Bad Crazy in Internet Space

The last few weeks have taken us to the edge of New Eden. The Goonswarm intelligence director and solar spymaster, The Mittani, has given us blow-by-blow accounts of the war going on in The Delve and what it takes to lose a war. But what happens when a person devotes weeks to a game without even taking the time to sleep? That's the kind of question The Mittani explores in this week's article, "Bad Crazy in Internet Space." Believe me, this article is definitely one to read.

Sleep was sacrificed, work was skipped, and as each day passed a greater edge of delirium inserted itself into the normal operations of the alliance. One of our logisticians woke his wife up in the middle of the night shouting that "We've got to pack up everything and move the babies to Delve!" Another Goonswarm director told his wife that she should only use half the detergent in the dishwasher, because the "salad bowls are in reinforced mode." And yours truly (so I am told) once sat bolt-upright in bed and warned his spouse: "Don't touch that! Don't open the refrigerator! The spy is in the refrigerator!" before abruptly passing back out.


There is a jagged fissure of insanity which runs through the heart of
the EVE playerbase, a kind of feverish bad crazy that you simply don't
find in other online games. Oh, sure, everyone knows a tale or two
about the Starcraft player who stayed awake for 50 hours and href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4137782.stm"
target="_blank">died from exhaustion because he
wouldn't stop gaming, or the legions of relatively mundane overweight
basement-dwelling nerds that populate the other MMOs that have a lack
of perspective that comes from playing in virtual worlds too much. Some
people like to point to South Korea's Starcraft tournaments as a sign
of abnormality, but sporting leagues are a 'healthy' expression of
hobby activity by most standards. No, if you want utter madness, you
have to look to EVE.

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Humans, for all our pretensions, are monkeys, and monkeys are funny
creatures. One or two of them might seem normal enough, but in
isolation or small groups social animals aren't really their true
selves. With their overdeveloped adrenal glands, numerous href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases"
target="_blank">cognitive biases and a supreme
faith in the rightness of that same flawed cognition, when you get them
in groupings over a certain number hilarious things occur. What
differentiates EVE from the other MMOs - and what creates the level of
frothing madness - is the number of monkeys it manages to pack into one
barrel.

In World of Warcraft, while there may be an obscene 11.5
million people running about as elves and orcs hitting monsters with
swords and spells, those people are broken up into small groups of ten
to twenty thousand per server. If you don't like your server, you can
leave to another server, start anew, find a different social milieu.
The game is also infamously newbie friendly, which is partly why it has
gained such mainstream success; almost anyone can pick it up and play.
The basic group unit in WoW is a guild between 20 and 100 people; the
odd megaguild nonwithstanding, it's a grouping intimate enough that
every monkey can get to know every other monkey, and the primary social
activity involves groups of between five and 25. Even at this level,
though, there's a blurring of perspective in the minds of people; sick
days are called in from work to raid, personal hygiene is neglected,
obsession with purple loot and intensely personal dramas around said
loot occur.

By contrast, EVE takes a much smaller player base - perhaps 450,000 -
but jams all these monkeys into one barrel, a barrel from which there
is no escape - no 'other server' to flee to and begin anew. The
learning curve in EVE might as well be vertical, despite all the
efforts to make the game more newbie-friendly over the years; any sort
of mistake usually results in you dying horribly and losing substantial
assets, which are very limited when first playing the game.
Additionally, more than any other MMO, EVE relies heavily on
mathematics and spreadsheets in the player-run logistics and production
aspects of the game. Given the violence, loss, and (horror of horrors)
math, it is only a certain sort of of monkey who not only ascends the
nightmarish and Darwinian learning curve, but finds the process
entertaining enough to stick around and play for more than a week. So
this is EVE, a galaxy filled with socially inept spreadsheet nerds on
the one hand and obsessive, ambitious griefers on the other. Resources
are limited and must be fought over, and the only way out is to quit
entirely.

