Not even the virtual world is safe anymore. Researchers from the University of Nottingham have discovered in a recent study on cyber-bullying that griefing may have negative consequences for users in both Second Life and the real world.
According to the study's leader, Dr Thomas Chesney, griefing is "intentional, persistent, unacceptable behaviour which disrupts a resident's ability to enjoy Second Life".
The study aimed to "determine how and why griefing happens and the impact it can have on First Life", said Chesney. Along with his team of experts and the consent of Linden Lab, Chesney rented a plot of land in Second Life, set up his own office and ran four cyber-based focus groups.
A variety of behaviours were observed by researchers, such as shooting, hitting with swords, nudity, annoying noisy objects that followed people around and a lot of swearing.
"It happens when users with a superior knowledge of Second Life show off that knowledge to those who lack it, because of a gaming culture brought into Second Life with those users who have played other virtual worlds and because the Second Life environment tolerates it", said Chesney.
The Second Life face of the University of Nottingham approached residents about the study and around 50 responded.
Residents, whose were race, age and sex were unknown, were asked about their experiences and responses to bullying. "Avatars can be anything you imagine", said Chesney, "we had Tigers and Angels coming to our focus groups, as well as a dominatrix with her subservient chained to her!"
The study found that there were a variety of potential coping strategies for avatars within the virtual world, as they can "club together with other residents to ban griefers from owned land, use whatever method the environment has to combat griefers, and use the avatar to shield the user from personal attacks", said Chesney.
Despite the abuse reports currently available from Linden Lab, Chesney believes that the company would rather "the residents themselves deal with the problem [of bullying] in line with the 'your world, your imagination philosophy', which is their slogan".
Chesney hopes to be able to interview online griefers in the future, something not normally done in this type of research. "We're hoping that the anonymity of Second Life will mean that they are prepared to talk to us", he said.