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In Online Games, Those Who Are Harassed Will Themselves Harass Others

2012 November 28

ResearchBlogging.orgIn the most recent issue of Journal of Media Psychology, Ross and Weaver[1] investigate how the experience of negative griefing behaviors early in playing an online multiplayer games (like World of Warcraft) causes some new players to themselves grief others.  The authors attribute this primarily to observational learning – that people joining an online multiplayer environment for the first time are likely to interpret the way they are treated by others as a model for how to treat others.

This means that the introduction of abusive players into a multiplayer game in effect creates a destructive loop – the abusive player mistreats new players, those new players gain experience and mistreat the next round of new players, and so on.  The initial griefing is also likely to result in greater frustration, lesser enjoyment, and greater state aggression, which would also feed into this loop.  The conclusion: griefing does not just negatively affect the griefed; instead, it may begin a chain of abuse that lasts through generations of new players.

To discover this, the researchers asked 68 men and women to play the online game Neverwinter Nights, in which they were asked to play through six 2-minute rounds of gameplay.  They were randomly assigned to be griefed in either the first or fourth round of play.  They were also randomly assigned to be exposed to a new player or to the griefer in the round immediately following the griefing to see if the negative effects would be revenge (on the griefer), or if the griefing would generalize to others. Researchers were led to believe that other study participants were in the game with them; in reality, it was a research assistant. In the griefing condition, this research assistant with a Level 20 character would repeatedly (and unfairly) kill the research participant’s Level 5 character. Given this arrangement, it was literally impossible for the research participant to damage the research assistant’s character, and the research assistant could kill the research participant’s character in one hit. The article mentions “corpse camping” (staying near a player’s corpse waiting for them to return, weak, to kill them again) and “spawn camping” (killing players the moment they spawn, when they are disoriented) as examples of this griefing.

The researchers found support for most of their hypotheses:

  1. Participants who are the victim of griefing during the first encounter of a game are more likely to grief other players in subsequent encounters than participants who are not initially griefed.
  2. Participants are more likely to grief the same opponent than a different opponent, and this difference was greater in the condition where players had an expectation of cooperation than the condition where they had an expectation of griefing.
  3. Players in a multiplayer game who are griefed experience more frustration, less enjoyment, and higher levels of state aggression than those who are not griefed.
Footnotes:
  1. Ross, T., & Weaver, A. (2012). Shall we play a game?: How the behavior of others influences strategy selection in a multiplayer game. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 24 (3), 102-112 DOI: 10.1027/1864-1105/a000068 []
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