Griefing has been in games for a long time. A modern definition would certainly be mostly about racism, sexism and all the other 'isms' towards other players particularly in multiverses, MMORPGs and online games with text or voice chat. However, griefing has been around in games for a while. Lets look to the origins of this much maligned behaviour.
Griefing first originated in games where you could directly affect other players. For me and the Catch The Monkey And Other Games B69 (the name given to the merry band of gamers that I used to play with) peeps the first precursors to griefing behaviour could be found in Micro Machines on the Mega Drive.
A well timed nudge before a jump or on a thin walkway would send the other player spiralling to doom. Remember this is a Micro Machines before weapons and powerups. Then strategies would start to develop to counter act nudging. The classic braking before someone goes to nudge you means that they end up facing the other way and you can race off for the win. No doubt other gamers have different landmarks but for me this was the first instance of in game behaviour that was contrary to the main objective of the game, to race to the edge of the screen; underhand tactics.
The next phase in the history of griefing is friendly fire in co-operative games. One press of a button would change a cooperative mission into an all out deathmatch. I site hours of split screen co-op Doom. I would spend hours with Chuff_72 in a deathmatch of our own making. Many other games allowed friendly fire which would, temporarily, shift the emphasis of the game to beating the other player rather than complete the level or dungeon until one or either players get bored and then progress would continue as 'normal'.
Then as games allowed more complex interactions between avatars; chatting, fighting and emoting griefing behaviour also evolved. Much of the griefing behaviour that is complained about in news articles, blogs and forums simply falls under harassment. Rude remarks and lewd avatar poses are the kinds of things that people complain about but as one famous griefer commented "This is low level shit". It's no-brainer behaviour just setting out to abuse other players. This kind of griefing has a high profile and many companies and individuals work hard to prevent it by banning or reputation systems. Why do they do it? Well, because it's fun. Regardless of whether you think it is or not, GRIEFERS GET PLEASURE from seeing you squirm or flail or try to get indignant.
Griefers often know a game inside and out and they are bored by the game. Raiding, instancing, grinding are for the most part dull. Aggravating other players on the contrary is fun. Often because victims are so helpless. Retorts like "You are so Immature" or "Go back to your Mom's basement" (an American retort) pleases griefers. They have offended you in game and all you can manage is a parent like criticism, a plea to courtesy or respect will get you nowhere. Other than attempts at reasoning what are you going to do? What are you going to do to stop them? Nothing. You can't and even if you could they know the game better than you. They'll see what you are trying to do and outwit you again and again and again and when you are most insulted you start to insult back and then you've lost. By stooping to their level when at first you accused them of being immature you have lost. They have made you become what you object to the most. Your best bet is to run away or ignore them. There is no adaptive strategy like in our Micro Machines or Doom examples. You can't fight back (unless you are PvP'ing) and any reasoning through text chat excites the griefers more.
In my view, Camping, Spawncamping and other behaviours which are seen to not be "in the spirit of the game" aren't griefing behaviours. As a player individual, or a player as part of a team you can come up with a strategy of play to take down a camper. Taking out campers as part of a team, for me, is when play is at it's best. You have to empathise with the sniper or whatever. What are they expecting you to do? Can you distract them or put them off at all? I've seen a tank and two ghosts taken out by a sniper and I've seen Battle Grounds in WoW where the Horde continue to wipe out the Alliance because they were uncoordinated. It's griefing that you can do something about. You can't blame people for playing the game how it's supposed to be played. So shut up complaining or go back to the one player campaign. Yes, it isn't fun getting rinsed. I've had experiences on Gears of War, Tribes and Quake when a team of semi pros suddenly joins a game and they are good. They take you out with clinical precision and don't bother with corpse humping or other such behaviour. They're too professional. I know it sucks to lose but when you eventually take them out it feels good. Like I say. NOT GRIEFING.
The next level of griefing is one that involves more creativity and gets respect in the same way that hackers seem to get respect for breaking a code or system. This is system wide or game wide griefing. It is often ingenious, time consuming and well recorded. Examples are shootings and atomic bombs in second life, The Great Scam in EVE ONLINE, giant prostitute pictures at the Second Life Big Brother Bash, Crashing an in-game funeral in WoW and Floating Penises in Second Life during a CNET interview with Anshe Chung. I'm sure there are more but this is just a selection. This kind of griefing is a step up from mere insults or lewdness. It's using the games systems and players personas to cause widespread chaos and to generally seek attention. But again, what are you going to do about it? Many of the above examples are from Second Life and it's because there is so much freedom that these things happen. Whether or not the Great Scam in EVE Online is real or not, I can't say but it's another example of people playing the game. So what to do?
In the future I'd like to see vigilante, or counter griefer, groups appear. You don't see the good or the great gamers getting griefed, they're too good. The griefing in World of Warcraft is allowed to happen because people want to be nice to each other and not be forced to fight. The game is called World of Warcraft but yet on some servers you can't even beat up any ne'erdowells. Another point is that ultimately griefing is boring. Youtube 'griefing' to get the view of those doing the griefing in WoW, Second Life, EverySource game. It's boring, often mind numbingly dull yet they do it relentlessly. The more inventive griefers go to a lot of pains to find glitches or exploits in skills, tech trees or trades only to use them too much in one day and get the behaviour or the exploit fixed or blocked soon after. They are willing to invest a lot of time and effort for sometimes a few hours of 'fun'.
All in all I think it's fascinating and as a gamer I like to relate to my avatar. If I start to get grief I want to think or react my way out of it. I don't want to run to the message boards or GM's and complain. Also a griefer on your side can be a great anti-grief deterrent so maybe reacting out of hand straight away isn't the way to avoid grief. It probably attracts it.
Thinking and ranting, thinking and ranting. If you aren't convinced by that then just go here