Tao of the Hunt
Letters to the editor
- A Shriner
Player Killers Exposed
- Lexley Vaughan
Ethics and Virtual Reality
- Chuck Haeberle
It's Only A Game
You Were Different When You Were A Player!
- Selina Kelley
Role-Play vs. Multi-play
- Brad Smith
Art of Language Independence
- Ben Greer
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Player Killers Exposed
by Lexley Vaughan
Player killers: everyone hates them, so why do they do it? Maybe being hated
is why they do it? But who wants to be hated?
Well there are several reasons why they do it, but first we'd better
pin down just what is meant by the term itself. Player killer
is something of a misnomer, in that:
no players are killed - it's their characters who are killed.
very few characters are actually killed - most escape in time.
it's possible to kill another character and yet not be a
She's not a witch, she just a very naughty boy.
Of these points, the first seems just a question of pedantic semantics. I
suspect the term (which is understood by players of most
internet muds) was invented by relative newbies who didn't understand the
difference between a player (person at keyboard) and character or
persona (person in game). Newbies are most likely to be outright killed if they
get attacked. They're also quite vocal, because they don't know how enough
of mud culture to behave properly, so their use of the term would quickly
become the dominant one. That's not the whole story, though. Although the
character is killed, it is indeed the player who feels the
loss - and this can be very painful. I have felt physically ill from losing
a character to the sword of another player - it's somehow far worse than
losing it to a mobile, which seems more like it's your own fault. So the
thing to note from this is that player killers ("pks") really can
make an assault on the player, using the character as some kind of
The second point, that few characters are killed, is also deeper than it
seems. The command they use is kill <player>, so it's not
stretching things too far to say they're therefore "player killers".
The interesting thing, though, is that it's the intention to kill
which is important. Pking is more than just one command, it's a whole mind
set. The attackers most often do want to kill their targets, but they may
spend an entire playing session never managing to lay a glove on them.
The third point is most interesting. Killing a character is not seen as a
bad thing under certain circumstances, which seem to hinge on the issue of
provocation. Some attacks are regarded by the most of the community as
justifiable, and draw no disapprobation. You're not a pk if you attack
they attacked you first (perhaps using a different character, perhaps
some time ago).
they stole something of significant value from you and wouldn't give it
they're hassling you intolerably without actually attacking - casting
disabling spells at you all the time, for example.
they're a known pk and won't say that they won't target you this
it was an accident and you couldn't pull out in time.
There are other, greyer areas. Whether you'd get branded as a pk for
attacking someone who you believed was a known pk but wasn't, for example,
depends on your past reputation and whether you can make a case for it
among your peers. A similar set of criteria is used to determine whether
or not a character has overstepped any rules against bullying that the
Powers That Be choose to impose.
So, we can now define a pk as: someone who plays with the intention of
killing another player's character in the game without reasonable
provocation. "Their mere existence" does not
constitute "reasonable provocation"...
These are the people that the remainder of this article concerns.
There are many reasons why players pk, but after months of observation
I have concluded that most fall into one of a small number of categories.
I shall now enumerate and comment upon these, although I warn any pks
reading that some of the categories aren't exactly complimentary...
Some players come into muds from other games where the whole point is to
kill your opponents, for example Quake 2. There's no malevolence
involved, they've just got the wrong end of the stick. After a few
fights where they get the wrong end of the axe, they find out that killing
players isn't actually what it's all about, whereupon they either turn
into model citizens or go find some game where it is what it's all
These are recent ex-newbies who want to be seen as pks because
they think it's cool and glamorous, but who don't stand a chance of becoming
one in the near future. They take the next best option, which is to hang
about with people who they hope may know vaguely what they're doing.
They therefore tend mainly to occur only as part of a pack of other wannabes,
swarming after highlife in the hope that they'll last long enough to see the
fatal blow. They're mildly dangerous in such groups, but very easy to swat at
your leisure individually.
Achievers are people who go for points points points. At some
stage, they may try a little pking (usually using a secret character, so
their friends don't hate them for it) to see if it's a viable way of
getting points. They usually conclude it isn't, and go back to racking up
points from treasure and mobiles instead. You don't usually have to fear
these guys much.
Explorers are people who like to figure out how the game works and what
everything does, not necessarily attempting to get points and go up levels. I am
an explorer at heart. Some explorers will do a little pking because that's
an important aspect of the game and it deserves study. In general, though,
they will only go for known pks, because that way they're likely to learn
more. You're normally going to be safe from these people - it's not like
there are many of them anyway.
The Broken Achiever
Sometimes, an achiever can be killed one time too many, and something
snaps. "OK, if people are killing me for points, maybe I should kill
people for points" goes the argument, even though people rarely
are killing for points. There's little or no concern about how this
affects the victims - the broken achiever rationalises it with excuses
like "well I got beaten up and no-one stopped it, it must be OK".
