EVE Online developer CCP is preparing to unveil an honest-to-gods, real-life monument to the games’ player base in Reykjavik harbour. Artist Sigurður Guðmundsson has created an artwork called Worlds Within A World, which will, when unveiled on 30 April, carry the names of every main character of every active account in EVE Online as at 01 March.
In a post on the EVE Online website, Ripard Teg, Vice-Chair of EVE’s player-elected Council of Stellar Management, gets lyrical about the project:
“Oh sure, spaceships are involved. But EVE Online is a game about people: the relationships between people, why this person likes you and that person dislikes you, why this person would go to the ends of the earth to protect your dreams and that person would do so to crush them. As a sandbox, it’s a game about people who love to fly their spaceships with a few hundred of their closest friends around them. It’s also a game about people who think ten other people is the perfect fleet. And it’s also a game about people that just like the technology and want to grow their empire… even if it’s an empire of one.
“It’s all virtual, but that doesn’t matter because whether you fly with thousands or you fly alone, we’re all building this universe together. EVE Online is a game about people, taking place in a virtual reality that sometimes threatens to be more real than the real thing.”
Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, CEO of CCP, says:
“There is true, real beauty amidst the stars we call home.
“This beauty is a new form of art. A form that is only starting to be noticed but one we’ve known has been here all along.”
It’s a game about people. I agree completely. Putting aside the skin of the game – the spaceships, the environments, the complex mechanics and the technology that allows it all to run so smoothly – the core of EVE is the interaction between people. And, far from being beautiful, EVE shows us, I believe, an unsettling glimpse of what humanity truly is.
New Eden, the star cluster in which the action takes places in EVE Online, is a place with enormous freedom, and virtually no rules. There are countless options in EVE. A player can explore, mine, trade, research, manufacture, run a corporation, forge alliances, claim territory, build space stations, construct planetary industrial complexes, map wormholes… The possibilities are vast. More conflict-minded players can become soldiers, bounty hunters, spies, saboteurs, assassins and pirates. Buit everyone interacts with everyone else, if only through the game’s detailed and all-affecting commodity market. Fighters buy the ships and weapons built by the industrialists from materials harvested and refined by the miners. And then they use those ships in conflict, get them destroyed or destroy those of others, ensuring constant demand for new materials.
EVE is a free market – as much as a game can allow – and the competition in its trades can be as cut-throat as the physical contests being played out in disputed space, or in the high-security asteroid belts where warships prey on unarmed mining vessels for sport.
Hang on – what’s that?
Yes, like I said: EVE has no real rules. Unlike other Massively Multiplayer Online Games in persistent worlds, EVE has no safe places, and it doesn’t hold hands. It has no protections for new players, or those who don’t want to engage in player-versus-player activity: what can be done within the confines of the game mechanics is fair play. ‘High-security’ space isn’t: all it represents is space where aggressive actions are likely to meet with consequences – the actions themselves are not prevented. So if I, as an established player, meet you, a newbie, in high-sec space, and I want to destroy your ship, I can – just as long as I’m willing to lose mine to EVE’s automated in-game police force, CONCORD. And it’s not just in combat. If I try to scam you, and you fall for it, my actions are perfectly legitimate within the game. They may affect my character’s reputation amongst other players, but I suffer no tangible sanction, and I make money from you. Fraud is rife in EVE. If you want to survive in EVE, you have to watch out for yourself. Trust, as they say, no-one. Certainly no-one you don’t know in real life.
But at its heart, EVE is a disconcerting illustration of what humanity would be under those same conditions. Without rules, and more importantly without the fear of consequence, I truly believe this is what we would be. Powerful players attacking the weak to – as EVE griefers put it – “harvest their tears”; con-artists exploiting the unwary and fleecing them of their assets; war corporations that target smaller corps and hold them to ransom through game-sanctioned war declarations; exploits that subvert game mechanics to advantage the cheater or – more importantly – disadvantage others. With the exception of the last, all of these are legitimate in-game mechanics in EVE Online. CCP will not take action to punish anyone engaging in any of these things. Exploits are supposedly a bannable offence, and I’m told players have been banned for operating outside the intended game mechanics.
Whatever the activity, EVE shows us a consequence-free environment, and we see how quickly and how completely social rules and conventions, ideas of ethical behaviour and morality are abandoned. It’d be unrealistic of me to claim that there aren’t examples of positive humanity in EVE. There are – and where the real world intersects with the game world, such as on the occasion of the death of a player, then we tend to see the conventional social mores return; at least for a while.
And other times, those very same occasions are fodder for the exploitation of griefers – as with the case of the online memorial service being held in World of Warcraft for a player who’d recently died. An alliance of griefers, unable to pass up the opportunity to torment so many people with such ease, crashed the service and slaughtered everyone present. Why? Well, simply because they enjoyed it. The upset of others made them feel good.
Moving away from games for a moment, a recent news article told the story of Amnesia, a teenage girl in Italy who recently committed suicide by jumping from a high-rise building. Before she died, she’d – very unfortunately – chosen to seek advice and support online. Amnesia posted to Ask.fm, in messages that clearly indicated she was in danger; yet the response she received was – to a cynic, at least – predictable. She was taunted and told to kill herself; that nobody wanted her. What actually drove her to suicide – whether she’d already resolved herself to this course before she received those messages – I suppose we’ll never really know.
There’s been outcry: Ask.fm should be closed, shout people; cyber-bullying must be stopped, they say.
But it’s not about Ask.fm. It’s not about ‘cyber-bullying’. It’s not even about the Internet. It’s about bullying, yes. But more than that, it’s about people. It’s about what people will do, once the rules are removed; once consequence is taken away. It’s about what people are; what human nature is, when all the constraints of civilisation are released.
Why torment a girl who’s clearly in need of help? It’s for the same reason women who dare raise their heads above the parapet online are subjected to rape threats and violent abuse: simply because the abusers enjoy it. That’s not something that’s caused by technology. If it was, every technology user would be like this, and they’re clearly not. It’s not caused by Twitter, or by online chat rooms and forums, or by computer games. This is a human problem; a human fault: all the technology does is remove humans from the safeguards and restrictions that have hitherto held their brutality in check. The Internet allows people to hide while still communicating and acting publicly. Before the Net, a person’s community would keep them in line, at least to some extent. Now, though, online, we choose our societies, and the societies we choose need never know who or where we are.
It’s no new development that there are people who garner pleasure from the pain of others, who relish the ability to exploit people’s vulnerabilities to cause them suffering. The only new development is that those people are now given a free pass: the blame is freely shifted, by media, society, government and law enforcement, away from them and onto the technology they use and the games they play.