Thursday, 31 March 2011

Fanfest Flashback: The Cult of EVE


“Is EVE real?”

It was the question posed to me by CCP StevieSG during my interview for EVE TV. Like most men being questioned by an attractive woman, I attempted a response that was intended to be both funny and clever, and failed to achieve either. The truth was, I didn't really understand the question. It was after all a mind-expandingly broad concept. So I'll attempt to address it properly here.

On opening the Fanfest brochure, the words 'Eve is real' are the first to be found, it is the title of CCP CEO Hilmar Petursson's introduction. Clearly, this is a concept that CCP have given some thought to and are pushing on many levels. I realise that the shallowest interpretation is as a clear reference to the introduction of human player avatars in the forthcoming Incarna expansion, but the rabbit hole goes much, much deeper.

Celtic Tribes

My experience at this year's Fanfest left me quite taken aback at the absolute passion and dedication that many players have. Inadvertently straying into the Goon-filled Celtic Cross bar on my first night in Rekyjavik allowed me to witness the tribal unity of an alliance first-hand. Striking up conversations with them always solicited a question along the lines of “who do you fly with?”. This seemed very important to them. I enjoyed a number of chats with both Goons and other null-sec alliance members that night and one thing became clear – EVE was a huge presence in their lives. Their existence as EVE players and, almost more importantly, as members of their alliance validated them in the real world. It certainly gave them worth at Fanfest.

For these folks, EVE was very real. It was something they ate, slept and breathed. For many, they thought nothing of setting their alarms in the middle of the night to join a military operation with their alliance-mates from the other side of the world. When I talk EVE to my friends or work colleagues who might occasionally enjoy a game on the Wii, they clearly consider me a hardcore gamer. Yet in the eyes of these professional EVE players, I may as well have told them that I play MarioKart for a living, I was that far from their definition of hardcore.

How Do You Eve Yours?

If nothing else, the experience made me realise how subjective the concept of being a hardcore gamer is. Take a look at the following scale, what kind of EVE player would you describe yourself as?

Casual → Professional → Hardcore → Fanatical

Now what if we were to ask your partner, your family or your work colleagues? Would they agree with your assessment?

As for how 'real' EVE is for you, how much does it feature in your real life? Does your EVE experience simply stop when you log off from the Tranquility server? Or do you browse the forums and read blogs from work? Do you monitor your character and skills from your smartphone? Do you think about ship fittings/tactics/roams whilst travelling to work? Do you wonder whether that passing SUV has a shield or an armour tank or speculate about which passing haulage vehicles are carrying high value cargo?

The reality of EVE is a matter of perspective. For Hilmar, it represents his life's work, it's something that he started with a few friends over a decade ago and has since become a huge success. For him, EVE is the building blocks of his reality. For a CCP employee it is their source of income and their day job, so EVE unavoidably occupies a portion of their reality.

For the player, it's not so clearly defined. EVE is (just) a game. Purely a form of digital entertainment with no end purpose or real-world impact. So how could it possibly be real for the player? Because, although it doesn't pay the bills, EVE does have a real-world impact for players. Whether that is a positive or a negative impact is the real question. Are you prepared to sacrifice your game achievements for the real world? or does it work the other way around? How grounded is your sense of perspective?

Market Community

EVE, probably more than any other game, relies on community. It is a very human trait to unite for mutual benefit and EVE's game design is fundamentally built around that concept. Players join together to increase their chances of success in virtual profit and war. The more proficient and active the members, the greater the benefit for the community. Some community members rise to elevated positions due to their contributions and become increasingly respected and valued. Leaders and celebrities are made.

CCP has gone to great lengths to nurture and encourage these communities and has been rewarded with EVE's continued growth and success as a result. With yearly Fanfests, we see these virtual communities invited to take a pilgrimage to Iceland to unite in reality, further cementing their bonds. Indeed, by this point, the communities seeded within EVE Online will have grown far beyond a shared fondness of digital spaceships.

What unites these people and keeps them together is little short of religion.

I'm sure this will bring cries of 'tinfoil-hattery', but it is not intended as an accusation nor a judgement. In the development of any culture, shared rituals, behaviours and beliefs are inevitable. Various dictionary definitions of the word “religion” exist, but look it up and see for yourself how applicable it is to many of the more dedicated EVE player communities.

Hilmar Petursson even describes the attendees of this year's Fanfest as “the evangelists of EVE”, upon whom he is relying “to spread the word to newcomers, and to those who have since left us.”  During his 'CCP Presents' sermon, he incited the congregation into a fervour and had them chanting in unison. In a previous post, I wrote;

The real pay-off came at the end with a blisteringly, awe-inspiringly epic teaser trailer for the EVE/Incarna/Dust514 link-up. It was so good that when it had finished, a sole heckler who demanded that we see it again was instantly backed up by an agreeable rumble from the entire audience. CCP CEO Hilmar Petursson questioned whether there was time, but said that we'd have to stand up and give him three "fuck yeahs" for him to consider it. This was an odd juncture for me; up until that moment, I had been attempting to maintain a degree of dignified distance from the fanaticism surrounding EVE, but right then I would have stood up alone and bellowed his expletives at him. However I stood and bellowed, not alone, but in unison with everyone around me, every voice filled with the same joyous determination. So the mob got it's wish and high-priest Hilmar looked genuinely moved (or possibly terrified, I can't be sure).

The Answer

Ultimately, a religion is a belief system which shapes behaviour, guides morality and unites individuals into communities. It is also a powerful sales tool. Given what I have witnessed at Fanfest, there are many for whom EVE has become an almost dogmatic way of life. If that is their choice, more power to them and those who control them. Personally, I hope to perfect the art of the long-term casual EVE player, even if that is frowned upon.

So to answer StevieSG's question, "Is EVE real?" 

EVE is as real as you want it to be, but that is a double-edged sword. However if you are in the market for a new religion, the Way of the Exploding Ship is certainly worth consideration.


2 comments:

  1. ITT: Jesus loves griefers.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well said bro deep thoughts from an awesome brit! ( yes you owe me 5 pounds to write that) on a serious note...where the hell are our interviews? hmm I ahve yet to even see mine the fact that you remember yours means you did not get enough beer the previous night at the celtic. TC bro and good hunting as always

    ReplyDelete

Lay it on me.