These pks are worrying, because they have a lot of game knowledge and a
fair amount of fighting skill. Their achiever roots come through, though,
and they tend to be predictable. Just as they always do the same areas of
the game the same way each time they play, so they'll always pk the same way.
This way does involve use of massive force against inferior opposition,
though. Fortunately, these guys don't react well to being attacked before
they can set themselves up, and they aren't first-class fighters in their own
right, so they tend to be killed time after time until they snap back out of
it and into standard achiever mode again.
The Broken Explorer
These are the worst kind of killers. As with the broken achiever, something
inside just goes TWANG and they suddenly bring all their arcane experience to
bear on killing other players. They're very good at it, they use
different tactics from one game to the next (although they do usually have
some particular favourite) and they don't care about being killed because
they weren't hoping to accumulate points anyway, it's just a minor inconvenience.
Unlike broken achievers, though, they're not remaining true to their nature
if they turn pk. Therefore, there must be some other reason for them to
remain as pks after they've vented their initial fury; this would almost
invariably be because they were either psychos or provers (described next).
Psychos are players who enjoy inflicting pain on other players. They are
small in number, and, like fox-hunters, will try to deny that their actions
have anything at all to do with cruelty, but they're really just deluding
themselves. They do it because they can get off on it, end of story. They can
be quite dangerous, because although they only study a narrow part of the
game, they do so in some depth, so they can actually meet with some success.
Their weakness is that they don't like being the victims of attacks; in
their minds, the power equation is one-way only. A reasonably well-organised
group of characters can take them down without much problem, and eventually
the suffering that the psycho endures as a result is enough for them to
drift away. Unlike all other forms of pk, though, it's impossible to
talk a psycho out of pking; they do it because it's at the heart of their
"Provers" is the name I've given to the group of pks which
most people think of when they hear the term "pk" - you'll see why
shortly. These are the guys who have superior fighting skills, who enjoy the
hunt as much as the battle, and who sit in safe areas trading insults or
offering patronising advice afterwards. Classic pk behaviour - and the
classic behaviour of people who have an inferiority complex. Deep, deep
inside they lack confidence in themselves, and feel the need constantly
to prove their worth. This manifests itself in muds through fighting
prowess: "I beat you, therefore I am superior to you"
is how it feels to their psyche. What they want is respect, and it
doesn't matter if that respect comes bundled with hatred. Even the most
evil mass-killers in the world are often respected, though they are
despised by one and all. Provers would deny all this, of course, because
their egos can't take it. However, they share a common trait which is
also a classic indicator of inferiority complexes: they prefer to show
their skills off against much weaker opponents. Unless they completely
out-gun an opponent in all departments, they are unlikely to attack. Fear
of defeat is also why they have a tacit agreement not to attack other pks;
it's not an "honour among thieves" thing, it's a "we're
both as scared of losing as each other" thing.
The Big Whacker
These pks are always male and charismatic. They use the game as a stage
to show the other players who's boss, a bit like rutting stags. If anything,
they have a superiority complex, rather than an inferiority one. Hi there,
Mr Macho! They can be very, very good at killing,
but they're also reasonably selective. If they know they have your respect,
which they probably deserve anyway as they're so good, you're pretty well
safe from them. They don't like to be thought of as bullies, and will
therefore usually give you a much fairer chance than provers do (but not
too fair - losing is not on their agenda). They don't tend to get
along very well with other big whackers, though...
The New Wiz
"Wiz" is the term I'm using to mean the topmost level in the
game - administrator, immortal, god, wizard, whatever. There are the people
who have power over the game itself, who can do things like build new
rooms and objects, snoop player input and mete out instant justice. In a
well-run game, they're not allowed to use these powers to kill non-wizzes
(i.e. "mortals") off, so they have to do it by playing as mortals
themselves. But being more experienced, they're also better at killing...
So you can almost guarantee it: someone makes wiz, they disappear from the
face of the planet for 2 weeks, then all of a sudden there's a strange,
new pk out there in the land. Who knows what kind of indoctrination goes
on in wizland, but almost every new wiz seems to try their hand at pking,
even if they were vehemently anti-pk before they made it. They don't
always stick at it, though, which is refreshing. The ones that do will do
so either because they fall into one of the categories previously described
or because they fall into one of the ones specific to wiz mortals, which
follow. Note that wiz mortals are probably the dominant species of killer
(or at least of effective killer) which is why they get their own
sub-categories. They're skilled (hello, they made wiz), they're daring
(what do they care if they die?) and they know every trick and strategy
you use (they snoop). Not all of them, though, are in the "pull up the
ladder" business that new wizzes seem to be. Thank heaven for small
Some pks are so disruptive that they need to be taken out of the game, or
there may just be too many active pks around for the game to feel right that
a few need to be culled. There are wiz pks
who will discreetly do this - thank goodness! They count as pks because they
will attack without personal provocation, and they'll often trample all over
other players to get their way. I was once subject to an amazingly complex
force spell that pretty much busted my reset, the whole purpose of which
was to stop me getting in the way while a pkk gave a smug prover a severe
kicking. Pkks sometimes double as spicers, since they're both used for
Spicers are wiz mortals who add spice to occasional sessions by coming in
mid-way through prime time, when everyone has had a chance to arm themselves
and stock up on defences. They then proceed to rip through the highlifes like
a chainsaw through wood, with everyone at their level or above a target. It
is genuinely exciting, so long as it doesn't happen too often of course :-) .
