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I focus almost exclusively on PvP, whether solo, small gang, or large bloc warfare. In the past, I've been a miner, mission runner, and faction warfare jockey. I'm particularly interested in helping high-sec players get into 0.0 combat.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Villains

As humans, we naturally divide the world by dichotomies.  Good and evil.  Right and wrong.  Left and right.  True and false.  More often than not, these end up being laughably simplistic and utterly wrong, but we keep doing it anyways.

These generalities allow us to make conclusions about the world… there’s simply too much information to assess each piece independently.  Dichotomies are shortcuts.  And they allow us to cast ourselves in the mold of The Standard… the measure by which the world is gauged.  Is this person more or less moral than me?  We position ourselves at the center of the universe.  And that kind of makes sense… no one else’s perspective and experience matters as much to us as our own does; we’re stuck with it… it had better.

So, naturally, we always cast ourselves in the role of The Hero.  We are righteous.  We are just.  Our actions are the norm by which everyone else should seek to emulate.  Pair that tendency with the deceptive believe in universal truths (for instance, morality, justice, etc.), and you get a dangerous combination.

But this isn’t an article about The Hero.  This is an article about the importance of The Villain, and specifically the essential role villains play in Eve.

Villains Provide Us With Focus

“We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against.”            - Samuel P. Huntington

The simple truth about human beings is that we’re easily distracted.  Our attention falters, we lose sight of what matters.  We allow ourselves to focus on what is nearby, not what is important.  We rationalize this by saying, “That’s not going to affect me,” or “That’s in the future; I need to deal with the now.”

We need an Other to drive us forward, someone who threatens our happiness to spur us into action.  While we refer to humans as a Species of Action, we’re really a Species of Reaction.   History teaches us the cost of victory… too often, the winner of a great conflict collapses on its own because it simply has nothing to focus its efforts any longer.  It’s no surprise that the Roman Republic finally crushed Carthage around 150 B.C. and began its process of decay with Gaius Gracchus in 133 B.C.  Civilizations swing toward their ends after their greatest triumphs.

Villains present an existential threat that gives us a clear example of what we do NOT want to be, do, or believe.  They guide us to their opposite.  In many ways, villains have mastery over us simply by their existence… we cannot help but define ourselves by reacting to them.

I will give you a very personal, Eve example.  Many times, I’ve argued that Eve is a PvP game, that PvP is the central hub of the wheel around which all other elements of the game lay.  This is a polarizing opinion, and it generates rage among those who disagree with me.

It may seem odd that I, a blogger who wants people to read my blog, would write about a topic I know to be controversial.  Yet, some of my most avid readers are those who consistently and passionately disagree with me.  The goal of a writer shouldn’t be to be liked or agreed with, but to encourage his/her readers to consider and analyze.  Sometimes, that means expressing stances that I know people will disagree with, like proposing a definition of player interactions that clearly excludes a range of activities within Eve.

But as much as some people may hate me for writing these opinions, I am absolutely certain that after reading my defenses of my perspectives, they themselves understand their feelings much, much better.  Position defenses naturally make us think more about where we stand on an issue, and through the types of and content of arguments raise, we cannot help but think about our position and the reasons that led us to it.

Consider Walking In Stations… the Summer of Rage was one of the most intense outpourings of emotion Eve has ever experienced.  Players lashed out with fury at what they believed to be a misguided expenditure of time and resources.  Yet before WiS launched, none of that passion was there.  It was a reaction to a feature launch that they viewed as a betrayal of their trust.  CCP became The Villain, a lightning rod for rage.  And through the process, players that were upset defined the reasons for their frustration to such an extent that CCP was able to identify a remedy so successful that such an experience hasn’t happened since.  And the anger roused in players reminded them why they loved Eve in the first place.  Without becoming The Villain, CCP would not be the company that so skillfully handled adjustments to the null-sec sov changes.

The two most powerful urges among players are belief IN a thing and belief AGAINST a thing.  One stems from heroes, the other from villains.  Which leads us to…

A Hero is Only as Great as His Villain


When a Roman general would defeat another tribe, he wouldn’t kill the enemy leader immediately.  Instead, he would keep the leader alive, along with his finest warriors and the most splendid spoils, to walk in his Triumph, a victory parade through Rome.  Rarely (at least until the Civil Wars) was it given.  The defeated enemy wouldn’t be dragged in chains, though.  Instead, he would be given his finest clothing, bathed scrupulously, and adorned with the finest jewels and armor he owned.  He would be dressed in all his splendor.  Then, at the end of the triumph, the defeated leader was strangled.