Unique in EVE, the number of people on one server puts the players far
beyond the threshold of intimate friendship; your average social unit,
the corporation, involves hundreds of people, while alliances made up
of these corporations include thousands of people. Thus, instead of
micro-level 'guild drama' over who gets what epic item, EVE suffers
from 'alliance politics' which in many ways have come to mirror real
world politics; the threshold of 'enough monkeys in one place' is
crossed, and you find yourself contending with alliances based on
ethnic and nationalistic identities, many of which carry their cultural
quirks and baggage into the realm of internet spaceships. EVE has
French alliances, Russian alliances, Polish alliances, German
alliances, you name it.

If the idea of social units comprising of
thousands of people allied by
nationality or shared culture doesn't add enough monkey madness for
you, consider that the game has both legal and illegal channels for
real world income to bleed into the game. You can spend your
hard-earned money on an in-game item called a 'PLEX' which can be used
to add two months of in-game subscription time to a character, and then
sell these PLEXes on the in-game market for in-game currency (isk). If
you're rich in-game and poor in reality, you can play EVE for free by
simply purchasing PLEXes; if you're rich in reality and don't have time
to make spaceship money, you can sell some PLEXes and buy as many
spaceships as you feel like. Of course, many players go outside of the
established CCP-sanctioned system and buy and sell both currency and
characters on the black market of eBay; a substantial sum of hard
currency can be earned by a diligent eBayer, and it is an accepted
belief among many EVE players that some people are making a day-to-day
living off selling isk.

One galaxy, limited resources, 450,000 players who are all a little odd
to begin with, nationalistic alliances, and a porous system of currency
trading. Welcome to the asylum, let's take a tour!

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Our first patient is href="http://images.tentonhammer.com/eve/lordex1.jpg"
target="_blank">SirLordex, an aluminium magnate of
Russian extraction. His existence was only a rumor among the
English-speaking population of EVE for many months; he was alleged to
have bankrolled his own alliance, RED.OVERLORD, in a quest to seize the
region of Feythabolis from its previous owner Goonswarm; it was hinted
that he was spending thousands of dollars to purchase isk in bulk from
eBay, and that with this money he had purchased five Titans, a number
of motherships, and innumerable control towers. The money was
eventually traced by CCP those Titans and characters vanished in a mass
banning, but evidence of the true extent of SirLordex's habit of
spending money on EVE only recently came to light- apparently he's
started pumping money into the PLEX system and has singlehandedly
crashed the market, driving the in-game price down steeply. You too can
watch the madness href="http://eve-search.com/search/author/lTOPl" target="_blank">here,
keeping in mind that one PLEX is worth $34.99. How many games do you know of
where someone spends over $100,000 on spaceships and brags about it? In
SerLordex's own words:

"Listen, calm down. Everyone here understands that
ROL didn't sell a
single isk on Ebay. Originally, I put in about 50K cash (buying isk,
chars and 5 titans + a ton of motherships) from your ratting me out to
the GM's (RA's directors = rats, admit it). All of this got banned
under the pretext of an exploit that we never used (GM's couldn't prove
that I bought isk for RL cash, but I couldn't prove that the isk was
legal, either). After that, I bought a ton of timecards from legitimate
dealers and, at the moment, have sold more than 1 trillion isk's worth
(GM's have confirmed that they know about this and decided that I'm not
breaking any rules), bought another five titans, two [more? this is
unclear] are still building, and I'm also financing new corps that are
coming in. I'll have no problems with [continuing to fund] any of this.
So let's not have any dirt thrown around, because if anyone is selling
isk here, it's you, and since I know all the gray market dealers I'm
going to sell you to CCP at the first opportunity - the next ban is on
you."

Perhaps he should consider a career in href="http://images.tentonhammer.com/eve/lordex2.gif"
target="_blank">rap.

