It's happened to everyone in WoW; you're deep in the jungles of Stranglethorn Vale and you've just murdered another animal for Hemet Nessingwary Jr. As you approach the hunter's camp, pelts in hand, a powerful rogue comes out of the shadows and puts a 10k Ambush knife critical hit into your backside. You slam your hands on the keyboard in fury... he's been killing you for hours. You pray that he won't corpse camp you. After all, all you want to do is play the game.
As aspects of the player versus player experience, ganking and griefing are two of the most hotly contested topics in online gaming. Is there a difference between ganking and griefing? More importantly, why does it matter? Are the people responsible for these heinous crimes really demented citizens who were bullied as children and currently reside in their parents' basement, as some forum threads might have us believe?
Fortunately, I can say that I was not bullied as a child, nor do I live in my parents' basement, and yet, on occasion I take pleasure in ruining a low level character's day when I ride through a zone to help a friend. Of course, there's a subtle difference between a stray death coil to send a noob to the spirit healer, and corpse camping an unlucky player until boredom or higher level friends arrive. The difference between these two things is the difference between "ganking" and "griefing."
As a game in the Warcraft universe, the developers have worked very carefully to push the tension of war into the player experience. While this option can be removed by playing on a Player vs Environment server, the real experience of leveling while looking over your shoulder is very much a positive element of the game.
By flagging yourself for PvP or by playing on a Player vs Player server, you accept the consequences of moving from safer gameplay into the warzone. More importantly, what makes getting killed and camped by a player any different than an NPC mob? Both occurrences are frustrating, but they create a challenge.
Ganking is life inside of the world of WoW-- getting killed by something stronger than you is part of the game. How many times did a Son of Arugal or a Fel Reaver sneak up on you? Enough to make you be aware of them in order to scatter like cockroaches when ever they came around. Killing these monsters for many players is one of the more satisfying elements of the game. Being able to exercise your ability to look at something and make it die is just as satisfying--especially if it has killed you on other occasions.
Why do people gank? The answers are many and varied. Yes, some of them may be covering up deep psychological weakness, or covering up their inability to kill players their own level. Psychologists have noted that play allows children to deal with difficult situations and complex emotions in a safe way. In this way death and killing in an MMORPG can be therapeutic or the result of neurosis. More than likely, this is not the case.
Others, like me, do it because we can. We enjoy killing other players as part of the game. A flagged player is a flagged player; I fight anyone flagged and push to kill them before they kill me-- whether or not they actually can. I also do it because it happened to me when I was leveling, and any revenge is enough to put my conscience at ease. When you're bored at max level, sometimes it's funny to see how persistent the lowbie will be-- to see if he'll keep trying to quest here before you get bored and take off. How many players gank critters at any chance? I know I do.
Other players attempt to gank low level characters in order to draw in max level characters so that some very satisfying world PvP can occur. World PvP can be more satisfying than any battleground or arena can ever be, and no fight will ever be the same. Sometimes knowing there's another person there on the other end who will respond in kind, in anger, frustration, or laughter makes the killing all the better. It makes the game more real. Who wants to kill helpless AI anyway? At least a helpless player has an opportunity to learn and plan to avoid you or to run. And on top of everything else, it's a lot more merciful than other forms of griefing, such as sapping or crowd controlling targets and preventing them from doing anything.
On the other hand, getting hunted, killed, and camped by a player of the opposite faction is far from fun, and most players certainly do not pay to have this happen to them. This is when ganking crosses the line and becomes griefing. Whether or not you intend to destroy the other player's experience, at a certain point, your fun is coming at someone else's expense. It's also a jerk move. Killing lower level players is a form of cyber bullying, and those of us who do it will legitimately own up to it, griefing or not. Ultimately ganking is a lot like high schooler picking on a kindergartener. Whether or not you choose to engage in or otherwise condone the practice as an acceptable part of the game, it's hard to justify it as anything else.
The difference between ganking and griefing is subtle enough that most players have difficulty separating the two, and such a task might as well be impossible. It's safe to say, however, that WoW is not a lawless game and opening yourself to these results is ultimately your responsibility. Except in rare occasions, most players choose to engage allowing themselves the opportunity to be ganked.
Below are a few tips I've collected over my time in WoW that can be used to minimize downtime from ganking:
- Prevent Ganking Outright- As I have mentioned, playing on a PvE server and not flagging yourself is the first step to keeping yourself protected. What if you want to fight people your level? Go to a battle ground, or suck it up and deal with the fact that that lowbie might be just a few yards from his max level friend.
- Take skinning to hide - While it's not always an option, hiding the trail of your killing can hide you from players who will hunt you. The same obviously goes for stealth and shadowmeld.
- Travel with powerful friends - Having higher level allies from your faction may not keep you alive, but it will deter people from attempting to attack. At minimum, travel in groups.
- Come back later - Get some fresh air, either in another zone or in real life. It's just a game.
- Don't get frustrated - Of course, this is difficult, but if you're really dealing with a low-life troll, your frustration showing in the game is one sure-fire way to invite corpse camping. And for the love of all that is holy, don't message them on your cross faction alt. You'll only be rewarding them by showing the misery they caused.
- Keep a Kill on Sight (KoS) list - Either on paper or with an add-on. At least this way you can assure your revenge is appropriately dealt.