Why Socializers are our Comrades
Letters to the editor
- Brian Green
Liberus Legendarum (Cymoc's Favor)
- Scatter ///\oo/\\\
The Numbers Game
- Michael "Talien" Tresca
Keeping Control of Grief Players
- Patrick Dughi
Growing Your Idea
- Lord Ashon
A Realistic Equipment System
- Logan Lewis (a.k.a. Proxima)
- Ben Chambers
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Keeping Control of Grief Players
by Patrick Dughi
How many mud-administrators have had one of these scenarios;
Alex tells you, 'There was this guy on a while ago who spammed everyone
with obscene and racist language!'
Betty tells you, 'Someone said that they're going to erase my hard drive
if I don't give them my equipment!"
Carl tells you, 'This jerk just waits by the mud entrance and keeps
Frozen Lake Erie in winter, I wonder what it did wrong?
What Alex, Betty and Carl are describing are some of the several
types of grief players. People who, for one reason or another, exist to
simply make someone else's life miserable. As a game designer, you are
devoted to making everyone's playing time enjoyable, and these grief
players are the wrench in your gears. There are all sorts, far too many
to list, and they are more frequent than you would like. Every online game
will eventually have to figure out how to deal with them, and this article
documents some of the more common techniques, and more importantly, how
they are applied.
Banning is the most severe form of punishment that can be imposed
upon a grief problem. It is, simply, disallowing that person (the player,
not the characters they play), from using the system. Usually this is
performed through selective IP address blocking. The down side to this is
that many people use dialup connections which are prone to a randomization
of their IP address; to successfully ban someone, whole subnets must be
disallowed. Imagine having to block all of aol.com, for example (though
some people have that setup as the default).
I find this to be a step often skipped. If a player has gone so
far as to have their character deleted, often times, they are banned as
well. There are exceptions, as the deletion of one or all of a players
character may be based on exploitation of bugs, or character-based
infractions, such as stealing, item hoarding, etc - per a games individual
Frozen, jailed, or disabled all have one common theme; the
character is unable to perform any actions which affect the rest of the
players. Often times this means they can only watch as the rest of the
game goes by - not even able to issue the 'quit' or 'logout' command. In
some instances, this is a period-based punishment, like being placed in
the stocks, while others use a more banal solution and have common
administrator-access-only jail rooms.
Many times a player is simply weakened as a result of poor
behavior. This can be anything from removal of equipment, or gained power
(like levels), to curses or demotion within the mud structure. Of the
punishments available, this is the most flexible, and oddly, one of the
Usually the first form of punishment (but not always, see below),
being silenced means that a player is unable to communicate with others.
This is enough to 'fix' most online game problems, as the majority of your
grief players will simply be standard players who posses both a loud
mouth, and a chip on their shoulder. Some games allow a limited form of
communication while silenced.
Rare, but one of the original forms; a grief player is labeled in
such a way that all players see that he or she is a problem. "Player
Killer" and "Thief" are the two most common, but in the world of political
correctness we live in, more are certainly possible. Depending on the
theme of your mud, "Oathbreaker", "Dishonorable", "Coward" may have more
That sums up our basic coping techniques, now to the more
important issue, how to apply them.
As a longtime MUD player, programmer, builder, and administrator
for several muds over the last years, I feel I have an uncommon viewpoint
on the subject of rules. I have seen many different administration
styles, and systems, and have a very good feel for what works from both
the administration side, and the player side. What I will first present
is what I consider the best solution; automated control.
Automated control of grief players
When I say automated control, I refer to the fact that no person -
be they administration or player - takes part in the enforcement of rules.
For example, if I have a rule against swearing, it is a simple matter of
programming to generate a function which detects the presence of curse
words in conversation and act. Whether that should be silencing, or
perhaps even a preventitive measure such as changing the words for others
(a 'swear' filter), is not so important, as the fact that it is
universally applied. This rule works on players as well as our builders,
as well as our administrators.
Perhaps my biggest problem is player stealing. Programming
changes allow us to track the ownership of items from player to player; in
situations where it is obvious that theft is involved (such as looting a
corpse or use of the 'steal' command), it is an easy thing to Tag the
player, and then have NPC's such as guards apprehend the player -
sometimes even killing them in the act.
