The proximity of pixels…

In the real world, satellite offices for large companies often have the highest productivity, best morale and attitude.  But in badly run companies they are allowed to develop a very distinct culture that – if left unchecked – drifts them away from the heaquarters.  I have noticed this in all large companies I have worked for or with, most of the time with/in their international sales and marketing groups, which are – by definition – geographically very spread out.   The companies who were good at managing it were excellent, the ones who were poor went out of business or should have been.  The  only difference between the failed and the great companies were the frequent in person visits by the leaders, technical experts and the occasional regional or even global piss-up (err, Strategic Goal Setting Roundtable Convention, something like that).  I want to stress, no amount of internet connectivity, no amount of “team” motivational structure and teleconferences can compensate for an afternoon with the team in a pub.

So, this is not new to me and I used to have welts on my tuckus courtesy of United Airlines’ Economy seats (at least I was allowed in the plane.  The cheap seats now are handles on the wing to hold onto).  But I recently noticed that this also happens in EVE Online in the weirdest of all ways.

EVE Online being an online game does not have “physical” space at all.  It has a digital representation of physical space.  The players are in their offices, living rooms or anywhere in the world.  Most of them will never meet each other in meatspace.  We do communicate via voice and of course by keyboard but I have no clue how my mates look like. But in EVE Online, player corporations can take and hold “space”, one of the principal design features in the game.  A an interesting discussion how that works can be found here.

Recently I took an assignment that led me away from “our” corporate space into a different region.  Of course, I still chat to my mates like before but I am feeling a distance creep up in the conversation that I know from real world conference calls when the teams diverge because they have not seen each other for some time.

How weird!  Physical proximity in a spaceship game?  How can that be?  Well, EVE Online is a little unusual in this as “space” itself can be claimed in one form or the other.  Try to tell World of Warcraft People that Tarren Mill is now owned by your alliance.  Right, ain’t going to work.  But J123456 is a perfectly good place to “own” in EVE online, hence the feeling of occupied “space” is much more real than in other games.  Other games also have this – Farmville, the virtual domains like Secondlife if that is still around and – of course – the granddaddy of it all, the fictional metaverse of Neal Stephenson).   But in most games space is not “owned”.  I occupy it temporarily, may defend it but I can not -as  a person – claim ownership.   In EVE, exactly that is how it works.

And if my corpmates truly “own” our space, it is not surprising that they respond to the absence of members as if they were absent in the physical world.  How strange is that.

Not so strange actually if one thinks about where the behaviour may come from.  Physical proximity amongst trusted members of a “tribe” offers increased resources (you killed deer, I picked apples, together we have a better meal) and protection (big bear in front of my cave, neighbours can help me drive it off). So, I am postulating, on no evidence whatsoever that “real space” as a concept in our brains can be populated by a totally virtual representation of space.  After all, what is a physical object?  At this point, I could (would love to!)  go all balls-out and discuss what actually is real (after all we don’t ever interact with the physical world, we interact with a representation of the virtual world in our brains anyway – there is no spoon).

But I won’t. Not today.  It would lead into a fantastic discussion on whether a fully online-world envisaged by many is actually possible without adaptation of our physical bodies (full-bore evolution or  at least some epigenetic alteration)

Needless to say, within the game, this worries me.  Real or not, I need to get myself (whatever “me” is) into “our” “space” to stay close to my team.    So many meatspace terms that – when thought about in the virtual world – make no sense whatsoever.

Except when they do.

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