Thinking about… Eve Online
April 22, 2012 § 12 Comments
*This was written last month, so forgive me for being a little late to the party. :D*
In a Galaxy far far away… no, not THAT one. Eve Online has hit the headlines once again thanks to a frankly stupid player making a stupid comment at the recent Fan Fest. Worse, it has fire-balled into a rather heated debate both in and out of the game. I decided to discuss a little on what it means to me, and why my relationship with Eve Online has been something of a love/hate thing over the years.
I have been an Eve Online player for almost seven years. I find this strange, as my actual playtime is far less than you would think.
I started in 2006, a time of relative peace for the children of New Eden. Oh, the gears of war ground in certain regions, but they were clumsy; with under-developed mechanics and little ability to claim systems other than sitting at a jump-gate and yelling at everyone who came through “THIS IS MY SYSTEM!!!”. But the galaxy was a quiet place in general, with a busy night housing a mere nine-thousand players, things were very quiet. New pilots back then had little tutelage, most stumbling into a particular field of activity through a desire for a bigger ship. Everything was so expensive back then, and ISK (Eve’s currency) was a tough thing to procure.
Most settled on mining asteroids – a fairly simple process that gave a decent income, and was a passive endeavour. You could leave your industrial ship sitting, mining away, while you watched TV or read a book. To most of you this would sound absolutely abysmal – a game that plays itself? What’s the point in that? But you have to realise, everything in Eve Online was designed to be realistic to a point – mining the arse-end of nowhere WOULD be boring. And, counter-intuitively, this made the game all the more compulsive. You weren’t just clicking buttons and number-keys, you were doing a boring-but-money-making job out in the depths of space.
I focus on this to try and let you into a little secret of the average Eve player – we love role-playing. On every level, Eve Online encourages role-play and human interaction. Bored while mining? Chat with fellow miners, corp-mates, even complete strangers to pass the time. Or better yet, organise a group – a few people mining can make money faster (and easier) than one alone. Some ships are better at mining than others, but have very small cargo bays, so you draft in a few pilots to ferry minerals from your mining site to a near-by station. And suddenly, you are a foreman – organising a group of people into tasks and conducting a mining operation. Everything in Eve Online is like this to some extent, and the concept of role-playing as yourself changes the way you interact with the universe. You are not an Elf, with the same sword as every other Elf on a server; you are a man, yelling orders and banter over a comm-channel at your workers to keep them motivated. It just happens to be in space.
This appeal grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and simply wouldn’t let go. I ended up being a trader – furnishing myself with an industrial ship housing a massive cargo-bay, and ploughing through the stars looking for stuff to buy and sell. Trips into low security space were frequent; remember, this was when 9k players online was classed as busy. Low-sec was frequently empty, and I was free to exploit the market to my hearts content. I was a member of a low-sec residing corporation that mined and traded as it’s main source of profits, and I made more than a few friends down there that I still speak to today. Of course, as with all player-driven concepts in gaming, there are more than a few horror stories along with the tales of human friendship and compassion.
After all, nobody’s perfect. And after a series of mishaps, and falling out with a couple of corp members, I quit Eve Online. Every so often, I return to see what’s new, but my interest rarely lasts more than a month or two. The reason for this? Boredom, mistrust and a slowly festering sense that New Eden was becoming a rather nasty place to spend my evenings.
The bottom line is this: people are pricks. This generally goes without saying, but in a real life situation, our behaviour is generally moderated by experience and circumstance. In Eve Online, and more or less every other multiplayer game out there, we are faceless. I would never harm another human being, physically or mentally, unless it was in self defence. Online, I will shoot you, blow you up, skewer you, kick you, call you a “dick”, drop a nuke on you and maybe even comment on your mother. This is normal, especially as most games encourage competition and this kind of attitude towards your fellow gamers. I mean, we all know it’s just pretend, right?
Eve Online is no exception. Some people play Eve as though it’s their own private universe in which they are the supreme evil, killing and swearing indiscriminately. Others swing more into the Han Solo-archetype, the lovable rogue who talks big, but is actually a big softie at heart. Others take no interest in player perception and simply stick to mining asteroids, alone, in Empire space. All of the above are completely normal, the back-stabbing even being encouraged by the developers (CCP) as part of Eve’s appeal. There is an issue with this, however, that has come to light recently at the yearly Fan Fest that struck a chord in my own experiences in Eve Online. In such a highly charged atmosphere, where betrayal is commonplace and trust is a commodity – at what point is in-game harassment actually real-life harassment?
