Raph Koster explains why griefing in virtual reality isn't going away

Even if you can overlook the expense, the current lack of games, the potential for nausea, and the annoyance of wearing a clamshell on your sweaty face, virtual reality has a looming problem: trolls.

Turns out that the same internet jerks who ruin online spaces and games via text and avatar show up to do the same in virtual reality too.

As MIT Technology Review wrote yesterday, part of the point of socializing in virtual worlds is to feel the "presence" of other people -- but the very benefit that makes "virtual reality so compelling also makes awkward or hostile interactions with other people much more jarring," such as when people invade your private space or try to touch your avatar without permission.

The publication highlights AltSpaceVR, a startup building tools to help people deal with trolls. The company has some of the basics already -- like a way to make obnoxious people invisible with a block -- but it's also working on a "personal space bubble" to stop people from groping your virtual self without permission, which they would otherwise do because people are gross and have no shame.

Where it gets interesting is how even the companies building these anti-griefer tools are pretty sure griefing will fade away as virtual reality becomes the norm.

"If you give people a lot of creative freedom, then people get along better," said the CEO of VR company High Fidelity, who has clearly never played a sandbox MMORPG.

So... here to speak for people who've played sandbox MMORPGs is veteran MMORPG designer Raph Koster (Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Crowfall), plainly quoted in the article to point out how adorably innocent and naive the VR devs are about human nature online in virtual worlds. He says that his games proved that when more people show up in a virtual environment, the resulting spike in anonymity increases the trolling rather than dampens it.

"If anything, the behavior now is better than it will ever be," he says. You can almost hear him shaking his head I told you so. "When you get strangers bumping up against one another they behave more poorly. Peer pressure is one of the things that keeps people behaving well."

Koster expounded on his virtual worlds arguments at his GDC presentation, if you're curious to hear more!

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64 Comments on "Raph Koster explains why griefing in virtual reality isn't going away"

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Armsman

Ralph Koster: The same developer who stated during Star Wars Galaxies beta that SWG would NEVER see a balance nerf ever because they were going to do such a marvelous job of balancing classes during said beta.

yeah, he was the MMO 'guru' in the late 1990ies - but he's out of touch these days (IMO).

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Chris Brown-DeMoreno

There's an episode of a show called Black Mirror where if you "block" somebody, they appear as a blur to you and visa versa. No communication can take place between the two. At the end of it you see a more harsh block put in place by the justice system where that person appears red to everyone who sees him, this lets everyone know that he has committed a particular type of crime. As expected, no one can communicate with him and he can't communicate with anyone else. He's basically out in the world but kind of alone. Do that. If enough people flag a person as a groper (i.e Sex Offender) turn him red or something so everyone knows. When something like that has the potential to destroy your social status, you're less likely to do it.

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Sally Bowls

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Andrew Ross
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Andrew Ross

Loving his GDC presentation. Koster's so blunt with a lot of these developers who think their inexperience will lead them to innovation (which it might) when, honestly, they're mostly repeating past mistakes.

Around 26 minutes he mentions how one of the premises of online worlds is being someone you aren't. It's not just escapism, but identity exploration, like skin color, height, and gender. It's why he (and I!) hate voice chat. However, I keep wondering how anonymous we can be while remaining civil.

For example, Steam IDs don't seem to ensure that people behave across the platform, and those games often have voice chat. The game companies are largely responsible for their own community. I would think companies like Blizzard would have better communities. Maybe they do and I don't see it, but they certainly feel the same for the most part.

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Sally Bowls

But from his argument, then all things being equal, wouldn't one expect Blizzard to have the worse community? Doesn't he argue that for better community, the communities should be small with as little diversity as possible? So an "everything box" as Bree refers to it, a "real" MMO where you can do a lot of things is going to have a tougher time of good community due to this theory. The most you can do is keep the sub-communities segregated or at least minimize interaction.

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Raph Koster

A lot does depend on the scale, the culture of the community in question, and much more. Including the skill of the operators in governing.

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Melissa McDonald

Social VR apps are really just getting going, and so far don't have much ability to allow you to grief someone. But I agree it's going to be no different than any MMO experience, where there will be a bunch of folks who won't bother you, but some asshat will eventually do so.

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rafael12104

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Yuri Geinish

Don't forget it is parents' duty to raise their children to be decent people. The fact that you need special technology to guard against jerks en masse says, before anything, much about those jerks' parents and hence the culture in general.

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draugris

Well that isn´t anything new. The only thing that keeps human beings in line is consequences. If there aren´t any, anarchy will follow. So of course the usual douchebags will do their thing in vr games too. And as long as game developers incentify and encourage antisocial behaviour in games like in archeage, black desert why should that ever change.

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Dread Quixadhal

Why is this news? From text MUDs back in 1991...
"> :touches you in a private place."
Quixadhal touches you in a private place.

