Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Human after all

(This is a response to Blog Banter #37: A Line in the Sand)
“EVE Online sits on the frontier of social gaming, providing an entertainment environment like no other. The vibrant society of interacting and conflicting communities, both within the EVE client and without, is the driving force behind EVE’s success. However, the anonymity of internet culture combined with a competitive gaming environment encourages in-game behavior to spread beyond the confines of the sandbox. Where is the line?”

One of the reasons I've found EVE online so incredibly compelling is that it provides the framework for observing human behavior in a “controlled” environment that we often only read about it in, well, science fiction. That may sound a bit redundant - but alternative realities inhabited by human consciousness are a common literary vehicle for exploring morality. Many stories feature characters existing inside “the game” and allowed to, encouraged to, or forced to do horrendous things to other player entities. This affords artists the freedom to use their imagination when answering tough questions about the extent to which we will hurt one another. Psychological researchers often end up on the other end of the spectrum, strictly bound by a code of ethics based on the social norms during their time. The scientific method necessary for experimentation to be productive also restricts the ability to monitor multiple variables at play in a given system.

The EVE universe ends up living in this fantastic place in the middle of it all – its a video game and not a research tool, and so its creators are free to unleash a thousand variables at once into a dynamic system and watch chaos unfurl without being bound by the need to produce meaningful information in the process. Developers are free to throw ingredients into the beaker and pray for explosions. Players can take advantage of the game's social and mechanical freedoms to engage in any number of “fantasies”. The actions themselves however, end up very much part of reality. Ever since the advent of the PLEX system, EVE's economy has been tied to the real world economy in an unprecedented, quantifiable fashion. As players we can transform our real world money into material in the EVE universe, but EVE lacks the vast majority of safeguards as to what happens to that investment once its made. By straddling these two worlds, the imaginary and the tangible, EVE never allows us to completely forget that we are merely “pushing pixels”.

Socially, the barriers between EVE's real and virtual communities all but vanish completely. Relationships extend far beyond the context of the game server, EVE players meet each for drinks, work together, fall in love with each other, and help each other through difficult times. There is no pretending we are anything but human behind the keyboard*, because we've all gone to great lengths to get to know each other in that context as well. It is for this reason that we can't ignore the consequences of our actions, either. I don't believe using an avatar to interact with each other in a virtual universe ever absolves any of us from our responsibility to treat other players like human beings.

What I soundly reject, however, is the idea that this competitive gaming environment encourages in-game behavior to “spread beyond the confines of the sandbox.” 

Veteran and new players alike understand fully the emphasis placed on personal decision-making built in to the game's design. If one of the values of a sandbox is that it encourages players to think about and execute difficult choices, we must resist falling into the all-too-tempting “blame the video game” trap whenever a player ends up committing a crime or otherwise harming one of the other human beings that plays EVE.

Part of the fun of the game will always be the ability to be a complete bastard to other characters. The pilots themselves – the ones that mine the ore, make the stuffs, and sell it to those that blow it up. EVE is the game for those that want to hurt other characters. And want to hurt them in as many ways as possible. We cherish this last ability so much that we monetize it, quantify it, and celebrate it. That's never going to go away, nor should it.

But let's face it: CCP is not encouraging us to siege real world internet infrastructure through DDOS attacks. They are not encouraging us to publicly reveal, humiliate, or slander each other's real world identities. They are not encouraging us to threaten each other's families. They are not encouraging us to invade each other's personal privacy. They are not encouraging us to call each other faggots, they're not encouraging us to sexually harass female gamers. They are not encouraging us to ridicule each other's legitimate physical or mental health issues. They are not encouraging us to hate each other as human beings, no matter how you slice it. (On the contrary - the pub crawls and round table discussions that make up each year's Fan Fest are held specifically to foster a sense of intimacy between players, their in-game enemies, and the developers.)

EVE encourages us to blow up spaceships. It encourages us to steal spacebucks. It encourages us to conquer spacelands. It encourages to spy on each other's spaceplans, and it encourages us to manipulate the spacemarkets. It encourages us to gather spacerocks. It encourages us to taunt the spacepilots that are bad at the game, it encourages us to win spacewars. It encourages us to exploit the failures of other spacecitizens. It encourages us to work together. And most of all, EVE encourages us to think about the decisions we make.

*Exceptions would include robo-blogger Ripard Teg or CSM Vice Chair Trebor Daehdoow, who are both clearly cyborgs, if not outright androids.


  1. Very nice, yes your opinions match mine very closely. It is a game, we should all enjoy. Killing each others spaceships or pods is part of the game, threatening the person behind the character is NOT part of it.

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  3. I regard a person's in-game behaviour to be a reflection of their real-life morals and ethics. If you are a consumate liar, cheater, or theif in-game, it probably reflects your RL personal integrity. I'm not considering what individual occurances might say about you; to use an analogy, if one ignores the trees and focuses on the forest, it reflects whether you are open and honest or dark and foreboding.

  4. "What I soundly reject, however, is the idea that this competitive gaming environment encourages in-game behavior to 'spread beyond the confines of the sandbox.' "

    hot damn i'd thought the exact same i just feel like a dirty plagiarizer. lol