Griefers & Education

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There has been a thread on the Second Life Education mailing list about griefers, of which there have been a plentiful supply recently. There was some discussion about whether the topic was even relevant to the list.

This set me thinking and I posted the following note, which I will expand at some point into a more considered piece:

I do think that this subject is very relevant to the main purpose of the list and far from just a matter of semantics. Among other things it is revealing the very different nature of educators intentions, hopes, aspirations and educational goals. Some people appear to see SL as a way to update their pedagogical repertoire to include virtual worlds, and thus want SL to be “serious”, while others are saying that it is as it is and *that* is the basis of possible educational experiences in there. IMHO both of these aspirations are legitimate but they both lead down different roads to different destinations. The first group may well benefit from a separate educational grid and/or locked private spaces, while the second group (to which I belong) would feel that that took away the whole purpose of being in SL.

As someone said SL is a social world and the difficulties that arise from that are, for me at least, an important part of the learning package. By analogy, if people from the countryside come to study in New York or London they will have to get used to drunks and beggars and the mentally ill at large. Even if they are studying physics merely traversing the city daily will give them an ancillary course in sociality (including the development of avoidance skills). I see griefing as inevitable in virtual worlds and learning to deal with it as part of the process of colonising a virtual space.

“Coping with griefers” might include ancilliary courses in understanding the implications of the permission levels, and it might include researching, scripting and negotiating skills. Better imho that we (students included) gain these skills than simply hope we can hide ourselves away.

Why are there griefers? I think that there is one important point that has not been discussed so far. There is no consensus about what Second Life IS. Is it a “virtual world”, with the implications that it will have a society and a morality that is somehow analogous to the real world, or is it a game in which (as someone pointed out earlier) morality is not an issue. For people who approach SL with the same attitude that they approach GTA then there is no problem. They are just having fun. The fact that other people are “taking it seriously” may seem simply ridiculous to them, and griefing may seem like a fine sport indeed: tweaking the noses of the pompous.

I would suggest that this is a perfectly legitimate approach to take to a computer game, and the problem is not the griefers but the underlying reasons why SL can be legitimately seen as this kind of sports arena. I would suggest that these reasons have been designed into the “game” by the Lindens (probably through an accidental series of bad choices).

If you compare Second Life to other projects like Entropia and look at how the users pay for their experience in the two there is a fundamental difference. In SL you pay or not, but everything you buy is discretionary – that is to say that you do not need to buy anything. You pay in Second Life only to become a landowner (and then you pay twice). In SL you cannot die, you do not need to eat and drink, you have no in-world skills(or stats) you can improve that will enhance your experience or abilities. Transport is free and, thanks to flying and teleporting, distance simply does not matter. Jobs are as discretionary as buying a new hoverboard.

These factors establish what kind of world SL is, and it is not one in which actions have costs. So griefing, like building an amazing water fountain, is a free, and freely choosable, pursuit. Other worlds require you to earn currency to pay for transport, or vehicles, or equipment, and make racing around the world causing havoc a very expensive hobby indeed: in terms of time or money spent equipping yourself to go griefing.

There is much talk about SL’s economy but, as has been pointed out elsewhere, there is nothing that residents need to buy, and therefore it is an economy entirely composed of the exchange of luxury items, with all that implies. If residents had to eat and drink (if they had strength bars for example) then thre would be a need for even “free” accounts to either work in world (spend time) or use their credit cards (spend money) merely to remain in the world.

This may seem a digression, but I think that it illustrates why griefing is a complex phenomenon and the design of the world itself is not a neutral activity but one which makes griefing easy or hard. SL makes griefing easy. If we want to live in a world without griefers then we have to design them out.

We have been thinking about possible ways of building hunger into Rosario for just this purpose. So far we have yet to work out a way to implement this within the current architecture, while keeping the island open to visitors, but I am not yet convinced that it is impossible.

Posted on December 6, 2006