Monday, 16 July 2012

BB37: Pandora's Sandbox

EVE Online sits on the frontier of social gaming, providing an entertainment environment like no other. The vibrant society of interacting and conflicting communities, both within the EVE client and without, is the driving force behind EVE's success. However, the anonymity of internet culture combined with a competitive gaming environment encourages in-game behaviour to spread beyond the confines of the sandbox. Where is the line?




Consider these quotations:

"Internet spaceships are serious business."
- Many EVE players, 2003-Present

"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."
- Bill Shankly, Manager of Liverpool Football Club 1959-1974

These two quotations are separated by decades and refer to seemingly unrelated topics. But most readers can probably see the connection - in essence, they are in agreement regarding the absolute importance of their beloved activity. There are many parallels to be made between the rise of the world's most popular team sport and the quiet internet phenomenon that is EVE Online.

Passion, Community, Rivalry

Both football and EVE Online originated from small Northern European islands and have since been exported to and embraced by the rest of the world. Both are essentially open-ended concepts which have been shaped and re-shaped to fit an evolving demand. Football started life as a free-for-all in which mobs of medieval English villagers would attempt to kick an inflated pig's bladder from one end of a village to the other. EVE started life as a sandbox game in which players soon learned to form mobs and kick each other, no ball required.

However, the most important similarity is the passion found in the participants and spectators of both activities. Both football (alongside its offspring; Rugby, American Football etc.) and EVE Online foster a level of zealous support that is the sign of a well-made formula.

More can be learned about the nature of fans and players if we look further at the modern football game and its social influence, from a casual kickabout in the local park using kitbags and discarded coats for goalposts all the way up to the professional sport - a multi-billion pound industry around which huge corporations are built. In the English game alone there are hundreds of football clubs, each with their own community of supporters who diligently follow their chosen team around the country. These supporters wear the team colours, know the terrace chants and often build their lifestyle around supporting their team. In pubs around the UK you'll hear friendly banter about whose team will be getting relegated and heated debate about why team X will never win the Cup.

But football has its ugly side too. Often players are accused of cheating and violence on the field and off. You need look no further than the recent European Cup competition to find controversy, poor behaviour, violence and racism from supporters. It is widely agreed that such behaviour is bad for the game of football and both the governing football bodies and the local police forces work together to curb these behaviours. True lovers of the sport would be quick to tell you that these hooligans are not supporters of the game, but the truth is much less defined than that. Passion can be poisonous and it takes very little for a crowd to become a mob.

This is a sad fact of human behaviour.

The Vomitorium and Beyond

And so to EVE.

As in football, the rivalries and competition in EVE go far beyond the arena where the game takes place. In football, it's the terraces, streets and the pubs. In EVE Online it starts with forums and various other social media, but as the phenomenon continues to grow we are more activity bleeding into "meatspace". This is almost entirely a positive thing, as a frequent attendee of Fanfest and various other EVE-themed gatherings, I really enjoy witnessing this collision of realities. It is a genuine pleasure to meet with people who have the same passions and interests.

But human nature being what it is, there will undoubtedly be a dark underbelly to this real-world aspect of EVE Online culture. If it doesn't already exist, EVE's continued growth and success will surely be a ripe environment for the migration of morally questionable behaviour to further the goals of the ultra-competitive. Just as the passion of the football supporter can lead him to be labelled a hooligan as he fights for his beer/club/country in the face of provocation, how long before the passion of EVE players becomes misdirected in a morally unjustifiable act?

Perhaps never.

Maybe we EVE players are all enlightened people who understand our dark natures better than most due to the opportunity for self-examination New Eden gives us. Perhaps we all do know where our own line in the sand is and are mature enough to recognise and accept that the lines of others are in a different place. But I am not convinced, I've worked in and around communities in real life enough to know how "colourful" things can get and how "unreasonable" formerly reasonable people can become. It would be naive to think that EVE Online's communities are somehow exempt from the normal rules of human behaviour.    

Who is Responsible?

Having read some of the other blog banter entries, I found it reassuring that the majority reaction to the question was a general shrug and an "it is what it is" kind of response. In reading those, it occurred to me that the kind of person who takes the time to write a blog and participate in community activities has, in doing so, already displayed the the social skills, empathy and education to be considered a balanced individual. Perhaps this is the case throughout the EVE player-base. Perhaps.

Every community has its troublemakers, idiots and firestarters. As long as we, as a community and as individual players, are asking ourselves the questions, I suppose that makes us self-policing and aware of our own communities and actions. I'd like to think that we are responsible enough to keep on eye on where our own lines are so that external authorities need not become involved.

The location of the line and how it is policed is both serious and important. As internet-originated interaction becomes an increasingly influential part of everyday life, it is the responsibility of those at the forefront to ensure that it evolves in the right way. Emergent gameplay becomes emergent lifestyle.

Pandora's sandbox has been opened.


[This article is a response to Blog Banter 37: The Line in the Sand. Follow that link for other community responses.]

7 comments:

  1. I wonder if there is a conflict between our becoming a civilized species and our instincts to be violent. As we have evolved social policies, we have deemed that violence and bad behavior is unacceptable, yet since our arriaval we have had to use violence as a tool for everyday survival so long ago.

    I would say that competition in the form of sports and other things, like online video games, may simply be a vestigial instinct that we do not get to use in our daily lives. Thus it sits there eating at us to find an outlet for it. Much as my dig will not chase my cat when she (the dog) is in the house, but once outside she will chase any small animal she sees. Nature is at odds with nurture in that case. Perhaps it is the same for humans and competion.

