Blurred Lines


There’s a joke that circulates around CZ Slack, that I hate everything EVE-related. While innacurate, as with many great inside jokes it has a kernel of truth. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t like, and I’m (probably too often) willing to voice my displeasure. For the most part, though, I actually like EVE and most of the people who play it. I am amused by dank memes, enjoy explosions, and politely tolerate roleplayers. I am, in other words, your average EVE player. There are, in fact, relatively few things I actually hate about EVE and its community.

“It blurs what is, to me, one of the most important boundaries in a digital world: the line between online and off.”

One of those things are, broadly speaking, serious comparisons to real-world things. I hate them. They’re almost always badly done, fail to account for a bunch of factors on both sides, are intellectually lazy, and/or are just outright stupid. I hate comparisons to the Art of War. I hate comparisons to historic conflicts. I hate it when people compare EVE politics to real politics. Needless to say, I hate doxxing. I hate the parts of our community that tolerate, and even encourage, such behavior. I hate it all. It blurs what is, to me, one of the most important boundaries in a digital world: the line between online and off.

I woke up this morning to an interesting article published by one of the best-known EVE-related news sites, which crossed that boundary in a bunch of ways. I’ll deal with the substance of it in passing real quick at the outset – it isn’t worth much more attention than that – but I think what’s really worth discussing is the culture & environment in which such things are not only welcome, but accepted and encouraged.

Law School in Six Paragraphs

Before we get to the meat of what I’d really like to talk about, let’s dispense with this poorly-reasoned “IWantIsk is illegal” bullshit. As has been correctly pointed out by a number of reddit posters, CCP owns the ISK, ships, POSes, moon goo, everything. All of it. Even the stuff we transfer to IWI bankers as “deposits.” CCP owns all of it. Not us, not IWantIsk – CCP. You can’t really gamble with shit you don’t own – it’s as simple as that. I’m not gonna give it much more credence than that, in part because I don’t think it’s worth it, and in part because I don’t feel like writing a legal treatise on virtual gaming. Full disclosure for the next paragraph, though – I’m an attorney IRL (not your attorney, nothing I write is legal advice, don’t act in reliance on it, there is no client-lawyer relationship here, etc etc etc.). If you don’t want to learn anything whatsoever about legal reasoning and one of the ways in which attorneys make their cases, skip down to the next heading and move on the far more interesting discussion of blurring the line between the real world and internet spaceships.

“…what makes a sandwich a sandwich, or what makes a certain behavior qualify as gambling?”

For those of you who are blessed with intellectual curiosity, however, let me tell you about my first day of law school. I sat down in a legal writing class and was confronted with the following question: “Is a taco, a sandwich?” There are many variations on this question, involving hot dogs, burritos, schawarma in a pita, or any other sort of meat-and-carb based food generally, but not always, eaten with one’s hands. It’s a staple of legal education, because it forces us to ask questions about the fundamental elements of a thing – what makes a sandwich a sandwich, or what makes a certain behavior qualify as gambling? 

It’s also important because one of the things we tend to do is look for comparisons – we call them hypotheticals – to test our rules and further define their precise contours. In the case of the taco, for example, you might (if you were a lazy thinker) argue that a taco is not a sandwich because it is comprised of only a single piece of carb – the taco shell – rather than two, as is the case with a sandwich. I would counter by asking you to apply that rule to the open-faced hot turkey sandwich. You might say that in that case, the hot turkey sandwich isn’t really a sandwich, because sandwiches are eaten with the hands. I’d then point out that you eat tacos with your hands, too, and we’re by now suitably pissed off. See why people hate lawyers? I get it, don’t worry. I won’t be offended if you tell me all your worst lawyer jokes. All the things you’re seeing in reddit comments about the article in question, by the way, are hypotheticals. Amusing what-ifs that expose the flaws in an argument. I particularly liked (though was not persuaded by) the tax liability one.


So, with that groundwork laid, let’s talk about gambling. I’m not going to get pedantic with arguments about the precise definition of gambling, though I do think the point raised by reddit posters that you probably can’t be guilty of gambling with stuff that isn’t really yours, and can’t be directly exchanged for money, is not in fact gambling, is interesting. No, I’m gonna make what we call policy arguments instead. They’re squishier, and trial lawyers tend to hate them because they’re the last bastion of a person with a losing case. I work at the intersection of law and policy, though. I don’t go to court – I talk to lawmakers and regulators more often in my practice. Policy arguments are my day-to-day life, and hypotheticals are what I use to make a lot of them. Let’s look at gambling, OK? I’ve got a game on my phone – Trials Frontier. It’s a small mobile version of a pretty cool PC/console game called Trials. It’s got a slot machine in it, which you spin each day for a chance to complete a task and then get a reward based on pulling the slot machine. Ah, you would say! Slot machines are gambling! You would be wrong, however, because I don’t actually risk anything to pull the lever.