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Raph Koster

Mostly because a lot of these VR devs don't seem to know what a MUD is :)

saerain
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saerain

Where should I go now?

saerain
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saerain

You can decapitate me all you like, but don't touch the hiney.

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Manastu Utakata

The purpose of griefing is to breakdown, humiliate and/or demoralize your opponent. And really has nothing to do with killing their characters in a PvP environment. No need to conflate the issue here. /shrug

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Jeff

Honestly I just see all of this as indicators that future games (especially VR) will be less massive. As VR goes from it's Pong stage (It's at its Atari 2600 stage now) to it's Caprica phase the advancements in AI and graphics are going to be at the point where you won't have to deal with Azzsniffa's or didurmomhards BS, not when you have NPC's that act more human than human, just without all the griefing.

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John Mclain

So virtual tea-bagging eh? What else is new and who cares? This already happens in non-VR games, and there at least both people have actual bodies, rather than floating hands and sometimes a head. Hell I don't think there are even any VR multiplayer games where players even have bodies to grope/interact with.

I suppose this will be relevant in a decade when VR can actually reach the point where such things would even be possible.

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Arktouros

Games do have "bodies" at this point, but generally it's something displayed and loosely connected to certain focal points. A great example is Onward where your hands and head can move (because these are tracked) and your body kinda conforms to those movements. So if you crouch your head goes lower so the "body" also crouches as well. If you wanna see this in action can go look up some Onward videos.

"In a decade" is actually a lot closer than you think. With the new Vive tracking pucks people are doing silly things like attaching them to a band then putting them on their knees/feet so you can track your feet/legs as well. This might seem ridiculous now, but in only a few years it should be smaller and more effective to track. The main thing at this stage is experimentation still of what kinds of appendages (giggity) need to be tracked and how do they add to game play?

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Johnny

These are just sales people trying to sell a product. Its probably as obvious to them as EVERYONE ELSE that there will be griefing in VR games. We don't need "insider" opinions to tell us that. Most of us have been gaming for decades. From the moment you could have a second player on screen we were trying to hit one another. Again, just people making a product and trying to sell it.

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Veldan

"If you give people a lot of creative freedom, then people get along better," said the CEO of VR company High Fidelity, who has clearly never played a sandbox MMORPG.

Yeah, that is a very strange comment of mr Rosedale. That's not how it works at all.

People will always troll and grief in any way they can, unless there are consequences. That's the only thing that will stop them. Stuff like personal space bubbles is a band-aid. You fix that specific way of trolling, but you don't do anything against the trolls. They will find some other way to have fun ruining people's VR experience. That's what they are there for.

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Schmidt.Capela

Not everyone becomes a troll when you don't have accountability. Perhaps not even most players.

The issue, though, is that a single troll can make the game not worth playing for a lot more players.

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deekay_plus

reading teh comments here it's almost like raph koster doesn't use facebook or at least doesn't follow any popular news pages on there.

which while there are plenty of fake accounts masquerading as real people, there are even more real live people with real live names with real live profile pics of themslves being all kinds of shit bags to others all day every day like they get paid to do it.

and while that sort of thing might be alarming to be exposed to online, it's the increased population exposure of online that lights us up rather than people being perfectly comfortable being dickbags all day every day irl face to face on the regular all over the world (and far worse). and the whole paradigm hardly started with the internet given mail and phone call chains of days past.

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Raph Koster

Yeah, see the other comments here and elsewhere about scale, likelihood of future interaction, and so on.

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deekay_plus

because facebook isn't far more massively multiplayer than any mmo?

edit: i also regularly see the same names on fb being dicks. adn there's far more real world potential consequences now that people campaign and harass employers to fire people or lose pensions etc on fb than in any video game.

idk anyone that has expressed a contrary opinion or pking someone in a video game and had 50k people call their boss to get them fired.

which can't say the same for facebook or twitter.

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deekay_plus

TIL clipping through other people's avatars is groping them.

all this time me and coyote and shane have been jumping against each other in archeage unknowingly groping each other. >>

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Raph Koster

There's an intent aspect here too, of course. :P

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camelotcrusade

"Peer pressure is one of the things that keeps people behaving well." Online, though?

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Raph Koster

Yes, online. Online doesn't behave that differently from offline, in this way.

Read "peer pressure" as "your desire to continue to be well-regarded by those whose opinions you value."

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camelotcrusade

I can certainly appreciate the rigorous analysis you've put against it (which needs to be done, repeatedly, and by many, if we are to move closer to understanding) but something still doesn't seem right to me. If the mechanic applies the same principles but exists within a system that undermines it, isn't it misleading to say it works in the same way?

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Raph Koster

That's all down to the design of the system; it doesn't HAVE to undermine it. That's like saying peer pressure doesn't work as well in a big city as in a small town (which is also true).