I have no comment to make on Mittani’s stupid comment, nor on CCP’s reaction. But it got me thinking about why I leave and re-join Eve Online so much. The game allows players unprecedented scope for ruining another players enjoyment of it. Hunting people down and blowing them up repeatedly is all par for the course on Eve, and part of what makes it a true sandbox game. But at what point does someones actions cross the line from “playing the game” to “deliberately trying to make someone miserable and/or quit”? I will quickly add here that I have never been chased off the game myself, but certain people’s actions in Eve has made me far less trusting. Hell, just joining a new corporation can lead to you losing just about everything you have – and as I said at the start, real effort goes into these ships and equipment. You can’t die in Eve Online, but if you lose your ship – it’s gone forever. A ship that takes you months to grind and save for has much more personal value than, say, a sword in World of Warcraft. Losing it makes you really angry.
And anger leads to hate. Losing a ship of considerable value is a mental blow to anyone, although some of us are better equipped to deal with it than others. Repeatedly losing ships due to someone holding a grudge is something else entirely – you really do feel victimised. And feeling a real-life emotion like hate towards a faceless player… what if you hated everyone who ever shot you in Counter Strike? You don’t, because it’s meaningless – a number and a slight inconvenience. But in Eve, everything costs you time and effort, so the emotional response is kicked up a gear. And in Eve Online’s role-player-centric setup, of course some people take a personal and real-life reaction to loss, betrayal and trust.
I left Eve Online because it became a real effort to trust anyone. Just finding a decent corp to join became a slog, and in Eve’s dynamic universe, flying solo is difficult to maintain. It gets boring, it can even become back-breaking at times – doing stuff alone can be hard work. In a universe so designed around player interaction, CCP’s focus on allowing players to do what they want becomes a snake biting it’s own tail. An ouroboros worm, chewing away at the very thing that holds the game together. Of course, I am an exception. People play Eve, get betrayed and bounce back all the time. This has never happened to me, mainly due to the fact that I won’t let it. And through sitting on my cloud of mistrust, I have lost the incentive to get involved, and take the chance to keep my stake in one of the most mind blowing games of our generation.
CCP have created a universe. And given us the tools to create and mould the environment as we see fit. Yes, there are rules, but they hang so loosely around the edges of the world – some don’t even notice they are there. Real people create the political machines that grind away the chaff of Eve and set the bar cloud-high. Lunatics rule, monsters fight, men and women who just pretend to be lunatics and monsters in this operatic masquerade dictate the fates of thousands every day. A man (boy?) like Mittani, who has created a persona of such ruthless demeanour that he can try to incite someone to kill themselves, can hold enough sway over normal people like you and me to start a war between thousands of players with just one silly sentence. Right now, people are losing ships, effort, time and hope in the largest trade hub in Eve Online – Jita – over his own inability to separate real life from the game. And yet people flock to the banner of “Burn Jita” like moths to a flame – normal people, with normal jobs and families. Does this mean they agree with what he has done? That it’s okay to tell a suicidal depressive to kill himself in real life?
Of course not, don’t be so bloody stupid. IT’S ONLY A GAME. And this is the misconception that people, including myself, make. Eve feels so real sometimes, it can be difficult to separate someone’s actions in-game from the real image we create of them. The number of times I have been blown to bits, only to have a lengthy conversation with my killer on what I did wrong and how to avoid it next time. To play Eve Online, you must leave your shoes (and your attitude) at the door. Everything you do, everything you read, everything you see is role-playing. If someone blows you up, they have killed you. If someone tells you to “go kill yourself”, it generally means they can’t do it for you. There’s nothing in Eve that can actually hurt you; yes, you can have days and weeks and months of effort blown up in your face, but Eve without consequences would be World of Spacecraft.
The consequences of your actions are simple, shoot someone, they can shoot you back. Steal from someone, and they can shoot you back. That’s it. But dragging in-game anger into the real world has it’s own consequences, not least of which is losing sight of the imaginary. It’s a game, and everything in it should be treated as such. Some of it is unfair, some of it is personally charged. But in the end, we are all just gamers, playing a game. Yes, Eve Online would perhaps be better if we were all a little nicer to each other, and not pick so many fights with our neighbours. And maybe rewarding honesty would make life a little sweeter too. But then it wouldn’t be Eve Online. Harden up, lift your chin, and give them hell. It’s worth it.