Criminals!

My last post got a a little bit of attention in EVE Online community.  Ender Black for example left a nice remark despite me being rather critical of his conduct.  Very gracious but I think I owe him and myself a post on my attitude towards criminality, MMORPG and the real world.

EVE Online, like all MMORPGs is a game where the player does not just compete with the computer (like Skyrim) but actively interacts with human beings anywhere in the world.  Pixels on the screen represent the action of another person controlling her mouse and keyboard.  The person spends time, money and energy (aka resource) to interact with me and the environment we both live in.  In return she receives satisfaction through a couple of different ways.

Achieving game goals. 

A big topic and focus on many academic studies, this is what most game designers are acutely aware of.  How to structure the reward system to build accomplishments for players that are reachable but not too easy.  EVE Online does this well on so many levels that it needs its own blog post to just give an overview.  But basically, this is where player-versus-player (PvE) interaction falls in, from mining to running missions, incursions and sleeper sites.  Goals are also set in EVE by being able to fly certain ships, equip certain guns or afford certain “things”.  Much more on this later.

Achieving Interpersonal Goals

While the category of game goals is huge in EVE Online, its pretty easy to talk about.  The interpersonal goals for a player in any MMORPG are harder to discuss as they vary with each person.  Each blogger and analyst has his own opinion and bias.  Scientific studies exist but they do what psychologists do well, de-personalise and average behaviour.  But that is the category where it gets pretty interesting and it is worth – as a player – to understand your motivations for spending several hours / day in front of a computer screen.  Again, I’ll keep this discussion open for another post.  Its too big to tackle here. But the one topic I want to address quickly is the one of “criminality” in EVE Online (or any MMORPG but EVE has it designed so deep into the structure of the game that it is an integral part of it, not just a by-product).

I can define criminality as an action against the covenant that my society has signed.  In the real world, theft, murder and child abuse are illegal (in the US, where I live), because the law says so and the law says so because society wrote the laws.  Anarchists in their many forms dispute societies’ rights to decide on what is acceptable conduct but all human societies have this method in some way.  Hence, the crux of lies in the definition “my society”.  For example, it is illegal to deny the holocaust in my home country, Germany.  It is legal to deny it in the country I live in.  I have moved from one – geographical but also cultural – society to another and are expected to adhere to the one am participating   This is actually fairly straight forward but stops to work when societies clash at their fringes.  Most wars in history are motivated by greed for resource and power but employ their societal values as motivators for the warriors.  “Freedom” is the most recent one, whatever that means.  In effect, those who do not adhere to my society’s values become outlaws and are fair targets for me personally.

The game world of EVE Online ferments societies with their own defined laws.  For example, the society of peaceful miners may agree on which asteroid can be farmed by whom.  It would be against their covenant to mine what someone had laid claim on.  As a very young pilot, I found a “Gravitational” site, means a location with vastly richer asteroids than the normal space.  I arrived in a pathetically small ship with a tiny laser and found a fleet of top-gear professionals already at work.  I had -in effect- invaded “their” space and hence it was my choice to decide how I will conduct myself.  I chose to contact one of them and state my intention to mine without meaning harm.  They spontaneously invited me into their fleet, gave me hints what to do and what not to do, hauled my ore to my station and after 2 hours or so waved goodbye and someone wired me 30million ISK to get me started.  I had adhered to their rules, played within their society and I was rewarded with friendship, protection and resource.  If I had stolen, destroyed and otherwise impeded their game, I would have received nothing, gotten shunned and maybe shot down.  I would have broken the covenant of the local society.

So, while I chose miners to represent the peaceful players, another society preys on just them.  Their goal is to shoot them down and the more assets are destroyed, they more they have accomplished.  Internally, these “pirates” also have rules and agreements.  As I have personally no experience,  I refer to this excellent post for the understanding of their societal dynamic.  (btw, its a myth that pirates of the past had no rules and lived “free”.  They likely had as many (if not more!) laws in their society than the peace-loving merchants. ).  A pirate attacking a miner is a criminal only from the viewpoint of the miner.  From the pirate’s perspective, he is following  his society’s rules.

To put it back together, a criminal is someone who goes breaks the covenant of the society he interacts with but only from the viewpoint of that society.  Where societies interact, they almost always clash on their values – this is where criminals are born.

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2 responses to “Criminals!

  1. You mention a nice example there, your early game experience with the miners. Had you flown a suitable suicide ship against them, the net yield for you would have likely been much lower than 30mill. That with the added effect of lowered sec status and a bunch of miners you certainly never can expect a favor from. The reward for you would have been a killmail and the possible satisfaction that you, as a new player, were able to destroy a ship much more valuable than yours, maybe some of the much coveted ‘tears’ as icing on the cake.

    For many people, the ability to destroy something lends them a fleeting feeling of power that works like a fix. Eventually you need more to sustain that feeling. The more such acts you commit, the longer the list of people who eventually might want to get even becomes.Your in-game existence becomes dominated by violence and paranoia.

    With a creative and constructive approach, however, your list of partners and allies keeps growing, and basically you only need to take care of active defense or preventive action. Because EVE is a game where violent aggression is very easy to do and gets you instant recognition (killboards), but building things and securing them by trust and defensive force is difficult, I consider the latter approach the real challenge.

    In this respect I am not making a moral or legal statement of right or wrong. I am just saying what I consider the greater challenge and therefore the more satisfactory achievement.

    That being said, I actually do have quite some respect for people who manage to play as actual lowsec pirates in EVE (as opposed to griefers, scammers and corp thieves) In fact, they need to be reliable and accountable for their actions, have real fighting skills and take real risks by putting their ship on the line.

  2. @ Mme. Thalys. I am drafting a post about aggression in general and will address your points later this week. But I like your thought that KB mails give instant satisfaction whereas building things gives satisfaction only after a long time. I need to think about this but that reminds me of cigarette addicts. The power of a cigarette comes through the instantaneous reward of a repetitive actions. Skinner did a lot of experiments on this. He would have LOVED online games…. Later more. Thanks!

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