The point, of course, was to show the glory of the defeated tribe/people/country, with the implication that the triumphing general was even more glorious for having overcome such a powerful foe.  The Romans understood this simple fact: Great Villains define Great Heroes.

And, in the modern age, we realize that the very finest villains are, in reality, heroes from the perspective of the other side.  Temujin was a villain to Eastern Europe and China, but a hero to Mongolia.  Vlad the Impaler was deemed a monster to Western Europe and the Turks, but a savior to his people.  Hannibal Barca was a villain to Rome – so much so that the Romans pursued him mercilessly for years – but a hero to Carthage.

Understanding this, we have to be careful when we wish an end to our villains.  The Mittani, Elo Knight, Pandemic Legion, CODE, The Marmite Collective, MiniLuv… folks tend to call for them to leave the game or “stop ruining Eve.”  But we have to stop and ask ourselves… If we slay all of villains, what will we fight against?  What will motive us?  What will trigger our rage and vigor?  And most importantly, what will prevent us from losing our focus and becoming aimless?

Villains Improve Us


Struggle and hardship are the chief motivators of growth.  Every living creature seeks a personal equilibrium, and when it finds it, it remains at that state for as long as it can.  If it needs to take action, it acts to restore that equilibrium.  People are no different.  And villains provide plenty of hardship for us in Eve.

Just consider some of the comments that reflect this sentiment.  “If you want to start PvP, practice with T1 frigates, because you’ll lose a lot of ships.”  “They ganked my Iteron V with 2 billion of stuff in it.  Next time, I’m going to cut my cargo up into lower-value pieces.”  “I’m not paying CODE for anything.  I’ll just fit a tank on my mining barge.”

How many alliances failed the first time they owned sov?  How many people have improved their market trading because of a scam?  How many CEOs failed the first time they tried to start a corporation?  How many corps improved their security after someone made off with a hefty theft?  Eve is filled with stories of people making huge mistakes exactly once, then improving the way they play.

Yes, the joke is that a PvPer isn’t killing you, he’s teaching you a lesson.  But the joke contains a kernel of truth.  Failure and disaster teach us more about how to succeed than success does; when we succeed, it’s hard to identify whether luck or skill was responsible.  But in failure, the causes are generally self-evident and brutal in their self-reflection.

Villains are the finest and most valuable teachers we have… if we choose to learn from them.  They are unforgiving, skillful (else they wouldn’t elevate to villain status), and merciless… all of which are prerequisites for education.  And the very act of overcoming them demonstrates the degree of our improvement.  We are better than we would be without the challenge of a villain.

Villains Create Narrative


Think about yourself honestly.  How much would you value an Eve achievement if it was given to you?  Accomplishment and satisfaction require a delay between desire and achievement.  The struggle defines the value.  How many times have you struggled mightily for a thing only to lose interest in it shortly after achieving it?  There’s a reason, beyond the fact that you can’t dock, that supercarriers are called space coffins.  In a large number of cases, achieving a super or titan on a character is an immediate precursor of unsubscribing.

When CCP handed out one of each of the four Titans on the Singularity server, did you have a sense of accomplishment or any satisfaction from receiving them?  Or (more likely) did you simply play with them, watching them blow up out of curiosity and novelty than any sense of ownership. 

The hunger for a goal is what drives us.  Villains provide an obstacle in our way, a human force that actively works to destroy all we created.  Yes, it is frustrating, but every time it pushes us down it sweetens our eventual victory.  And the story of our goals and the obstacles to our goals… that’s narrative, and it creates passionate engagement.  Narrative is responsible for long-term interest in Eve.

Any writers out there know that a story requires only a couple key elements: a protagonist, a goal, and an antagonist that thwarts the protagonist (which doesn’t need to be an individual).  And the very best stories feature villains as antagonists who are the equal of (or superior to!) the protagonist as a worthy challenge.  For your Eve story to have meaning, it needs struggle and an enemy to overcome.  Only then does your accomplishment fill you with pride.

Bringing It All Together


Why is this topic so interesting to me?  Sure, folks have complained about the entities I mentioned above for years.  They think FozzieSov will finally destroy the CFC.  And they seem to think this is a great thing.