In anycase, the biggest source of problems is adverted; the human
component. I have seen, in 8 years of MUD experience, 12 separate muds
either die completely, split, or otherwise fade away due to what we will
term 'politics'. I have heard of many more that suffered the same fate. In
every event, it is the same; Administrators do not trust other administators, players do not
trust administrators, and administrators does not trust players. This degrades the
administration structure, and player base falls off as they experience the
fallout from above, and also notice that their problems are not resolved
satisfactorily. The causes of these vary, but usually come from the
combination of four things:
nepotism - administrators favoring certain players, allowing them to bend or
break rules they hold other to.
hypocracy - administrators allowing themselves
to bend or break rules they expect others to follow.
trust issues - administrators expecting that everyone thinks like them all the
time, and will accept their decisions at face value.
player angst - every change an individual makes, good or bad, will
cause problems with SOME of the players ALL of the time.
I could label examples of any of these, but you will see them
prevailant in situations where the line between players and administrators starts
to blur. Systems where the administration are also the players are
particularly prone to the first two. The phrase, "The players will like
this," often comes up in situations when the administration should be
saying "This will ruin the challenge of the game," and are thinking "This
will make my character all-powerful!". It is not surprising that the most
powerful characters on these systems ARE the players of the
administrators. Near-perfect knowledge of the system and the ability to
change it do not lend themselves easily to weak positions. There are more
examples, but I will leave them to you to see them in the games you play.
The important thing is that automated control removes at least 3
of those four issues. A program will not have favoritism, or be a
hypocrite. Once programmed, it will respond in the same way for every
similar event - you can have absolute trust. The last, player angst, is
also partially averted as well, since a player can now only blame
themselves for not following the rules, as opposed to directed blame at an
The highest goal for any MUD then, is to automate as much as
possible of the grief handling system. It is simplistic to think that your
system will catch all, but the less humans in the system, the better off
it is. Of course, at least one administrators should have the ability to overrule
the system, in the advent that programming goes awry, or unexpected
circumstances come up. Hope that administrator is not a player though.
Administration control of a grief player
This is the most common form of grief control. It relies on two
Someone will be present and omniscient at all times.
That person will be fair and just.
The first is obvious; if a person cannot be present at all times,
as well as know the facts in every situation, they will not be able to
make an accurate judgment on events that they know nothing about other
than descriptions from others. They must rely on the trustworthiness of
others, and worse, punishment should be secondary to control of the
situation. If you are not around to stop the newbie killer, it does not
matter if you delete the character later - you have lost a potential 10 new
players who now hate your game. The second issue is also simple to
tackle, its failings are demonstrated in the automated control opinion
Aside from these major flaws though, there is alot which is good
in an administration system run by a competent staff. The first is that
often, the rules in a mud regarding social ettiquite are very difficult to
enforce any other way. Can you foresee that your anti-swear filter from
above should have to deal with Sweedish curses? How about some filthy
Swahalli comments? Maybe some nasty Thai quip about your mother? How can
you let that same failable automated system decide who should be Deleted,
I notice many administration controls leaning towards a more
complete automation as the problems in their system become apparent. Most
mud's adapt their online logging features as one of their first changes
for their player-testing beta procedure, simply to catch people exploiting
bugs, or abusing the system.
People are not as rigidly defined though. They can adapt to new
circumstances and follow though with new punishments. On one mud which I
both programmed and administered, we included a toggle for players called
'god hate'. In essence, it added or removed 20% of any result for a
player in such a way as to hurt them; they got 20% less experience points
for a kill, and needed 20% more to level. They were 20% more likely to
miss an attack, and if they hit, the attack does 20% less damage (and they
were 20% more likely to be hit! etc). This was for what we considered
potential problem players - those with just bad attitudes who did not do
anything against the rules now, but promised to be a hassle if they ever
got ingrained in the system. By toggling this, those players gained power
at a much slower rate, giving us more time to react to their grief-causing
abilities. It was subtle enough to exist mainly unnoticed, but had a
definite end-effect. I believe it was one of the tools responsible for
stopping an array of potential abuses from one school-based domain system
which had a history of grief players.
Of course, you could have never written a program to 'condense
fact from the vapor of a nuance', much less decide which potential
problems to advert and how.
