Why Men Fight: Part 1


Morale is an inherently nebulous force. In real life, it is the thing that can shatter armies long before they’ve become unfit to fight. It’s the reason armies would bluster and form notorious reputations around themselves, striking fear into the heart of anyone who came against them. It’s also the reason that some of the greatest powers of the world, the Romans, the British, the Macedonians, and Americans did and still do pride themselves as unshakable in the line of duty.

And yet so very rarely is it thought about when you think video games. Sure, many war games, for the reasons listed above, have a morale mechanic – from your Total Wars to your much more granular War in the Easts, you can find plenty of games that claim to model morale, specifically in the context of a battlefield. But how do you do that in a player-run game?

“A Single Death is a Tragedy; A Million Deaths a Statistic”

To discover that, one must first explore how morale is used when it is a gameplay mechanic, before exploring how to use it when it isn’t.

Let’s look at Total War as our example. In Total War, morale is a defined statistic, much like shields and armor are in Eve. It’s a number, a health bar in essence that shows how valiant and strong-willed your troops are, and how likely they are to abandon the field when the going gets rough. It is a number, a stat like so many others. And yet unlike the very simplistic effects of health versus attack or armor versus penetration, morale, even in a rather base and very mathematical interpretation like Total War’s is still more complicated than pike beats horse or arrow beats peasant. What affects morale in Total War? Commander ability, the presence of active troops around them, safety in numbers, a lack of dead, a sense of coming victory and accomplishment – all of these are positive reinforcements for morale in Total War amongst others. And on the negative? Massive loss of troops, isolationism, being surrounded, particular weapons and tactics specifically targeting morale like flaming arrows or enemy commander abilities. Sound familiar?

The better the FC, the better the morale of the troops he is leading.

It should, as a lot of the same things affect morale in Eve. FC ability is the obvious place to start. The better the FC, the better the morale of the troops he is leading. Safety in numbers, the lack of destroyed war materials, the presence of big fleets and the sense of accomplishment and purpose are what have driven some of the greatest victories in Eve, and have lead to some of the most stunning comebacks in the game’s history as well.

And on the negative? Propaganda, superior enemy firepower and leadership, the lack of organization to put forth adequate numbers, the lack of purpose, bad leadership and tactics that specifically targets morale, even if it means less overall damage. The weapons, both pro and con are much the same.

So how is it that morale can be a thing in Eve? How is it that the same tactics and strategies work on a Total War battlefield that do in an Eve battlefield? Eve doesn’t have a morale bar, it doesn’t have a morale system at all. There is nothing about the mental state of the captain involved in Eve’s mechanics for the obvious reason that said captain is you or I. And yet, anyone who looks back at Eve’s history can see that morale definitely plays a role, one that many would and have argued is even more important than the cold reality of numbers and victories. Why is that?

In short, because war in Eve is not fun. Roger Ebert, in his thoughts on the animated movie “Grave of the Fireflies” made a point that has stuck with me. He claimed that, if for no other reason, “Grave of the Fireflies” might be the most effective anti-war movie ever produced, because it never excites the viewer. Unlike any other war movie, it never goes out of its way to glorify what is happening, even from the side of bravery or valor in the face of desperation and hopelessness. It is simply a tragedy, from beginning to end.

PVP is an aspect of war, but so is the industry of Eve

I bring this up knowing that there are plenty of people like me that get a huge kick out of, and perhaps even have stayed around in Eve due exclusively to the PVP. But I’m not really talking about PVP at the moment, I’m talking specifically about war. PVP is an aspect of war, but so is the industry of Eve, so is the relationship between powers, the politics and the diplomacy of Eve. In Eve, war is everything. And yet at the end of the day, war isn’t “fun” in the same way that playing Total War to many people is fun. It is a lot of patience, it is a lot of missed opportunities, of sweat and, yes, tears. And in the same way that “Grave of the Fireflies” is a radically different film for its portrayal of war as not glamorous but vicious, Eve is a radically different game for shedding the idea of war as purely entertainment. After all, in almost any other game you play, war is a source of fun through conflict. It is a puzzle to be solved.

Again, if you take Total War, it is a question of how two hundred peasants will stand against an army twice their size without breaking. It is a question about how you will sack their capital without losing so many men you won’t be able to defend it. War is a puzzle, war can be “solved,” and any lasting effects of war are modeled in the same way as morale, as stats to be manipulated for the furthering of the puzzle.

In Eve? You have grudges, you have everything from border skirmishes, to misunderstandings that cause open fistfights across regions of space, to yes, ironically, Total War. This time it is in the classic sense of the word, as a war that drags in every member of a society in some way, from commoner to clerk, from foot soldier to commander-in-chief. Eve’s wars therefore do not so much resemble the wars of video game, but the wars of reality.