Someone recently denigrated me because I’m in Goonswarm.  My first reaction was to explain that my opinions are my own and I don’t have any interaction with the GSF or Imperial leadership, that I identify much more as a member of Repercussus, having been there for longer and having been spiritually a Repercussus guy for about a year before I joined.

But then, I realized something.  Sure, GSF treats its members well, with second-to-none ship reimbursement and a steady diet of content.  Among its allies, GSF is a great partner, making decisions that keep the whole coalition vibrant and healthy (just look at how much space it has given away in the past few weeks).  They’re among the most generous people to newbies in Eve.

But, at its core, Goonswarm are villains.  They swagger into high-sec with bravado, slake their thirst on mission runners and freighters during the Burn events, then leave.  They don’t think twice about killing whatever neutrals stray into their path, and they do it with a cold delight at having killed another ship.  In sov wars, they weaponize boredom, inflict brutal punishment on their enemies, and do everything they can on every possible level to sap the will and enjoyment out of the game for their adversaries so they can emerge victorious. 

They are, in every way, the antithesis to what their enemies and high-sec views as heroes.  They exert their will for no purpose beyond to remind people that they can.  Just like me.

On my blog, I don’t try to speak for everyone.  I don’t believe my way is right; only present arguments to persuade as many people as possible to believe as I believe.  I don’t seek The Truth; I don't believe a single, universal perspective exists; I seek to make the gameworld compatible to my perspective.  To some, that makes me a villain.  But I think that's just a description of what we all try to do through our arguments.

I will kill any ship I come across (granted, I’m likely to convo the pilot and either praise him or offer some advice afterwards).  But for every person who hates me for what I do, there’s another person who appreciates it.  Folks have commented that they love the blog as I pass through local.  Some mock me.  The people I’ve killed sometimes complain and sometimes thank me for sharing the fit I used.

I am a villain.  I am a hero.   I’m honest enough to know I’m both.

So I won’t call for the end of villains, for it’d be the end of me, too.  It’d be the end to all of us.

(Ed. Note: I clarified the fourth-to-the-last paragraph following a reader comment to be clearer.)

21 comments:

  1. “I don’t believe my way is right; [I]only present arguments to persuade as many people as possible to believe as I believe. I don’t seek truth; I seek to make the gameworld compatible to my perspective.”

    Care to elaborate on that a little Tal? Generally speaking proclaiming one not only isn’t seeking truth (or something akin to ‘truth’) but also that one doesn’t believe their way is right (or something akin to ‘right’) is not the kind of thing one wants to say publicly. If you don’t believe in what you claim, at least a little, that well-nigh makes you mere provocateur and a rather poor one at that. Good provocateurs never overtly state such things. It takes all the wind out of their arguments.

    I’m handing you a mulligan here. Claim it.


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    1. Every statement I make is my genuine opinion and belief. But I don't make the mistake of trying to come up with The Universal Truth or The Right Answer For Everyone (capitals intended). I don't believe in universal truth. I don't believe in one answer. I believe reality consists of an equilibrium of dynamic, angry forces. My opinions crashing up against yours determine where the "front" is; that front is what we call "reality". The more people who agree with me, the more power that perspective has. But everyone needs to come to it honestly.

      So saying, "I'm not interested in Truth" isn't the same as saying, "I don't believe what I am saying." It's saying that though all things are subjective, I think you (reader) should use the same perspective I am.

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    2. Thank God for subjectivity (capital G, silly intended ::giggle::).

      One limitation of treating reality (small t truth) as but result of angry opinions crashing together in unending battle is that one rarely hears others. Oh one pays attention to others, often very close attention, as one must when searching for weakness to exploit, but one rarely *hears* others. Hearing merely risks weakening one’s position in the reality battle royale. Accordingly, one doesn’t hear (mustn’t hear) as hearing is but losing strategy.

      Speaking for myself only, my most life changing reevaluations rarely grew out of contestation. Rather, they grew out of listening, really listening to other's thoughts and following up with no immediate attempt to bludgeon but rather just wearing those thoughts for a while.

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    3. I disagree... if you hear the other side, you may discover a better opinion, which you can then adopt to be "right" again. I don't argue to be _seen_ to be more effective, I argue to create a crucible that either negates or strengthens my views. Both results are equally acceptable, because both leave me better than I started out. Only by listening can you always be on the winning side. :)

      But this is a bit too philosophical even for this post!

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  2. You said...
    "...at its core, Goonswarm are villains. They swagger into high-sec with bravado, slake their thirst on mission runners and freighters during the Burn events, then leave."

