Professor griefs gamers, feigns surprise at reaction

There's an interesting story from the world of online gaming making the rounds, and I couldn't resist jumping into the discussion. The story takes place in City of Heroes/City of Villains (COH/COV), a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game where players take on the role of either hero or villain in order to do battle against the opposing faction. You've probably heard of World of Warcraft. COH/COV follows the same basic outlines, only with superheros instead of orcs and elves. (I apologize to my fellow games for over-simplifying things!)

Nola.com posted a story about David Myers, a Loyola professor who played COH/COV as a behavioral study, and was surprised (according to the article) to find people reacting negatively to his playstyle, in which he refused to follow the 'unwritten rules' of the community. After antagonizing the community for a sufficient amount of time, he wrote a paper about his findings and now plans to publish a book based on the same material. (For another point of view, I direct you to blogger and journalist Ian Lamont's post on the topic.)

While Nola.com paints Myers in a sympathetic light, as a player of MMO games I disagree. An online game is a complex beast and there are always some loopholes that players can exploit, and this is exactly what Myers was doing. Rather than fighting other players directly, he used a special ability to teleport them in front of a computer-controlled firing squad, which would immediately kill them. That's what we call 'griefing' in online gaming. Griefing means to play a game with sole intention of disrupting the enjoyment of other players. Yes, the code of the game allows it, but it doesn't follow the spirit of the game; the victim has no chance to retaliate and from reading the Nola.com article it sounds like Myers would do it over and over to the same person until he got a reaction out of them, after which he'd feign surprise at having evoked that reaction, justifying his behavior with "The game allows it so it must be OK."

Nola.com points out that one player threatened to kill Myers 'in real life.' While no one can condone a comment like that, people do say stupid things in the heat of the moment when you deliberately provoke them enough. Remember that the person making the threat only knew Myers' in-game character and had no idea who he was, nor any way to act on his threat. Such threats don't carry the same weight when you're talking avatar-to-avatar as they do when standing face-to-face in the same room, where the threat must be taken much more seriously. Again, I'm not condoning the comment, just putting it into perspective.

Apparently professor Myers is happy to obey the rules of any game he plays, but doesn't care a fig about sportsmanship or fair play until the tables are turned on him and people get angry (which was clearly the reaction he was going for in the first place). Then he cries foul. The fact that he is profiting from his anti-social behavior is disappointing. He entered a community that was somewhat self-regulating, where a group of people were enjoying the culture they'd built, and he set out to systematically disrupt that community and culture. In response to the community reacting to try to protect itself, Myers feigns surprise and takes on the role of the victim for the sake of publicity. He is quoted as likening his 'experiment' as a "bad high school experience" but it sounds to me like he was the one engaging in adolescent behavior. Classy.

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