In battle it is the cowards who run the most risk…

… Bravery is a rampart of defense.” This quote is from Sallust, a Roman historian and politician of his time, and yet another example of Rome’s pride and focus on morale as a stalwart defense of the Roman mythos. It is also a good mantra to live by in the harsh world of nullsec.

And it is because of that and other similarities that I even bring up the relationship between morale in Eve and morale in real wars. It’s been a long standing tradition among people in Eve to take propaganda posters from the likes of WW1 and 2 and change them to their purposes, and in another part of this series I will discuss this in depth and the other ways people affect the morale of themselves and their enemies. However the relationship between the realities of war and the aspects of player morale in Eve go much deeper than the war of words and posters.

Let’s take one of the most famous examples of a last stand in Eve’s history, Red Alliance at C-J6MT. For those who don’t know, the defense of C-J6MT saw an overwhelmed Russian force stand their ground against overwhelming numbers and not only win but force their enemies to back off. A lot has been said about the battle; it has given the Russians a certain mystique almost among the players of Eve as this brutally invested group of players that can pull off the impossible and are respectable for their tenacity, even when they are otherwise loathed.

Now any last stand brings to mind the battles of Thermopylae, Wake Island, or the Alamo; great stands of brave men against an impossible force. However there is something else a lot of these events do, and the Russians were no exception. C-J6MT did more than show off their heroics, it gave Red Alliance something unique at that point, due to the age and nature of the game; it gave them a mythos.

The reason modern society remembers Thermopylae is that it saved western civilization

As last stands go, Thermopylae is overly cited, but in this case it serves an important point to bounce off of. The reason modern society remembers Thermopylae is that it saved western civilization. Greece as we know it, and thus the West as we know it, can be shown to exist squarely on the back of those famous defenders of the pass. It is a part of who we are, our western mythos.

In much the same way, when Eve pilots talk about the Russians, what do they mention? Sure they talk funny, they all drink vodka and are all probably criminals but whatever you do don’t go into a war with them without a plan. And why is that? One of the major reasons was that defense of C-J6MT. Seventy men standing between the annihilation not only of that particular Russian alliance, but at the time the entire ideal of Russians within Eve. They were not just defending themselves, but defending a cultural identity. They were defending Eve’s Russian civilization.

So what does that have to do with morale? Well, at the time of C-J6MT you had a series of alliances mostly made for the purpose of profit and exploitation. There were the budding warlords and politicians of course, but a lot of Eve at that time saw nullsec as the cash cow. Because of that, most alliances didn’t have that great of a sense of identity, and indeed even the warlords and politicians of Eve were mostly still leading groups of opportunistic pilots. They lacked a mythos. They were essentially in the modern understanding of it, autocratic societies. Think old fashioned European kingdoms; Strong men or women rulers who led people to greatness because he or she could rally people together to a common goal under their strength of will. It is why a lot of alliances fell, and to an extent still do to this day, when its ruler leaves Eve or is otherwise rendered indisposed.

a lot of the leaders of that battle are still important figures within the Russian community

Red Alliance’s brave defense at C-J6MT gave them a mythos, a story to rally around. It is telling that a lot of the leaders of that battle are still important figures within the Russian community of Eve up to the present day, up to and including entire corporations and alliances being named after its hero, UaXDeath.

And yet the most fascinating case of a mythos comes from the allies that Red Alliance found next in their career in Eve, Goonswarm. Goonswarm had a built-in cultural identity due to their ties to Something Awful. They had a creation mythos of being a group of noobies who sucked at the game but who were here to show the group of ‘try-hard internet spaceship pilots’ what for.

I’d argue the entire rise of the swarm style of battle that the Goons created and then further perfected under Redswarm, besides being generally good tactical sense, holds a much more precious sense to the Goon’s overall mythos. It is a populist act to allow even the newest and least able among pilots into a corp that holds to many space in the ‘endgame’ of Eve. Through populism, you can build an identity as an alliance that works for the betterment of all pilots in Eve, of the downtrodden underdog. We saw it used by Goonswarm in its early days, we see it now being used by the likes of BRAVE. Indeed, both BRAVE and TEST are extensions of the same idea that brought Goons here, and because of that have had a pretty similar trajectory, a nation of “Redditors” in the state of TEST.

Finally it would be remiss to mention the mythos of a nation state, the idea of morale not only as tactic but of foundation for a group, without talking about Jade Constantine and Star Fraction at least in passing. Possibly the most direct version of the idea of an alliance building a nation mythos, Star Fraction was intended to be built whole cloth as a place for pilots to come and work together not only for the betterment of themselves, but of their society. And through that, Constantine is widely regarded as one of the pioneer users of a whole section of morale that unfortunately this part will have to mostly ignore: meta and its narrative. By controlling the narrative of a conversation, not through direct gameplay, or even through the game at all, Constantine opened up an entirely different can of worms in Eve.