    I myself have argued this very point many times. Oh I hate the Swarm on a personal level, but I also respect the level of skill and gamesmanship (not to be confused with any kind of honor or E-honor, just gamesmanship) that Mittens and his minions have brought to EVE... and the fact that they as the Villain, they create great content in the game for themselves and for us all.

    Man is his own best enemy. And no matter how evil or vile one makes an NPC Boss, no programmed 'enemy' will ever be as evil or as duplicitous as a thinking human being., and the Swarm under Das Mittens have stepped up and donned the black hat and cape and twirly mustache of The Villains of EVE with a will.

    I pose this question to you my enemy, my friend... Why is it that EVE has no Hero's? Oh we have hundreds of players who really want to fight the good fight and all.. but as in the real world, the Hero's in EVE are handcuffed by the rules and the Villains... simply aren't.

    Goons don't mind and even carefully plan for the Sec Status hits their players take for the Burn Jita's and Hulkageddons they perpetrate... but the Hero's can't afford those same penalties they would pay for fighting back... not if they want to continue to live in Hisec or even in Lowsec... no real Hero has a Security Status of -5.0 or even -3.0... a Hero is welcome in polite society (all of Hisec) and his actions against Villains are made under the Shield of Law, and are condoned and supported by society at large.

    We talk a lot about balance in EVE... ship balancing, module balancing even space balancing... but we never talk about the balance between Good and Evil... We have a Great Villain and his Horde of Evil Minions... we don't have a Great Hero and his Band of Trusty Companions.

    Maybe we should. =]

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    1. Hero is a matter of perspective. I'd challenge your claim that "a hero is welcome in polite society". I don't think being a hero and being protected under the "shield of law" overlap entirely.

      To me, a hero has been one who has stood for a cause no matter the cost to himself. The one who can say, "Yes, I am right, and the world is wrong, and let me prove it to you through those I help."

      I think Eve does have heroes. It's just that being a hero and being "good" are not the same thing. Every hero is his adversary's villain. :)

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    2. As I said below, I think the fact is that there is no counter-play to Villainy in this game (except more villainy). The combination of Alt-characters, new accounts, character transfer and more absolve players of all personal responsibility, should they have the ISK and wealth outside the game to take advantage of it.

      Looking for one example of 'good heroes', I would pick out the infini-war between GSF and the White Rose Conventicle (I think), way back when war-decs were introduced (re-implemented?). GSF were trapped in an unbreakable war with the forces of high-sec and were losing quite badly.

      Unfortunately, CCP then removed the possiblity of this ever happening, and the situation was brought to a close in GSF's favour. You can imagine how this looked to WRC and the Heroes of the hour. (Most of whom then left the game, as I understand it.) If you're wondering where the Heroes went, here's your smoking gun.

      [NOTE, this is all from memory, and is very likely somewhat wrong]

      So there, balance between good and evil firmly tilted, and see what happened...
      :P

      Rob K.

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    3. In my view, there are only desires and perspectives. The Imperium does not exert influence on every system. With FozzieSov, the area it can regularly influence will dramatically decrease. So GSF is not a dominating force in any practical way.

      What you see as "more villainy", I see as agency, impetus, and passion. Fighting an enemy requires people to get their hands dirty; this doesn't make them evil.

      A note about the war decs... The argument that high-sec war deccers are doing anything negative to GSF is simply not true. All corp/alliance logistics are handled by out-of-corp freighter and industrial alts. The only losses GSF pilots suffer are from individuals doing stupid things and getting caught (and yes, me too, sometimes). It has no effect whatsoever on the strength of the coalition. Alliances that do it actually perform a service by providing a Nietzschean education. Thank you for that. :)

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    4. I'm sorry, I was going to address this in a longer post below, but really? I get that that's the 'standard line' for High-sec wardec losses. I've even said it myself a few times. Still, really?

      I find it extremely telling that GSF and the CFC are not monolithic entities, until they are. Perhaps they occupy some schrödingian status, where they are monolithic or fractured depending on the argument they are part of.

      Let's break the CFC down first.
      1) The CFC is a group of alliances, made up of corporations, made up of players. Do you disagree?
      2) Players depend only on one thing: their account status. Do you disagree?
      3) Players must pay IRL or ISK to keep their account status active. Do you disagree?
      4) Player losses inhibit the purchasing of PLEX (through in-game means). Do you disagree?