The bad crazy goes beyond dropping 100
large on internet spaceships,
though. About two years ago, Goonswarm was aiding our allies, Red
Alliance (RA, the aforementioned 'rats' with whom SirLordex is cross)
in the invasion of the Scalding Pass region against Lotka Volterra and
their coalition. Lotka Volterra had unveiled one of the first Titans
against us to href="http://www.shacknews.com/featuredarticle.x?id=527"
target="_blank">catastrophic consequences, and at
the time these profoundly silly ships were nearly impossible to kill
through legitimate in-game means; they were essentially invulnerable,
with the only Titans destroyed through catching the ship while the
pilot was disconnected from the game. It was determined that 'The
Enslaver' and his Avatar-class Titan had to go. I was approached by one
of the leaders of Red Alliance to help make this happen, but almost
immediately we were down the rabbit hole. Much to my surprise, the RA
director didn't want in-game information from me; he wanted us to use
the forensic resources of our intelligence agency to trace down The
Enslaver's home address. At a coordinated time, armed with this
information, a RA member would apparently cut the power to The
Enslaver's house in the real world, and in EVE a RA capital fleet would
assault the abruptly pilotless Titan. Yikes.

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As one can imagine, I demurred, but the RA director didn't want to take
'no' for an answer and I didn't fancy telling him that I thought he was
completely insane. I said that I'd 'look into it', and that's when
things began to get really crazy - Kugutsumen got involved.

Kugutsumen
is a French national living in Jakarta, Indonesia who was convicted as
a teenager in the early 1990s of phreaking the FBI's conference call
system and running up $250,000 in international calls. He now runs an
extremely successful computer security business, when he's not setting
up nightclubs in Jakarta or messing about in the EVE universe. He
copped a ban from CCP years ago for breaking the href="http://www.eveonline.com/devblog.asp?a=blog&bid=424"
target="_blank">T20 scandal after penetrating the
Band of Brothers director forums, but it seems the banning completely
removed all restraint on his behavior regarding the game; he set up his
own forum to cover the hidden news of EVE by publishing snippets from
the forums of other alliances. One might suggest that he is also a
little off when it comes to the sanity scale, though I personally adore
him.

Why didn't I have to deal with RA trying to cut the power to The
Enslaver's house to kill his Titan? Because Kugutsumen, out of either
idle curiosity or malice aforethought, traced The Enslaver's ip
addresses back to Iceland, confronted him on Lotka Volterra's teamspeak
while under an assumed name, recorded the conversation, and href="https://www.kugutsumen.com/showthread.php?t=363"
target="_blank">then outed him as a GM and CCP employee.
This resulted in the immediate removal of the Enslaver character, as
GMs cannot have their identity known - since this era of gameplay, CCP
has radically revised and tightened the restrictions of where and how
their employees can play, but this was the Bad Old Days. While the
Titan was eventually given to another pilot - and that pilot was much
more cautious with it than The Enslaver - by that point Lotka Volterra
had already lost the war.

More recently, 'space madness' came to grip a huge section of EVE
itself, particularly those involved in the invasion and conquest of
Delve. Because of the href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/65110" target="_blank">time-limited
nature of that war, a tremendous effort had to be put forth
within 28 days, not merely due to the actual conquest of Delve but also
the logistical nightmare that comes from moving an established alliance
of 6000 people from one end of the galaxy to the other. Sleep was
sacrificed, work was skipped, and as each day passed a greater edge of
delirium inserted itself into the normal operations of the alliance.
One of our logisticians woke his wife up in the middle of the night
shouting that "We've got to pack up everything and move the babies to
Delve!" Another Goonswarm director told his wife that she should only
use half the detergent in the dishwasher, because the "salad bowls are
in reinforced mode." And yours truly (so I am told) once sat
bolt-upright in bed and warned his spouse: "Don't touch that! Don't
open the refrigerator! The spy is in the refrigerator!" before abruptly
passing back out.

CCP often touts this sort of thing with the bland marketing lingo of
'player generated content.' What that actually means is that you get to
share a galaxy with Russian aluminum magnates, French-Indonesian
nightclub-owning hackers, self-aggranziding 'spymasters,' and people
who will cut the power lines to your house to destroy your internet
spaceship. There's something deliciously addictive about the sweeping,
endemic insanity, one of the ever-present yet rarely remarked upon
facets of this most unhinged of MMOs.


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