Eve stopped being merely a game about making money or shooting other players; it became a fight for the survival of an entire culture

Through their manipulation of morale, mythos, and of a unique virtual form of cultural identity, not only do the names like Constantine and UaXDeath reverberate even today, but they were able to hold together empires through much rougher times than their peers. A united sense of purpose led to a united front against all opposing forces, in some cases even internal. For the people in their corporations Eve stopped being merely a game about making money or shooting other players; it became a fight for the survival of an entire culture, of a group of friends. People like to think of alliances as ‘content creators’ these days, but the most important aspect of an alliance for its own welfare is its ability to promote comradery. When the content runs sour, and everything is blowing up around you, what keeps your pilots flying? It may not even be fun to them at some point, they may even start to lose sleep or skip work, but what makes them do that for something they might not even enjoy? It’s the friendship, that common thread between you and the pilot next to you, that idea that you are fighting for something. And nothing can instill that better into a person than to give them a backstory, to instill a sense of tradition and purpose into them, so even if they hate the person they are flying with and hate even flying at all they’ll still come until their last ship pops.

And when mythos is such an effective glue to hold an alliance together, and thus of utmost importance to destroy when attacking someone, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it quickly went outside of the confines of Eve as an MMO. What started with Constantine as propaganda and verbose speeches on the Eve forum quickly turned into some of the most widely covered aspects of Eve, the propaganda films, pictures, memes, and podcasts that preach the importance of one alliance over another, or merely cover the moving drama that is Eve.

However, it also led to some of the most infamous aspects of Eve, the toxicity of fighting as one group goes too far in breaking the morale of another. The allegations of harassment, of death threats, and even of all out attacks on other people’s digital property has become the unfortunate dark side to most people’s perception of this game, where the meta narrative meets reality, and in part two I will go over some of the more infamous moments, and try to explain when too far becomes too far.

About the author

Mathias Sinistar

Mathias has been a little bit of everything, from running belts with highsec corps, to ninja salvaging with TEARS, to running fleets with Brave. When not flying, he finds himself reading up on the history and politics of Eve, one of the things that always tends to draw him back in to the game.

  • Dirk MacGirk

    Such a male privileged, patriarchal headline. What about women? Why do they fight? Do they fight? Grrrr, I’m so triggered.

    • Rob Kaichin

      Women, fighting? Even the most dreadful female pirates become pacifists eventually!

      It’s in their nature!

      (Please don’t hurt me Mynxee)

      • Jathen Codexus

        Maybe it has something to do with reason for violence. With all the reasons men use violence, gaining new followers, collecting resources, putting down resistance, defending a home, there are many things to keep him violent. The most common reason for a woman to use violence is to defend her own, and then normally with a lethal level of force rather than the incapacitating form that men can afford (due to being generally more damage resistant and having reasons to keep the enemy alive). It’s possible for someone to run out of reasons to be violent, it might just be easier for women.

    • Bill Bones

      (I’ll bite)

      Women fight a different fight, with different goals and tools. I don’t think any competitive videogame has ever tapped on female competition, as videogames are mostly made by men, for men. They tap on the source of competition games as altenatives to reality, so men achieve in games what would be difficult or impossible in reality. Yet women don’t bother with playing competition games, since their real deal is more accessible, and even as failure is real, also is success in the competition.

      IMXHO, the ideal videogame for women would allow them to succeed in practicing reality as a mean to succeed in the real deal. As for what is the real deal, what women compete for… that’s the million dollars question. 😉

      • Mathias Sinistar

        Sure, let’s talk about gender roles, this won’t end poorly.

        I think the main issue with women in gaming is the fact that for the longest time, gaming was the safe area for closeted male nerds to go and enjoy the things they enjoy among people like them. When the world around you calls you names for enjoying video games, when girls wouldn’t talk to you due to the way you looked and the things you liked and just generally being different, you retreat to an area of safety, and for a lot of people growing up in the late 90s all the way up into the early 2000s, that was the internet and that was gaming. Now however, in a post myspace/facebook world, this idea of a split between how one acts in the real world and how one acts online is collapsing. The internet IS real life now, something that I think (at least from my perspective) is weird to people who have lived on the internet since their childhood. No longer can you escape real life by going online, no longer is the idea of girls on the internet a joke.