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  2. My dig was supposed to be typed as my dog. Stupid Iphones.

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  3. Morg, I think competitive sport is absolutely a sign of humanity's attempts to civilise primal urges toward violence and rivalry. You only need to look at what was going on in stadia 2000 years ago to see what the Romans considered a "spectator sport".

    I saw a TV programme recently where a historian was comparing the elevated social status and adoration of crusading knights returning from brutal campaigns of murder. He made direct comparison to the treatment western societies now gives to their sports stars.

    It's not perfect, but I'd definitely call that progress.

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  4. I had an entertaining conversation with Helicity Boson regarding this blogpost, I thought I'd copy it here.

    HELICITY BOSON: This is EVE online, a full immersion ROLEPLAYING GAME of a dark and cruel galaxy. Check your personal morals at the door.

    SEISMIC STAN: But will people pick up their morals on the way back out of that door? That's the crux of the discussion.

    HELICITY BOSON: Unless they are morally challenged in real life ALREADY they should. I have no problems doing this at all. I'm sure you've noticed I'm quite a nice guy irl :P

    SEISMIC STAN: Of course. I'm not standing in moral judgement of anyone. I'm just open to the idea that a community is communally responsible for the actions of all of its members and should be mindful of the behaviours it encourages.

    HELICITY BOSON: I'm not. I'm convinced that people continually keep trying to pin "immoral" behaviour on players (rather than their characters) as a means to try and feel superior after getting owned in a video game. Q.E.D. every hulkageddon whine thread ever.

    SEISMIC STAN: Yeah, I can appreciate you might be sensitive to the subject given your experience. Please don't think I'm criticising you or Hulkageddon. The opposite is truer - it's more my concern that those who might hold you accountable in RL for your ingame deeds might have the opportunity to act regrettably. I don't know if there's any precedent for in-game rage spilling over into RL - you're likely more aware of any than I - but if there isn't any (as I hope), surely it's in everyone's interests to keep it that way and perhaps a certain amount of community vigilance might be required to ensure that.

    That was the essence of my article.


    HELICITY BOSON: Oh I didn't take any offense, no worries bro :D
    There are indeed some unstable elements in the community, but experience teaches me they are more commonly found in the carebear segment than the "ebil space villain" segment

    SEISMIC STAN: I'm not surprised. It's always the quiet ones,

    "He seemed like such a nice, quiet lad - still lived with his parents, kept himself to himself. I can't imagine what would make him snap like that." Said the stunned, middle-aged neighbour who thinks "suicide gank" is what leaks out after death.

    HELICITY BOSON: hahahahaha

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  5. Interesting conversation. Though, I am not convinced it would all fall to the carebear population. I would say that the players that take the game much to seriously would be more prone to real life acts of rage than the casual players, which are in all facets if New Eden. To me, EvE is a game and while I do believe in taking my games seriously, I am not of the mind to play for twenty hours straight, wake up in the middle of the night for a CTA, or let the game take over my life.

    Over at Rinn's blog, I made the comparison of some MMO players and alcoholics. I think that it really does fit. Certain types of players feel the need to start their day off with logging in to check sales, skills or what have you, much as some alcoholics need that first drink in the morning to make it through the day. Then as soon as work or school is over, they rush home to get back in the game, as the alcoholics rush to the nearest bar to get hammered.

    This blog banter has definitely been an interesting question for us to opine about.

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  6. Hmm, funny. If I remember correctly Helicity Boson once got banned for insulting/threatening a developer on a forum.

    While I absolutely don't think he ever intended to hurt the guy for real, it shows that everyone can explode if the right (wrong) buttons are pushed. For some it's that their mining ship gets blown up, for others it's the pricing of a monocle.

    Impulsive rage, however, is not what I see as the actual problem. We all say things we don't really mean when we are angry or frustrated (or drunk at fanfest). What I find disturbing is people who actually commit premediated (criminal) actions.

    That is a completely different kind of wrong.

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  7. I also brought up the issue of Helicity's ban in counter point to the ban that The Mittani suffered. As far as I am aware, Helicity was banned much longer for what I consider much lesser acts. From what I remember of the incident, Helicity was given a permanent ban that was later rescinded. If I have that information wrong, please, someone inform me. I personally do not see the forums as being "the game". Helicity was simply, in my opinion, airing frustration to the devs through the only way that we have available to converse with them. I do not believe that Helicity would have acted on the words.

    The problem that I see is that The Mittani holds a loyalty that is so strong that any of the 9000 or so members of the goons would act upon his words. With a group of that size, there is almost certainly going to be a small percentage that either suffer mental infirmities or a lack of moral conviction. Even if that percentage is half a percent, that is 45 people. That is 45 chances for the situation to end badly. You also have the people who may not be a part of that circle that want to be a part and find themselves with the perfect opportunity to show just how loyal they will be.

    I do not believe that The Mittani meant what he said. I am certain he was just caught up in the moment, alcohol had clouded his judgement, and the words came out before he could even realize what he said.

    The problem lies not in what was actually said. It is in the audience that they were spoken to. Just because we say something that we will not act upon, does not mean that some other person will not pick up those words and visit acts of violence or mayhem in our name. There are people in the world that do not consider repercussions for their actions, even if the actions are the suggestion of someone else. Case in point, look at all the people that will vote the party line simply because they were told to in a political election.

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Lay it on me.