Some thoughts about ganking

woman with red light on face

If you’re a gamer, you definitely heard about “ganking”. Why do some people gank others in video games? What drives them to do such action, usually punishable in the real world?

I asked (again) myself these questions while reading yet another salty post from an (ex?) Elite:Dangerous explorer, who lost almost ten months of game time, being insta-ganked upon entry in the “more populated” areas of the game.

Being a carebear myself, I (too) avoid spending game time in areas where I risk losing big time. But also, as a Goon, I’m getting good action during (mandatory) fleets, where we protect our space and empire by either bullying other alliances or executing orders to secure the area we believe belongs to us.

Also, on a very rare occasion, I enjoyed runs of our ganking squad across high-sec (the “police-protected” areas of the game), where we located players in juicy ships and sent them to oblivion.

So, all and all, I’ve no right to condemn the ganking behavior. However, I’m trying to understand the people who primarily “gank for a living” in online games.

I will go “back to the basics” for a bit to do so. What makes us spend time in a computer game? Why, instead of doing some training, reading a book, or watching a movie, we fire up this game launcher and then sit in a chair for a couple of hours, inhabiting an imaginary world? What’s the award we get?

I’m not a psychologist. However, I have some psychology training myself, and I’ve heard about how the low-level brain reward system works. These people read and learn for ages to play in the real world with real people and decipher to us our primary (pr primal) driving forces.

I think what makes us gamers is the fact that it’s one of the easiest ways (yes, it’s not easy, but still it’s much easier than the other ways!) to produce our natural drugs like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Computer gaming heavily stimulates the production of all those—primarily Massive-Multiplayer computer gaming, where the oxytocin production is much higher.

So, going back to our virtual world!

Each massive multiplayer online game (MMOG) engages you by providing your avatar, a character that gets stronger and stronger when you play longer and longer. Although just a few records in a cloud database, you get to know this character, you have plans for its future, and you genuinely enjoy its (well, yours!) accomplishments when this character progresses over its timeline. To keep you even more hooker, most of the games give you the ability to have multiple personalities so that you may explore different pathways in their universe.

To speed up that growth, you’re willing to invest more and more time because that’s how the game mechanic works, in absolutely all the MMOGs. The more time you invest, the more robust, more competent, and more fun your toons/characters/avatars (choose one) become. And more enjoyment you get from playing the game.

Suppose I’m to compare my “carebear” gaming to rare occasions. In that case, when I’m ganking (or even just participating in a fight), I find a massive difference in my psychological state once the encounter is over (and I’m from the victorious party). The satisfaction level of such domination is relatively high. Even when the others were just innocent victims, not looking for combat. And especially when the victims scream hard at you (and you laugh at them). By now, you probably recognized what’s this pattern in real life: it’s the basic definition of “bullying”: a few more powerful entities seek much weaker entities to make them feel bad, receiving satisfaction from this act.

The “real-life” bullying (as a grown-up person) is more complicated and requires quite a heavy investment (muscles, outfit, knowing people, etc.) The “in-game” bullying is much more straightforward: it requires a (usually predefined) amount of hours, after which your in-game avatar can go on a hunt. Even if you get kicked in your virtual teeth (that happens!), you don’t go to the dentist or doctor. You try again with this one, or you switch to another avatar, or even another game, where you can continue your online bullying, while your badly kicked avatar licks and heals its virtual wounds.

Also, “real-world” bullying can result in doing some jail time and even some courtroom time, which has much, much, much graver consequences.

And, of course, the “real-world” bullying can terminate you once and for all if you, for example, are in Texas, and your victim happens to have a quicker and a better gun than yours. Note: I’m not justifying killing the offender, but it can happen as emotions get high – remember the hormones!

As a result of all this, many people who in general tend to be bullies, and to enjoy this act of torturing (usually helpless) victims, prefer the chance to do so in a computer game. And MMO games give them the best grounds to do so.

That’s why many MMO games have different modes of play, which stop bullies from reigning all over the place. Games force bullies to do their thing in specific environments or areas, where it should be clear for every player that they can bully others and get bullied by others.

Some games have their police, which is, in the same way, ineffective as the real-world police, but it’s way, way cheaper. Some games directly cut off the bullying functionality in “safe” environments. But all the games have their “lawless” mode or territories, which is open to everyone and usually provides a higher reward to attract not only bullies but also potential victims.

This bloke, who wrote the salty post, which started all my thoughts here, did only one grave (for his virtual presence) mistake: he forgot, or intentionally did not, switch to “safe mode.” Elite:Dangerous does not have in-game policing of the open spaces. Well, it has some, but it’s very, very slow and ineffective. And his ship (he does not mention the kind of the space ship, but I know what an explorer flies in E:D) was probably highly maneuverable and with long-range hyper-drive, but almost without any protection from the online bullies.

I’m using “bullies” here instead of “hunters” because the person, who blew the poor bloke’s ship (and completely wasted more than nine months of gameplay), did not get any in-game reward for this action. They only got the drugs, which their brain produced due to the fight. Unless Elite:Dangerous changed their mechanics for the past two years, blowing explorer ships does not drop you any high in-game reward. The explorer ship is valuable to its owner for its data. The ship stores that data in its
computer. When the ship gets destroyed, the computer dies with it, e.g., it does not drop anything of value for the attacker. The attacker’s only reward could be the salty tears of the other player, who (I’m sure) did not remain mute after they lost such investment.

Was the bully necessarily “the antagonist” in this story?

Well, if you use your “quick brain,” you would immediately pronounce them as “guilty as charged.” Ruining the game plan of an innocent bloke is by far not a good thing to do. If you compare the effort, it looks like this: imagine you have a hobby for building castles out of matches. You spend more than nine months building your castle, and in the end, it looks so beautiful! Then suddenly, someone breaks into your room and smashes your beautiful castle to the ground, destroying everything you achieved with all that hard work.

That doesn’t look good, does it? So, it’s easy to name the ganker as the story’s antagonist.

Was the victim an innocent victim?

But (there’s always a “but”) then there’s the other part of the story. The “open play” mode, which the victim used to log in, is widely popular for its PvP (person-versus-person). Most of the people, who use that mode, are the ones who actively seek a conflict with another person: would it be for just ganking the shit of out them or for an actual “head-to-head” combat.

Well, the truth is that if I’m seeking combat, I’d always prefer beating than being beaten, which means most of the folks out there are looking for smaller ships, which they will overwhelm. Nevertheless, if you’re in “Open Play,” you must accept, and live with, that risk.

The fact that “Open Play” and “Solo Play” are so intertwined also comes to prove the point that people who play in “Open” play there for PvP. Why else would one prefer Open if everything (your wallet, your resources, your [non-player] reputation, etc.) makes no difference?

I could also assume that the victim did indeed make a mistake by clicking on “Open Play.” Usually, if you’re in the far reaches of the Galaxy, you (primarily) meet fellow explorers, who’re rarely fit for effective PvP combat, and they also have a lot to lose there. So, while exploring, encountering another player in the vast universe would be indeed an exciting event (good-exciting, I mean). And if you’re used to that, you could certainly make the mistake of assuming that going back to the popular parts of the Galaxy would not harm you.

Well, that’s not the case. It’s sad, but being confused (or not knowing how to play the game) constitutes only in a (very) expensive “private lesson,” which you would receive from a “fellow ganking teacher.”

So, although I feel sorry for the victim, I think that he/she is solely responsible for their misery. And blaming someone else for our misfortune might look suitable, but it’s not fair. These people are there also to play the game, just (a little) different than us.

At the end

I remember when I got ganked in my sweet, sweet Thanatos. It March 2008. I was shocked! And I was so angry with these stupid, fucking, lazy, crazy, nonsense gankers, who popped in 0.4 and then killed my carrier. But… I was also younger, and I did tend much more frequently to blame others for my mistakes. Then I quit Eve Online for at least a couple of years. The B.O.B. vs. Goons was just over. I was on the losing side, lost my home in 0.0, then lost my carrier. It was a sad, sad time! And I was furious, and I blamed the world, who was all against me.

But then I returned. Smarter. Sneakier (I started to enjoy unhealthy ganking, too occasionally 🙂 ). Did some high-sec (relatively safe) industrial production and got much richer. Then moved to Goons (these beat the shit out of us back then). And now I genuinely embrace the Eve Online logo: “Do you undock in a ship, which you cannot afford to lose.”

I hope this broke bloke gets back to Elite:Dangerous. It’s people who make any game possible, not even the creators of the game. That’s true for any other business, too – it’s always the customer who makes a business a success.

However, if you’re looking for a healthier (but much weaker) way to produce your happiness hormones, then you can try what doctors think is better for you. Note: addicted gamers may find that boring, primarily because the hormone release doing all that is not so high and does not get them that high like a good few hours in our virtual worlds!

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