The Grey Area has a fascination with war, genocide and pain and the methods of inflicting it. Its interior is a museum containing devices that inflict pain and documents detailing their use. The ship has been described in reviews as "psychopathically righteous", and as a good example of Banks' not letting technological terms and SF-staples stand in the way of describing interesting characters.
The main reason Grey Area is despised by its peers is that it has chosen to ignore the Culture's taboo on non-consensual mindreading. It is for this reason that the ship is more commonly known among the other Culture Minds as Meatfucker. In the novel Look to Windward it is explained that the denial of a Culture Mind's chosen name is viewed as a grave insult and mark of disapproval by its peers.
During the events of Excession, the Grey Area pauses its historical research into a very comprehensive incident of genocide to help deliver Byr Genar-Hofoen to the GSV Sleeper Service. It travels within the Sleeper Service to the excession, and near the end of events appears to allow itself to crash into the energy grid near the excession and is presumed by the Culture to have been destroyed, though this is not the case, with the ship obviously having transcended some sort of boundary between universes or else having been assimilated into another consciousness.