The problems with this system are shown above though - it falls
prey to politics as often as not. Even for a fair system, there is alot of
guesswork that has to be done; did a person mean to do this, or not, did
they lie about it or not, etc. This lets the administration go with their
'gut' feeling - increasing their responsibility and doubling or tripling
the blame. Many people - had they known about the 'god hate' setting -
would have ostracized me for it, claiming that I was being too harsh and
judgemental, or just plain unfair. I could easily see many players
leaving a game with that sort of standard rule, especially if they were
once grief players themselves. Lucky for me, I was considered a fair hand
by most, and the players that received the setting rather deserved it, and
the players would have agreed it was necessary... this brings us to our
Player control of grief players
Let me start by saying that this is NOT my idea. As a matter of
fact, I think this is the worst idea I have heard in a long time. In a
nutshell, the players decide which administrative actions should be
carried out upon which players. There are still administrators - who else
to watch the watcher - but they are more subtle managers. It is assumed
that the social pressures in an environment will cause everything to fall
into the correct order.
Let us take a step back, and remember back to when we were
children. At some time or another, we attempted to play the game
Monopoly. Did you finish your game, or did it degrade into some sort of
interest free loan scandal bigger than anything the US government could be
involved in? If you were at all like the kids my sister and I were, I would
bet there were not any 500$ bills left in the money bin.
This childish look shows us the view of our standard online gamer.
They want instant gratification - more levels, more power, more equipment,
more spells, more skills - but most of all, they want it now. Granted,
this is a bit of a derivative idea, but would you let your players have
all this, when they want it, just because they all agree it is the best
Of course not. That is because the players are interested in
themselves and their friends, and not in the welfare of the game as a
whole. Lets just turn the focus back to grief players - allowing the
majority to rule on the position of any given player. Remember Alex?
Well he was dating Betty, and they just had a bad breakup. Alex tells all
his friends what a horrible girlfriend Betty was, and suddenly, she is
kicked off the game due to popular opinion. Worse, some large group from
another mud sees your mud as a threat, and maintains a majority presence
in order to delete or ban every player, or maybe just muting. Just as bad,
they could simply interfere enough with the system so that no justice is
performed at all. Normal players would do this, as the popular ones would
I believe you need at least an administration level system to
handle this sort of responsibility. Players should never have the ability
to ban someone, or mute them; especially not based on popular opinion.
Deletion, and the other punishments are also less than likely to be fairly
Lets assume though, for a moment, that your game is not simply a
destroy-the-monster-get-the-treasure type. Lets assume that you have a
complete world view, with kings and peasants, and towns and villages.
Under a well developed atmosphere, it is possible how a character could
play the sheriff, and be responsible for enforcing laws and rules. That
would be an incredible blending of player with environment leading to a
rich role-play system. The sheriff could Jail people, or Tag them - but
Mute, Delete, or Ban? No. The sheriff must work within the constraints of
the world system. If they want to jail them, they should have to catch
them. If they want to fine them, they will have to figure out how to
collect the money. The point is that though this person is acting in an
enforcement role, he is not doing grief player administration. He is
playing a role playing game, and this is his part. His role does not
include taking care of someone who logs on just to recite all of Andrew
Dice Clay's dirty limericks, or someone who logs on 40 new characters and
has them all perform the same actions in a room to knock someone off with
excess network traffic. Players cannot be trusted with that level of
power, or you have the same monopoly problem above eventually developing.
The monopoly problem is the same reason that I believe
administrators should not be players on the game either; better to be
above, and clear headed than down in it, and conflicted.
It has been claimed that variants of the player-controlled system
ARE in effect upon several muds, and for long periods of time. I have
attempted to follow up on that, but to no avail - the posters of such
comments do not describe their systems or explain how to connect to the
systems they are talking about. I believe such systems such as the
sheriff above are workable, with a well developed world. However, the
difference is between game administration, and playing a role in a game.
The two could not have less to do with each other. As for a true
player-controlled system, I cannot believe there is any such thing. You
probably should not worry about proving me wrong, and should concentrate on
getting that new modification to your system logs in ;).
 - a quote from Neil Stephenson's "Snow Crash", I believe.
August 2000 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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