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The “White-Eyed” Player Culture: Grief Play and Construction of Deviance in MMORPGs

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Author: Lin, Holin
One popular phenomenon in Taiwan’s massively multiplayer online role-playing gaming world (MMORPG) is the so-called ‘white-eyed’ players. The “white-eyed” refers to players who act in ways similar to that are known as ‘griefers’ in some online gaming communities. Grief players engage in playing that intend to disrupt or distress other players’ gaming experiences, and derives his/her enjoyment from such behavior. Although the ‘white-eyed’ playing in Taiwanese gaming culture seems to include a wider range of activities than that of “grief play”, both terms refer to a popular phenomenon that is at the core to the MMORPGs culture. Grief players are the deviants in gaming societies; they break the law (codes and rules of conduct) of their game worlds, violate the norms and etiquettes of their communities. This study is an attempt to analyze the white-eyed/griefer culture as a deviant subculture and explore its functions and meanings in maintaining the social order of online game world. Current studies on grief play are limited in quantity and scope. Usually, grief play is descriptively discussed from the perspectives of players’ anti-social behavior or alternative ways of bringing satisfaction. In other words, grief play is treated as a phenomenon engaging the griefers only and is relatively independent of other players’ action. However, the making and circulation of the “white-eyed” (or the griefer) as a popular concept and a widely recognizable category among game players suggest that it requires collective recognition and corresponding social reaction by all players, griefers or non-griefers alike. Game management also plays a role in shaping the grief play culture by defining and enforcing specific rules. Bring all players and game management into the focus of research allows us to see a complete deviance-making process in virtual communities and the roles varied agents of social control play in it. Following the issue of social control, the study of grief players can also contribute to our understanding of power emerged in social interaction. In online gaming world, power takes several forms: techno-power that is written in system design and embodied in codes of the game, administrative power held by the game master, and normative power enforced by social discipline from all participating agents. Among the three, the last one is the least explored dimension. Thus, we would like to take a close look on following questions in accordance with the normative power negotiation in online gaming communities: what are the processes involved in identifying certain act as grief play and an avatar as a griefer? What are the consequences of being labeled as a griefer? How players interact with griefers, individually and collectively? And how griefers react to social punishments and disciplines from others? This study explores the social process governing the nature, emergence, application, and consequences of the griefer label of the “white-eyed” players. Although the definitions and key components of grief playing are not without ambiguity and disagreement (Foo & Koivisto 2004), it usually covers a very broad range of disruptive and annoying activities ranging from verbal rudeness, ninja looting, scamming, to player killing (Salen& Zimmerman 2004; Mulligan & Patrovsky 2003). Some of the behaviors are clearly unacceptable by social standards, yet some others are harder to judge. How do players learn to draw the line of acceptable behaviors? And when the line is crossed, what players do to disciple the violator? Calling some avatar “the white-eyed” is not the end of the story. It is often followed by further actions of posting the griefer’s name on related forums, or other means of passing the words so as to make the griefer visible to the public. When a griefer is identified and made well known, further sanctions may follow, such as punishments from the game master, refusal of cooperation, interaction or transaction by other players, even direct retaliation. We believe that the whole process of identifying the griefer as a deviant and applying the rule to him/her serves important functions. First of all, by identifying what are bad and inappropriate behaviors, the norms of good and acceptable behaviors are confirmed and made clear. And thus, reduces the ambiguity of the moral “grey zone” in social interaction of virtual gaming communities. Secondly, by labeling the griefers, the bad players are distinguished from the good players. In so doing a group of “outsiders” is created, which not only makes special treatments upon the deviant legitimate, but also make them visible targets for social sanction. Finally, the grief play culture contributes to the collective knowledge of a community. Constructing, passing and practicing such knowledge help to uphold the order of social life. Besides, the griefer counter-culture serves as a fine illustration of the deviant group. The clans of the griefers develop their own identities and distinctive norms against that of the mainstream game community. Their self-perceptions and group identities offer us rich materials on another side of the deviance formation story. In addition to the griefer and players, the game master is another important agent for social control. How do they perceive the boundary of their administrative power in terms of imposing and reinforcing the rules is crucial to the understanding of a deviant culture in virtual community. To explore the above issues, the two most popular MMORPG games in Taiwan, namely “Lineage” and “Ragnarok Online” (RO), are chosen as our major targets of study. Data used for analysis are collected from several sources, including (1) interviews with griefers and non-grief players of the two games on their attitudes toward, and strategies regarding grief play; (2) interviews with the game masters as well as data of regulation policies and the Rules of Conduct announced in the official websites of the games; (3) website self-representation and the action reports of the griefer clans; (4) grief play related postings from discussion forums of the two games. Reference Foo, Chek Yang, & Koivisto, Elina. (2004). Defining Grief Play in MMORPGs: Player and Developer Perceptions. Paper presented at the International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology (ACE) 2004, Jun 3~5, 2004. Singapore. Mulligan, Jessica, & Patrovsky, Bridgette. (2003). Developing Online Games: An Insider’s Guide. Indiana: New Riders. Salen, Katie, & Zimmerman, Eric. (2004). Rules Of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Contact: Holin Lin, Department of Sociology at National Taiwan University,
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