It's also terribly depressing in that it shows you just how much you have to
learn. These guys are the very best, and they're more than fair. Hats
(reluctantly) off to them!
The Auto Pk
They pk because ... that's just what they do! They don't know why any more,
they've been a wiz for so long that they've forgotten what life as a mortal
is like. They know there was some reason they did it originally, and they
may have some platitudes about "testing" rattling around in
their heads somewhere, but they've got stuck in the rut of alternating
between their wiz and their pk, and so they just keep on going. You have
to make sure you flee from them at least once on your way to wiz, so
they can feel like they're doing something productive (while reasserting
their "the old dog can still bark" status), but, to be honest,
they're not really needed. They're just one more hurdle you have to jump
on the route to the top.
Having looked at the various pks, and the reasons why they kill, it's
worth considering why they think they kill. Almost all will try
to conceal the real reasons, the only exceptions being broken achievers
(when they say they're doing it for the points, they really mean it; all
they deny is that hurting other people bothers them - as if everyone wants
antisocial grumpies as wizzes). The root cause of their concealment is
either shame or professionalism (but usually shame). The result of their
spouting feeble excuses is almost invariably anger (which is, of course,
why some of them do it). It helps, though, if you know what to expect.
Here, therefore, are some common pk excuses, and matching rebuttals.
"I'm Only Role-Playing"
In an effort to protect themselves as people from their actions as
characters, many players will wheel out this excuse. It doesn't wash.
"Hey, I'm a nice person really, I'm just exploring my darker side."
Right. Well now you know the consequences of exploring your darker side -
the corruption of your lighter side. I'm "only role-playing"
when I beat the pulp out of your other characters.
"The Game Needs Pks"
It does. It just doesn't need you, you arrogant bastard.
"It's Just A Game"
I agree, but it's not a game that's about killing people. Some games, like
Quake 2, you play with the expectation of having to fight, because that's
the whole point of it. It isn't the whole point of the mud I play.
It's some of the point, sometimes, but if it were really "just a
game" would you get that adrenalin kick from killing people that you
"Players Who Can't Fight Deserve To Be Killed"
Even accepting this ludicrous argument (when I'm a wiz, can I finger of
death you, on the grounds that players who can't FOD deserve to be killed?),
it's not like pks practise what they preach. Players who can fight
regularly get killed, because they are just so massively out-gunned. If I
enter the game and am immediately attacked by someone who is well-prepared,
then even if I'm a better fighter than they are by some distance, I'm still
going to have to flee. If I'm lucky, I can then listen to them boast about
how they beat me; if I'm unlucky, I get tired instructions on what I could
have done to defend myself, too. Well, not playing would do it...
"The Game Lets Me Do it"
Yes, well it lets you stand around saying "parp parp parp", but
"No Offense, I Need the Points"
This is particularly galling coming from pks, since they patently do
not need the points. Pks use this excuse to imply that this is just a
temporary measure, and they're not really getting a thrill from beating up
on other characters, and everything will be just fine and dandy later.
It's not. If you pk someone, they have a right to revenge even if you
later turn from pking. Plead for mercy, worm, and hope they grant it.
Hopefully, I've given a little insight here into why pks do what they do.
What you make of this is up to you; I don't suppose it will go down very well
with pks, but then they don't go down very well with most everyone else.
It all comes down to the psychology of the individual, their relative
maturity, and good, old-fashioned emotion. Some people have yet to
learn how to behave; some have a self-centred view of the universe; some
want to take revenge on the game for what it's done to them; some want to
counteract what they see as imbalances. These are the pks.
Most of us, though, just want to have fun.
Dip into the world view of pks at
http://www.pk-hq.com. It's a site
run for and by pks. It's meant to be for pks in general, although as most of
them play Ultima Online it's heavily slanted towards that in as much
as that's what all the tactical articles seem to be about.
Since it started taking ads, it's lost some of its integrity; there's a
lot of the "ooh, aren't we naughty, we're being evil" types
there now, i.e. wannabes.
There's an article about pk excuses at
It intersects somewhat with this article, but goes into more detail about specific
reasons pks give for behaving as they do.
Richard Bartle's wonderful research paper
Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds,
Spades is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the
reasons people play muds, and the way that mud communities develop. It has
some discussion of pks, but is more concerned with how the various player
types interact than why some of them are utter sociopaths in the first place.
October 1999 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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