The first generation of players in an MMORPG are faced with a strange situation. The virtual world they encounter is unshaped by player interaction and they are a relatively homogenous, ungoverned group. In LOTF this situation degenerates to anarchy and random violence. What are the implications for MMORPGs and griefing?
This is a problem that seems to affect all MMORPGs to some degree. It's very hard to encourage mature constructive behaviour in a virtual world where there is little or no in-game authority to control players' behaviour and no heirarchy beyond that which the players impose. Perhaps one answer is to embrace this problem by formulating a model which tolerates disruptive behaviour, rewards constructive play and leads to the development of strong clan or family groupings.
Interesting things that could be tried:
Player accounts that have age as a variable, linked to the passage of time in the real world. Maybe a year in-game for every month in the real world? As players age, their character attributes mature so that they grow e.g. stronger, larger, more experienced, different resistance to poisons/diseases. All first generation players start age 15, an arbitrary 'puberty' age when adult character traits start to emerge. They then develop the character so that it matures. Older characters in game will be visibly different, more experienced and (usually) more powerful. This rewards long-term play and discourages the casual griefer.
Death is 'permadeath' in that the character cannot be resurrected. It should be rare so that it remains a significant event but it should also be inevitable. If a player's character dies, they must start again with a new character at age 15. However, they have the opportunity to prepare for this by having children and can choose a 'favourite' (known only to the chooser) to whom possessions will pass on their death.
Players can have children with other players. These are NPCs to age 15 and resemble parents in their characteristics. The more children players have to care for, the more commitment to care will be required. They require care to survive and attention to learn the skills of their parents. Good caring (usually this will be by the parents) results in better than baseline characteristics. At age 15, NPC children become PC accounts and their parents (not the carers) receive credits for free subscription time. The amount of free subscription returned is randomised and can be zero to very significant. When a 'favourite' child reaches age 15 it can be played as a second character or given it to a friend to play. Only one child can be a favourite at any one time and children can only be the favourite of one carer. If they are not a 'favourite', the children will automatically be assigned to a new player account at 'puberty' (and may either turn out to be a perfect child or a complete shit who is eventually disowned, depending on the player it is assigned to).
As time passes, family groups should gradually develop. These will be in part collections of friends and in part random groupings of players. The randomised benefit (in time credits) of having children should encourage players to ensure their successful survival to age 15 even where they do not end up playing them or having a friend play them. Time commitment is rewarded in credits and in the opportunity to develop a stronger new character to be played as a second account. This setup also encourages players to expand game membership by offering characters to their friends to play as family members.
Family lines and 'cartels' should emerge with goods and possessions being passed down from parents to children. Because there is a randomised benefit in having children which can be zero, there is also some scope for more complex behaviours such as cuckolding. Older characters (who will also be more experienced gamers) should adopt a more social carer role, teaching the skills they have learned through experience. By choosing a favourite and teaching them they will then be able to prepare a strong new character to play. The griefing element will likely be less inclined to make such a commitment and should lose out as they are unable to pass on their skills over time.
Griefing is an inevitable part of MMORPGs. Where we are all like Golding's children, violence and disruption will occur. It may be possible however to incorporate grief (in the wider sense) into these games so that they enrich rather than detract from the experience. An eternity of immortality is jading but knowledge of death makes each day important. This is why we love life and why we protect it so carefully - death is inevitable. Where this is the case, those that do not plan ahead will lose out in the long term. Where the wisdom of age is a rarity that can be passed on to the next generation, the teachers are as important as the fighters. It is in building, teaching and sharing that we live on and it is not in the griefer's nature to do these things. Those that do not do are doomed to a single-cycle existence. We can allow griefers their moment if they must end as sad old men, looking back on empty days. Indeed if we do so, we may eventually find that these same griefers undergo a change as they realise that they too must look ahead.
Recent somewhat related links: