There are lots of reasons to explain why people are such jerks online, such as anonymity or a lack of direct human contact. You might imagine that similar reasons could explain griefers -- people who intentionally harass or annoy other players in online games -- but one psychiatrist says it's got more to do with group dynamics. She says that griefers could frequently be either "defiant leaders" (people who are ambivalent or reluctant to remain part of a group) or "scapegoat leaders" (who, as the name implies, become scapegoats and marginalized), and their griefing is a manifestation of their acting out these roles. Out-of-game psychology can influence these players, so for instance, if they're a scapegoat in their family, they might take on that role in a game as well. But, the psychiatrist adds that griefers could also just be mentally ill, whether they're depressed, have a psychotic disorder, or substance abuse problems. The bottom line, really, seems to be that people could be jerks in games for pretty much the same reasons they could be jerks in real life, which doesn't exactly help explain the phenomenon. As for a solution, GamePro recommends responding "with compassion", so if you can get a griefer to stop killing you long enough, try to get them on your amateur shrink's couch.
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