“The legal issues with IWI are about as significant as the issues with the slot machine in Trials Frontier.”

More importantly, though, this isn’t the kind of thing the law was designed to prevent. Anti-gambling laws are designed to prevent the kinds of behaviors we associate with gambling – organized crime, violence, suppressive effects on economies as people piss away their incomes, unable to free themselves of the addictive nature of gambling. There’s also a moral component – some people consider gambling an activity for degenerates. So the real question is, are the kinds of activities we’re talking about here actually the kinds of things this law was intended to prevent? No, probably not. No one is going to lose their house because of IWI. No one is going to have their legs broken with a baseball bat. No one is going to feed revenue to organized crime because of IWI. The legal issues with IWI are about as significant as the issues with the slot machine in Trials Frontier.

It’s entirely possible (though, I think, unlikely) that there’s some reasonable interpretation of a broadly written law which lets IWI qualify as gambling. It is not, however, the kind of thing these laws are designed to target. Crying foul and accusing IWI and CCP of making criminals of us all is about as reasonable as calling the police because you don’t think your neighbor’s kids should be able to play outside alone. It might, under some reading of the laws, be technically correct. That doesn’t mean it’s right, it doesn’t mean the law would back you, and most of all, it definitely doesn’t change the level of pettiness displayed by your behavior.

The Thing I Actually Wanted to Talk About

Okay, I got a bit carried away. That took more time than anticipated, but upon reflection, I think it was worth it. As you can see, I will never be a great law professor. I sort of glossed over a ton of stuff, and oversimplified other things. Other lawyers (or the oh-so-useful armchair internet lawyers) will probably point out mistakes I made, or find areas in which to quibble, and that’s fine. That’s good, even. That’s how we get to good answers. The key point has been made far more eloquently, by that video than by any of the 900 words I just vomited onto this page. So let’s move on.

“I think some soul-searching is in order as to why we tolerate this sort of line-blurring in what is, for all but a very small handful of us, nothing more than a hobby.”

What I really wanted to talk about, was this blurring of lines. I think it’s fucked up. It feels like a concern-trolling version of the darkest timeline around here sometimes. We’re fighting over pixels, friends. Going after the company that’s made all this possible for enabling gambling that’s about as illegal as charity casino nights, or a prom with a Monaco theme, is bonkers. Going after other players, either verbally or, as some have threatened, physically, is bonkers. We used to laugh about Russians going to each other’s houses and cutting the power in the good old days. Now, doxxing and attacking people on a personal level are, if not widely tolerated, considered to even be acceptable. They are given tacit approval by some in our community. It saddens me greatly to see this, and I think some soul-searching is in order as to why we tolerate this sort of line-blurring in what is, for all but a very small handful of us, nothing more than a hobby.

So what’s the cause? It’s easy to blame CCP, I think. It’s also lazy. Sure, the “EVE is Real” meme was blown way out of proportion by CCP, and it fed into their marketing stuff for a long time, but I think it’s an easy out to lay the blame there. To lay the blame there relies, I think, on a fundamental distortion of what is meant by the phrase. EVE is real in that it feels substantial, it feels impactful. When we lose, we flinch. When we win, our heart skips a beat and the adrenaline rush is unbeatable. Those reactions are real, sure, but EVE itself, isn’t. The servers could blink off tomorrow and, while we’d be in search of a new hobby, none of our lives would in any appreciable way be worse for the absence of a particular set of pixels. Not from my perspective, at least.

And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Perspective. Seeing things from your perspective and from that of others. Taking time to gain some perspective. Understanding the way shit you do and say is viewed. These are the kinds of things that are key to social interaction, to community-building and relationship-building. The anonymity of the Internet makes it a lot easier to set them aside when it’s convenient but if, as we so willingly embrace, EVE is real, perhaps it’s time we started being a bit more real with ourselves about what we do and don’t tolerate amongst this community of hobbyists.  

Tags: ethics, I Want ISK, legal, Oh Takashawa

About the author

Oh Takashawa

Oh Takashawa enjoys smugness, spaceships, and burning unnecessary amounts of helium isotopes.