        And so when faced with their last safe space to be themselves (for better or worse) collapsing around them, people lash out. They blame people, and a lot of times the blame falls on the gender that may have spurned them in their youth and the gender that is newest to the medium, and emblematic of the switch in the internet from this nerdy safe space to an extension of real life: Women. So now when women come and join games that have for the longest time been these very male driven spheres, they get jeered as not being real gamers or just doing it for attention or called ugly, that they’d come here to the realm of nerds obviously isn’t because they genuinely like x, because for the longest time it was just a gimme that they didn’t, so clearly they came because they can’t find a date elsewhere, or because they’re ‘attention whores’ who get off on ogling men.

        So no, in other words, I don’t think it has anything to do with the types of games per se. I know a good number of female gamers who keep their gender to themselves, mostly don’t play online, but play a lot of the same games that I do. They don’t go online or make it obvious they’re a girl for the reasons I listed above: it doesn’t end well. So while yes, I do think that having more women’s voices in game development is also a great idea (if only because new ideas and voices in an artistic medium is always a good idea) I don’t think this idea that games are ‘made for and by men’ really holds up today. We need to start really wondering if the reason women aren’t a bigger part of this and other gaming communities is because ‘this is just a man’s game,’ or if its really because people FEEL that it can’t possibly be something women want to do, and thus look at them with suspicion and sometimes downright disgust when they do.

        Also, this is probably an entire article, if not an entire book series worthy topic, so I doubt I covered everything I should have in this already too long comment, forgive me if this comes off as a bit to simplistic or abbreviated of an explanation.

  • Brace yourselves for all of the posters who don’t know the difference between morale and moral…

    • YossarianYassavi Media Group

      morale: Will they fight or run like sheep
      morals: when is moral?

  • callduron

    “In battle it is the cowards who run the most risk”

    This is a technology based truism, it certainly wasn’t true in 1916. It was true in Sallust’s time because of the testudo formation which required soldiers to be brave enough to maintain the formation and which saw them overrun and killed if they broke. (And it was untrue of Rome’s enemies – the bravest would die on the spears of the testudo).

    I’m not just nit-picking, I think there’s a general trend in popular culture to dismiss the fallen and to downplay their sacrifice. In movies and games the ones who die are the red shirts, the level 1s, the grunts. They don’t matter next to the heros who come back time and time again who are too virile to be killed by a stray shot.

    It’s telling that there’s no popular MMORPG that has permadeath – players might like to think we’re heroic but not many of us want to endure – even virtually – the kind of risk that real service personnel accept.

    • Mathias Sinistar

      It’s true in the sense that panic in the ranks in general can ruin an entire front, which was as true in 1916 as it was during Rome’s time. You need only look at the collapse of the Russian front to see what can happen when you put a populace in a total war situation when they don’t want to go. Indeed, it looks quite like a disintegrating Alliance in Eve honestly, a lot of people all at once either switching sides, panicking and leaving to live another day, or just generally working to put forth their own ideology and their own agendas in front of a common front, leaving giant holes that get exploited normally for a killing blow.

      Now don’t get me wrong I’m not so crass as to say the many MANY factors that went into the Russian Revolution are comparable to an Eve Alliance disintegrating, but kinda the point of this article is in the broad strokes you can see common patterns between Eve and real life that you really don’t get in other games without specifically tailored subsystems that force you to. Eve does morale organically, and is really the only game to come close to emulating morale that way, which I found fascinating enough to write about.

      • Kia

        But what happens to the cowards? They are the ones who aren’t wasting their time in fleets, they’re busy getting their stuff out, sorting out new alliances so they can continue “living”

        You can’t die in Eve, you can only really lose assets so I am going to substitute cowering in a hole with staying away from fleets because you are busy moving your stuff to NPC space.

  • Provi Miner

    And a mythos can be out lived, events can tarnish those myth’s. You know I am from Provi we get rolled, we get stomped, we get evicted, Provi fights one maybe three hard fights then caves like a boxer with a glass jaw. Our mythos is worse, we don’t believe we will win the battles we do believe you will get tired and leave and we will reclaim. The hero’s are not for us, rather it is that nasty day in day out trudge in trying to hold onto something everyday against us. Nice article.

    • Mathias Sinistar

      Oh sure, and much like an empire crumbling the first signs of its demise are when people stop fighting for it, stop buying into the hype and the myths of the culture, when the reality of the situation is too dire to put on rose tinted glasses. When barbarians are crashing the gates of Rome its hard to convince people its their citizens duty to fight for Rome and the emperor, especially when the emperor at that point tended to change monthly due to assassinations, or frittered away in their pleasure palaces as the world burned around them. Again, in broad strokes you can see similarities to Eve in some of those stories, tales of CEO’s delusions even as their home systems gates are falling, or tales of people just up and leaving the alliance or switching sides to fight another day, or sometimes even because the mythos and the romance of their own enemies propaganda starts to become too alluring not to switch to.

      • YossarianYassavi Media Group

        Very true. Rome only fell when its own citizens couldnt be bothered to fight for it.