      Therefore, player losses can impact on account status, which impact on the strength of corporations, and so on up the chain to their alliances and beyond.

      Do you disagree?

      You have tried to downplay the impact that loss has. I would suggest that player losses have wider and greater impacts . Morale and its various components, for example. Continual losses, such as those taken by SMA to MoA and 'NPC trash' have a drag on willingness to play.

      Deny, downplay, minimise all you like, things are not quite so simple as you would have me believe...

      Rob K.


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    5. I'm not really interested in trying to influence people one way or another. By all means, continue the wars. Just do them because you find them fun and like to farm kills. Applying an "I'm hurting the evil goons!" narrative is... fantastical, at best.

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  3. "Someone recently denigrated me because I’m in Goonswarm."

    I'm guessing that that was me, which is a mite unfair of you. I wasn't trying to denigrate you at all, I respect you more than that. I was trying to call out what I felt was a rather obvious piece of cognitive dissonance in your reaction. That you took a rather (as I felt) facetious tone to my reply was your choice :P. Still, I felt there was some productive discussion involved in the follow up.

    But back to the current topic. I'd like to pick out a single line, that I feel is key to the relationship the 'villains' (GSF and the CFC) have to the game.

    "I seek to make the gameworld compatible to my perspective."

    Now, replace compatible with congruent*, and look at what you get.

    "I seek to make the gameworld congruent to my perspective"

    (Using the geometrical definition: (of figures) identical in form)

    Or, to phrase it a little less archaically, "I want to make the gameworld only suit me".

    That's my problem with GSF and the CFC. There is no way to counter the CFC, unless you play like them. Supra-organisational skill in the meta-game have beaten skill in the real game. If you want to talk about 'lessons', then the lesson the CFC teaches is that there is no point being the best in-game, because you will lose outside the game.

    To use a terrible phrase, to beat the villain, you must become him. (Which is where my opposition to the idea of 'N3' as a coalition comes from).

    And honestly, I don't want to play someone else's game.


    Rob K.

    *Because, compatible might be what you said. But it isn't really what you mean. (or so I think :P).

    And CCP knows how many time skillpoint based force multipliers have been removed from the game. (with a mysterious villain leading the charge. :P)

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    1. This argument is an interpretation of an interpretation that only proves my point. You're trying to swing opinion around through selective interpretation too. :)

      Perhaps this term will help frame the context of my point: will-to-power. It's what we all do; I'm just pointing it out. ;)

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  4. "The Romans understood this simple fact: Great Villains defeat Great Heroes."

    Surely you mean that Great Heroes defeat Great Villains?

    Otherwise that whole section becomes rather bizarre.

    Rob K.

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  5. I remember a "Villian" that Brave Newbies had early. He would sit on our undock and pick us off one by one. We could not muster the strength to drive him off. His name was Minas93. He taught us about safe undocking. He taught us to click and warp. He taught us to "be less shit".

    He eventually became a good friend. Sometimes we were able to chase him off, sometimes we even killed him. He eventually had to go back to school. We were sad to see him go.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/Bravenewbies/comments/1ys4ze/goodbye_bni/

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  6. First time reader, after this reading this i'll be sure to check out all of your future posts.
    Really good post imo :)

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    1. Thanks for reading and for posting. I post all neutral or well-constructed posts. Just avoid profanity or really offensive content (disagreeing with me is NOT offensive, btw...) and I'll post.

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  7. Some groups, tribes, factions, individuals, have a need for a "villain", a Malign Other to, well...malign.

    I've been happily fulfilling this role for most of my life, to the point where I'm pretty uncomfortable being accepted, liked, etc. Maybe I should join Gewns...what's your guys' background check fee again?? ;-D

    I guess I'm the weird outlier...I don't see myself as a hero in my own Quixotic narrative (which seems pretty common these days, people tilting at "giant" windmills via social media). I'm just a random dude who really doesn't matter fuck-all in the grander scheme of things.

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  8. Let's say instead, TD, that you are not a villain, but rather are *playing* a villain for the fun of dominating others.

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  9. A villian is an excuse.

    In chess game, there is no need of villains, each player has an understanding when they sit at the board. An eve player will turn up without having needed to learn the moves, just knock the pieces over. It will be the other players fault because the pieces were not magnetic or more weighted. Much the same as you do not need any investment in industry to kill an industrial player. - nor involvement in FW for target selection in contested space.

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