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.]

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