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Robert Mann

Only works in a system where that desire exists and/or matters, of course... which isn't most of online.

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Raph Koster

Which was my point :)

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MesaSage

as Hiro warned

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Sally Bowls

TY for the article - and the tone. How can these summer children be so naive?

Another VR entry from this GDC might be more successful by making people's baser instincts being the point rather than something to, once the devs wise up, try to mitigate as best they can.

http://venturebeat.com/2017/03/12/gold-club-sf-vr-ushers-in-realistic-virtual-reality-for-strip-clubs/
As the dev said "And you can’t get as interactive as this in a real club.” I'm guessing there is no personal space bubble here. BTW, since the dev used to work on CoD, porn is part of his redemption arc - doing more socially beneficial work for a better class of clientele. :-)

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Schlag Sweetleaf

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Arktouros

comment image

Kidding aside, I'm surprised they didn't get into the teabagging that goes on in virtual reality military sims like Onward as well. Or how about being taken hostage (https://www.reddit.com/r/Vive/comments/51fa7p/well_i_was_taken_hostage_in_onward/)?

What a brave new world that's filled with the exact same people as before we live in.

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imayb1

People carry on about how anonymity is the problem here, but I don't buy that. It may exacerbate the problem, but when real names are used you wind up with doxxing problems and SWATing real life addresses. I don't know what the solution is, but good luck to them.

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deekay_plus

and then there's facebook which disproves the fuck out of anonimity = meaner people every day all day long to the billionth degree.

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Raph Koster

Technically, it disproves real names = nicer people (which I agree with, and mentioned in a separate comment), not anonymity = meaner people. :) Anonymity = meaner people has been proven a zillion times over by now...

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Raph Koster

There's actually multiple intersecting axes of issues there.

First, there's "true anonymity" which is a lack of persistent identity. A doxxer or SWATter is actually making use of this tool when they call the cops. They don't give a name, they just report, and the report can never be tied back to them. Pure anonymity has been shown to breed bad behavior, because of the lack of consequences.

A lot of people conflate anonymity with persistent pseudonymity -- like, you have a handle here, and you have built up social equity in that handle, and losing it would hurt. This means there's a social consequence. Systems with persistent pseudonyms have been shown to eventually reach comparable social structure to those with real names, and have the added benefit of offering some protection against the SWAT/dox sort of attack.

But the fresh axis that arises is that this prosocial dynamic is driven by peer pressure and social investment. As we scale, we get "anonymous in the crowd." This is why real names end up not helping enough -- even when implemented at a society-wide scale. South Korea conveniently ran this experiment for us, tying everyone's online identity to a real name and equivalent of an SSN. It didn't matter -- because good behavior is driven to a large degree by expectation of future interaction. If you can have a real identity that nonetheless fails to suffer consequences, the behavior slips back down.

The answers to this are complicated: one, encourage people to see themselves as always connected, elements in a larger network. Two, rule of law. Three, cap the scale or otherwise subdivide the population so that the problems aren't worse. These best practices are what something like, say, Twitter, fails to grasp. I talked about those some here: http://www.raphkoster.com/games/presentations/community-management-in-the-culture-wars/

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Sally Bowls

TY, I had previously watched that, your GDC talks are wonderful. And this site even took your "up but no down vote" recommendation when they implemented their new comment system.

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Raph Koster

Glad to hear it! Making a tiny difference, one site at a time...

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Robert Mann

Yep, trolls will find a way. Trolls always find a way. *Goodness, why to I feel like I'm in some silly dinosaur movie...*

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Raph Koster

People should really watch the video :)

http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1024060/Still-Logged-In-What-AR

Philip Rosedale at High Fidelity DOES actually have this experience -- he founded Second Life. I was quite surprised by his comment.

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imayb1

Excellent video. Thank you.

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Sorenthaz

You can't expect people to behave in an online setting where anonymity and disconnection from reality give them the freedom to do whatever they want. Only when rules and consequences are in place will you ever get people behaving SOMEWHAT better. But otherwise people will just act like humanity would if we didn't have a ton of social and judicial systems in place to keep people orderly.

Even then though unless you use real names and faces people will purposely break rules and find ways to beat the system.

It's a never-ending battle and that's going to be a major hurdle for VR and stuff like we see in media from ever becoming close to a reality.

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Robert Mann

It is part peer pressure, part law, and part knowing that you will get your jaw unhinged that keeps the worst people in relative line. Adding in that unhinged jaw effect by allowing players to note a problem and having a solution which can lock out a VR set to static would seem an appropriate measure to me... although maybe difficult to implement.

Trolls, of course, will be trolls. They always find some way to exhibit bad behavior. Making the practice as expensive and punishing as possible is the simplest and best mitigation factor that we have.

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