player who leaves receives a penalty because the game is scored 0:3 against them and - depending on the mode - they receive fewer bonuses.

Griefing in Red Dead Online and GTA Online

The two open-world hits from Rockstar Games have been gathering an immense community around them for years. Gamers in this community have also had to deal with many griefers on their excursions through virtual Los Santos or the digital Wild West. But regardless of whether it’s a gangster’s paradise or a cowboy country, the methods used by the griefers here are very similar. In both cases, they ambush (usually new) player characters to kill them right outside the safe starting area or other safe zone.

Spawn killing and spawn camping, i.e. waiting at a new entry point with the intention of killing the character again immediately, also falls under griefing. In Red Dead Online, lassoing is a common form of attack. Cowboys lasso each other, tie their victim up and drag them behind them either on foot or on horseback.

Another thing griefers like to do in the online Rockstar gaming universe is to join a party, i.e. a group of players with a fixed number of participants, and go on a mission with them. Sounds pretty harmless? Well, instead of helping the group, the griefer either does nothing or hinders the other players in their group objectives. Even though the griefers can’t do any direct damage through friendly fire settings, the rest of the party has a harder time reaching their destination.

What to do against griefing

The options available to a player to stop the griefer’s activities always depend on the game, the platform, and the multiplayer architecture.

Protect servers

For example, if you create your own Minecraft-Server erstellen, you have extensive options as a server admin to secure the game environment for yourself and your fellow players against disruptive behavior. The easiest way is to secure the server with a password. A guest list is a good idea to keep track of those with access.

Ban griefers

If a player goes over the top and does not change their behavior even after receiving appropriate notices, server operators can ban the player by command. If necessary, even the IP address, not just the player name can be banned.

Plugins against griefing

If you need even better protection against griefers, you can expand Minecraft with various anti-grief plugins and use them to protect entire areas from unauthorized access, assign each player their own password or server account, store world information in a MySQL database, or even minimize damage caused by griefers.

Punishment in-game

If you don't like this technical side, you can also take in-game precautions against griefing. For example, you can lure unwary griefers into traps you have built or lock them away in prisons. The server community can also set penalties that the griefer will have to suffer. Admins should be cautious when new players immediately claim higher usage rights for themselves.

Ignore the behavior

In other games it is sometimes not so easy, but this is also due to the nature of online multiplayer matchmaking. Games like FIFA don't rely on dedicated servers, but connect directly between the gamers. This means that there are no tools for moderation and sanctioning. If you as a player don't want to get a malus by your own matchmaking, you probably have to put up with the griefer. It is best not to be distracted or provoked by their behavior. If you play normally and score a few goals, a toxic opponent will often break off on their own.

You can also simply mute the opponent’s headset sound. The latter also helps in shooting games, such as the Call of Duty series. Since there are no classic servers here either, players have to make do with simple means like muting mics against annoying fellow players. Or they start a vote within the game to throw the griefer out.

Friendly mode

In some cases, however, it helps to take a closer look at the game settings and controls. Red Dead Online offers a “friendly fire”. If this is selected, players can only damage each other during encounters in the open world if they have explicitly agreed to this beforehand. There is also the option of a temporary damage ban of five minutes. During this time, the griefer will usually have already moved on to cause damage elsewhere.

Why does griefing exist?

Some people simply enjoy destroying things and hindering other people, much to the disappointment of others. In this regard, while griefing is disruptive, it can also result in very real harm to game developers. For example, when gamers of membership-based online games are exposed to griefers due to a lack of moderation and subsequently lose interest in the game, this leads to lost revenue.

Griefers know they’re annoying others and this is part of their motivation. From the real world, this can most easily be compared to the principle of schadenfreude. Griefers are spoilsports in the truest sense of the word. Some even know there’s an audience for it and live-stream their antics.

Furthermore, griefers love to see it when their antics drive a streamer on Twitch up the wall. They see this as rewarding and boast to each other in corresponding communities. This is also where they train new griefers.