Posted Tue, Aug 30, 2011 by The Mittani
Most flee before that point. They love the game, but they can’t handle it; they play until they’re confronted with the inescapable truths of New Eden, and they punch out leaving a trail of excuses in their wake. They go crying to an easier game where they won’t be confronted by their fellow humans, unconstrained by law or culture, wallowing in greed and cruelty and deathlust. Other games have logical, predictable foes, something safe like an orc, a demon lord or a rogue elephant. Other games, police your fellow humans, keeping them tightly chained in a web of custom and mechanics that keeps them from behaving like the vicious animals they really are. Not so, here.
By the time they discover EVE, those who are obsessed with spaceships have been raised for decades on a steady diet of utopian sc-fi drivel. Star Trek, Babylon 5, Iain Banks. Heinlein, Pohl, Lucas. Even the grittier narratives have a kind of uplift to them, expressing a hope for the future, the triumph of good over evil - and a change in human nature for the better through technology.
EVE posits a post-scarcity world full of immortal capsuleers. You can’t truly die, you can only lose what you choose to put at risk, and your avatar requires no sustenance or maintenance. Our fictions tell us that in such an environment people will flourish into compassionate individualistic beings that are beyond hierarchy. Yet the reality of the sandbox provides a sneer-inducing carnival of cruelty, folly and subjugation, dizzying in its shameful permutations.
The above sentiment is easily dismissed by a new player. The internet plus anonymity, we are told, results in a certain Penny Arcade comic being linked into the ground - you know the one. Yet what makes EVE unique is that its players, like rats trapped in a single-sharded cage, go far beyond the understood norms of expected internet misbehavior. Given unrestrained freedom, we do not behave like Jedi or Sith, dueling in some quaint ritual dance like our sci-fi fictive forebears would suggest, nor the more risqué Reavers of Whedon’s Firefly. We behave like dupes - or we behave like brownshirts. In an environment of near-absolute freedom, we rush headlong off a cliff due to sheer blind stupidity, or we gleefully pursue the loving embrace of violent autocracy.
Empire is safe from the siren song of totalitarianism. In the one environment where EVE most closely resembles other MMOs, Concord keeps the vast bulk of the EVE playerbase safe and secure. The biggest risk in hisec is becoming a victim of one’s own stupidity - falling for a scam or getting suicide ganked. Even these minor encounters are enough to send many running for the exits, writing off their experience as some quirk specific to EVE or just a run of bad luck rather than a lesson. The banal unpleasantness of Empire is the naivete and folly, a never-ending stream of dupes repeatedly getting conned by the same old tricks. Exposure to profound stupidity is certainly wearying in the long run, but not ruinous or unique to EVE.
It’s what happens outside of Concord’s jurisdiction where EVE gets ugly and the hard bitterness envelops you. EVE is a game, a voluntary activity undertaken for the amusement of the player. With even a small sum of isk - harvested easily enough off those dupes in hisec - a pilot can fly and lose innumerable ships with impunity. A pilot only risks what he chooses, knowing when he undocks that his ship is forfeit. His character cannot be ruined, he cannot ‘die’, and he cannot starve, and thus he needs to tolerate no master. A pilot in New Eden can always ‘vote with his feet’ and cannot be truly coerced. Given that, it’s no surprise that this game attracts Libertarians like a family in foreclosure attracts shysters.
Yet we appear to be so geared towards loss aversion that even in an environment with no true risk, filled with those eager Libertarians, players outside of safe space overwhelmingly opt for security over freedom. This choice isn’t even borne of grudging necessity, but one made with a smile. The alliances with the highest morale and strongest cultures are uniformly the most autocratic and warlike; representative governments and democracies in this game have become a standalone punchline that requires no setup - much like “The Pilgrim” or “boot.ini”.