Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What You Don’t Say

Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to hold your tongue.  There’s always a ‘tomorrow’, and in some situations, responding to someone’s comment, action, or decision can only lead you to places you simply don’t want to go.  Sure, silence means you haven’t proven them wrong, and that contradicts the very point of debate and argumentation.

This week, I wrote and discarded a few blog posts about a number of topics I read, or comments folks made on reddit or EveNews24.  Only after writing them out did I realize I was pretty much saying the same thing again, and that didn’t strike me as particularly helpful to anyone.  So I decided to just hush up and let the topics rest.

But that decision got me thinking about how silly all of that really is when you’re talking about Eve.  The forums have moderators specifically because so many people post without thinking things through carefully.  The external sites that cover Eve all have the full range of commenters, from completely sane to bat-shit crazy.

On the surface, all that vitriol and hostility that pours out of Eve players could strike an outside reader as genuine hostility and hatred.  But Fanfest proves that even sworn enemies on the Internet in-game can sit down and share a drink and a laugh.  So there’s definitely something deeper at work there.

And then it hit me.  Eve lives and dies as an engaging game based on content.  But that’s more than just a buzzword we us to talk about the conflict drivers in-game.  It’s a concept that has seeped into the very soul of Eve players who have truly dedicated themselves to the game.  When we’re out in the real world, walking through the streets, sitting at a bar… these are real-world things ,and we chat and converse about Eve, what we have in common, quite pleasantly.  It’s a step removed from the experience of sitting at our computers and writing about or playing Eve.

But when you put us in front of those computers, the “content” drive within us switches on.  Our fingers physically shift to align with the keys we use most.  For me, this means keeping my thumb on the left “Alt” key, stretching my ring finger to fly over to the Function Keys, and my index finger ready to hit “F”, “R”, and “W” keys, which I use with Alt for reloading, approaching, and warping.  I don’t do this consciously… it just happens.

And it’s more than just muscle memory.  When I hear “high-security” in the real world, I imagine laser sensors and thick doors at a bank.  But in front of my computer, with the blues and grays of Eve showing, “high security” makes me think of a land of fat, half-asleep sheep grazing in the fields, unaware of the wolves lurking nearby (hey, I’m being honest!).  I start to feel a little nervous, too (for a null-sec player with a negative sec status, going through high-sec is a very anxious experience).

When I put on my headset and jump on comms, I find myself behaving differently, too.  If you hear me laugh on comms, you’re hearing everything I’m saying… I really do start and stop laughing when I hit that “broadcast” button (the `, if you’re curious).  It’s like a switch I turn on and off when the mic is hot.  It’s not that I’m being ingenuous, but rather just that I’m so conditioned to speak only when I’ve got an active mic.

And, when it comes to exercising control, I find it equally difficult.  In real life, I’m the type of person that will remember when a co-worker insults me or makes a passive-aggressive comment, but I’ll respond politely with an eye to furthering projects . I’m very cool when it comes to controlling my reactions at work – both physical and verbal.  But in Eve, I’m just like everyone else… my natural reaction is to leap to the defense of some point, some organization, or to further a bias.  It’s as if we as Eve players give in to those passions we suppress in the real world.

I don’t think Internet anonymity is to blame.  After all, we adopt a persona as our own… our characters ARE us within Eve, and the people most guilty of this lack of self-control tend to be the ones who are most invested in their character-persona.  People know me as Talvorian Dex, and what I say anywhere could be ascribed to “me” for my entire time in Eve.  Swapping character names is NOT easy, and there are consequences.  So it can’t be a result of hiding behind anonymity.

No… as I think about it, I really think it comes down to buying in fully to the concept of Eve players as content.  Conflict is a very good thing in Eve… it drives interest, engagement, and excitement.  We don’t want peace in Eve… we want chaos.  So, when we’re in “Eve Mode”, we not only loosen the self-control we exhibit in the real world, but we actively create controversy and fan the flames of conflict out of a habitual desire for content.

Humans are very adept at compartmentalizing our behaviors.  If I try to do some creative writing in an unfamiliar setting, I’m not going to produce the same result.  I wrote one novel entirely in one specific Subway restaurant over a year simply because I associated writing that particular story there, and I conditioned myself to be most creative on that story in that place.

So, it’s not that Eve players are psychopaths or anything in the real world, but rather that we understand and “own” the idea that we are the content so much that when we slip into our Eve mode, we become our characters.  And all those passions rise up as our self-restraint diminishes.  We say things we wouldn’t say in real life.  The trolls, shitposters, and griefers come to life.  I think it’s because we adopt the culture of our characters and the gameworld, if even a little bit.

And that both signals CCP’s success at cultivating a passionate playerbase and bodes well for the future of the game, even if – to an outsider – Eve players seem a little twisted.  Get us out from behind a computer and you’d find we’re pretty cool to have a beer with (with some exceptions!).


  1. I’m fascinated by the often curious interconnections between Eve persona and real life. When compartmentalizing goes awry if you will. If you’ll allow a little story . . .

    In real life the hands behind the Dire run a condominium management business. A couple years back we picked up a small complex contract. As is usually the case, complexes switch property management only when something’s deeply wrong since they wouldn’t have switched otherwise. In this particular case, one ongoing problem was a particularly aggrieved owner hell-bent on having her way whether it destroyed the Association and everybody else’s investment or not. After a few months of interaction it looked like she was, finally, relenting to reason. Her “OK, I accept this ruling” letter was a tear filled joy to read. And that’s where compartmentalizing almost went awry . . .

    As was my job, I forwarded the letter to the Management Committee with explanation and elaboration. Suddenly on safe ground (I’m writing to the Management Committee, not the aggrieved owner) I unthinkingly slipped into Dire’s mocking voice. It was wonderful explanation and elaboration. Dire’s turn of phrase always delights me. Fortunately, I caught the voice switch in rough draft realizing ‘No! I can’t send that!’ and rewrote the cover letter.

    Special Side Note – I cancelled the contract after five months when it became clear the Management Committee was every bit as willing to destroy the Association as the aggrieved owner. I was there to manage the property only, not to be a vehicle owners used to stab each other.

    2nd Special Side Note – Dire’s voice also adapted. She still mocks but it’s no longer her first choice out of the gate. Rather, it’s a tool to be deployed when helpful. Oddly, both virtual and real lives run smoother.

  2. So what about all of us that actually want peace in Eve? At least between players? The Christian in me shows itself most fervently in Eve, where I try to treat others as I want to be treated. I accept that the world is what it is and that anything goes, but that doesn't mean that I have to behave the same way... So what should us lovers of peace do in Eve?

    1. Well, there's nothing stopping you from trying. That's the beauty of the sandbox. And consider... without adversity, where's the sweetness in achievement?

      On the other hand, I've always been a bit Viking in my nature (what can I say... my ancestors were Normans). Sometimes, I like to put an axe, or a Rapier, in someone's head just to see how people react.

    2. With that I have no issue. As a social simulator, Eve shows a lot of different sides to everything. It just seems like the game is weighted towards vikings instead of civilized people. Where do we fit into the bigger picture? Are we permanently relegated to highsec as industry people, signature hunters or mission runners?

    3. Not at all. By all means, work together to make something positive happen. But by its nature, the game is about blowing people up. That's not going to be conducive to peaceful coexistence.