Lurking is a controversial strategy in Mafia which involves saying very little or nothing at all during the daytime discussion part of the game in order to avoid drawing the attention of other players. Lurking may be employed as a strategy both by Town members and Mafia / Triad members, but for very different reasons in each case. In addition, there are different degrees of lurking -- which can be referred to as Active Lurking and Inactive Lurking.
Town members with an important night ability (such as a Sheriff, Doctor, Mayor, or Marshall) may consider lurking in order to reduce the chance that the Mafia / Triad will target them at night. Often times, scum will make a point of targeting players who are likely to be the most helpful to the Town cause, which includes those players who seem to be making the most valuable contributions to the Town during day chat. Accordingly, the Mafia / Triad may be less likely to target a lurking player who has not yet provided any value to the Town. Therefore, lurking as Town member may help your survivability until you are able to contribute to the game more (such as when you have obtained a night lead for the Town, as a Sheriff, or when you reveal as Mayor / Marshall).
Members of the Mafia / Triad (as well as Neutral Evil / Killing roles) may also consider lurking in order to reduce the chances that the Town targets them for investigation at night. Many Town players will begin by checking the players who are being more active during the day in order to determine whether such active players can be trusted or whether they are attempting to deceive the Town. Therefore, scum players may consider lurking in order to reduce the chance that they will be investigated or otherwise noticed by the Town, which may result in a night investigation or questions to that player during the day.
Active Lurking commonly refers to situational lurking during a certain part or parts of the game in order to achieve a specific goal. A player who is actively lurking is still paying very close attention to the game (whether SC2 or Forum Mafia), maintaining a Last Will (if Town-aligned), keeping an eye on his teammates' activities (if applicable), and maintaining at least some baseline level of participation in order to avoid suspicion. Most players do not a problem with Active Lurking given the player performing the action is still engaged in the game.
Inactive Lurking commonly refers to lurking which is occurring because a player is making a conscious decision not to engage in the game (either SC2 or Forum Mafia), either because the player does not have time to participate in the game, the players does not have the desire to participate in the game, or because the player is employing a high-risk strategy involving deliberate and prolonged disengagement in the game with the hope that the other players will forget about him / regard him as a null read and not press him further. Many players, both in the SC2 and in the Forum Mafia context regard Inactive Lurking as very problematic for the game for several reasons:
- Collective Action Problem. Mafia is largely driven by daytime discussion. If all players decided to Inactively Lurk, there would be no discussion and therefore no game of Mafia to be played. Chat is integral to the Mafia experience and a player choosing not to chat is diminishing the quality of game for everyone else.
- Inability to Read Player. Mafia is also largely driven by players' perceptions of each other, especially in games with less TPRs / Investigative Roles. To the extent players chose to Inactively Lurk, other players have no way of reading them and must decide whether to lynch them because of this playstyle (i.e. a Policy Lynch) or risk ignoring someone who could very well be scum. Essentially, this puts the Town into a high pressure situation that could result in either the mislynch of a Town member (if the lurker is Town and policy lynched) or not being able to analyze someone who could very well be scum (if the lurker is scum and not policy lynched).
As previously mentioned, lurking is an extremely controversial strategy given the importance of daytime discussion in Mafia. Many players regard lurking as a viable strategy when used in moderation, but one which can be very damaging when it reaches the Inactive Lurking level, both to one's credibility as a player and to other players' enjoyment of the game as a whole.
Lurking in Forum Mafia is an even more controversial topic given most Forum Mafia setups contain far less TPRs than are present in the average SC2 game. Accordingly, the importance of daytime discussion is even further amplified. To this end, Forum Mafia games, especially ones without many TPRs, are often driven by players' reads on each other, analysis of each other's posts, and close review of everything that has been said during a day in order to make the most educated guess possible as to which player(s) may be scum.
Accordingly, a player's decision to lurk (especially Inactive Lurking) can have severe consequences in Forum Mafia. Without the lurker's contributions, the rest of the players will be unable to determine whether he is Town or Mafia. While the rest of the players could advocate a Policy Lynch against the lurker (lynching him because of his adverse play as opposed to him necessarily being scum), this is a very risky strategy that could result in a mislynch of a Town member. However, should the rest of the players not policy lynch the lurker, it could result in the lurker receiving a free pass and being unable to be analyzed (because the lurker has refused to contribute much to the game). If the lurker is a member of the Mafia, this could result in the lurker being able to win the game without doing much of anything -- as the Town-oriented players of the game have no choice but to read each other and continuously lynch the Town player who seems the most suspicious.
For these reasons, many players in the Forum Mafia community have been very critical of players who choose to lurk aggressively (i.e. Inactive Lurking) and not participate in the game as they arguably should. In contrast, lurkers (especially scum lurkers) have made the argument that they are playing to achieve their win condition and have no particular obligation to contribute to daytime discussion. While this is technically the case, it has the effect of forcing a policy lynch on such players because they will not otherwise contribute / allow themselves to be read. In this case, the risk of allowing a potential scum to not participate is often seen as too large by the Town, which results in a policy lynch.
There are several potential solutions to address excessive lurking in the Forum Mafia context. A player-level solution is to pressure players who lurk heavily and threaten them with policy lynches if they continue not to participate. A host-level solution is to create requirements regarding activity levels (e.g. number of posts per day) in order to reduce the chance of someone excessively lurking. Post requirements may easily be circumvented with quick posts that do not provide much of any content, however, so some players have additionally advocated that excessive / repeated lurkers be excluded from certain games, due to the detrimental effect on the quality of games overall.