“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”
― Michael Altshuler
I looked at the time, just over 23:00 EVE. I’d better dock it up soon, I’d had some good kills and it was a work day tomorrow after all. We had been taunting them just long enough however; as I considered my retirement for the night the enemy decided to undock battlecruisers and T2 cruisers to rid their station of the drunkards in Thrashers sitting on the front porch. To make it clear that we were not welcome, they also undocked a Chimera and an Archon.
Being a lone Dramiel in a fleet of dirty Thrashers I kept both my attention on yellowboxing and speed up, darting around the battlefield with manual control. Thrashers with artillery are deceptively powerful when wielded with proper target calling, and saw a Basilisk and a couple of Drakes destroyed in short order. What these cheap destroyers had in alpha strike and fast locking however, they lacked in tank and maneuverability, and the enemy finally caught on, pulling range. We had lost two Thrashers and the main fleet proceeded to warp out. I got out to my own safe spot, “gf”. Wait… where are my drones? Dammit.
Just as our fleet is warping off, someone calls on comms “Wow, Ragnarök on field,” and “Did somebody see the titan on the fucking station?!” The last of our Thrasher pilots could hear the doomsday device activate as they left the grid.
Dramiels align and warp fast, faster than most in fact. It could not be fast enough as I turned the ship 180 degrees and warped back to the station for what seemed to take waaaaaay too long. I landed at range and saw the lone Ragnarök before it retired from the field, along with the Chimera wreck it had produced. Magnificent. I also found out what my drones had been up to: making me the only other involved party in the Chimera kill. I couldn’t stop smiling, what a ride. The fleet was laughing it up and congratulating my stroke of luck on comms. We were in high spirits.
What seemed like moments (and a quick skirmish) later I was asked to provide a warp-in for a Caldari Militia fleet we had on D-scan towards a customs office. The Basilisks that were there to repair it were supported by Drakes, Cerebruses, Caracals and tackle. Landing on grid my ship was screaming through space towards the spot that would put our fleet, now lying in wait for my signal, on top of the enemy Basilisks. Almost there, yellow boxes began flashing, then turned red. I could see the angry cloud of missiles approaching as my ship entered warp in the last second and my friends landed on field, 14 km from the enemy Basilisk contingent, and proceeded to rip them apart.
My fingers felt lighter than air as I basked in my EVE high. I realised I had no clue how much time has passed, 10 minutes? I looked at the clock again, 00:02 – one hour later. Time flies indeed.
This was not the first time, and I certainly hope not the last. Being me, I couldn’t resist thinking about this phenomenon and finding out what it is. Because it is the very thing that I pursue every time I log into EVE.
What I had experienced is what is known as “flow” in psychology (also known as “zone”). Flow happens when a person engages in an activity at which they are successful but that is close to the limits of their skill. If uninterrupted, this state is involving and so immersive that non-essential functions, such as a sense of time, are subdued or even switched off, while also being characterised by the sense of fundamental joy and accomplishment. It is said that Michelangelo was in a state of flow when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and there can be no denying that Jimi Hendrix was utterly consumed by his guitar play. A state beyond normal conditioning, a state of content.
The reason Flow feels so good is that it transports the person feeling it into the now. Or rather, the now is all it will allow. Along with the loss of a sense of time, the mind is simply too occupied with the present moment to abstractly think of history or future. It’s perhaps not so strange then that it is very similar to the state of presence reached through meditation. It is in fact so universal, that whether achieved through immersion, meditation, faith or even psychoactive drugs, it has very similar characteristics, and can be found in different shapes all over the world. From a buddhist practitioner, to a downhill biker, from a passionate painter to an EVE PVPer – the characteristics of the state remain remarkably the similar.
A mind that has no past and no future to constantly mull over is content, only reacting to the situation at hand, and this is the source a sense of satisfying joy.
Ask yourself this: what is it about the “shakes” that EVE players like so much? Because they happen when you are at the very edge of your ability, simply unable to do anything but immerse yourself in the current moment. You might call it a more extreme version of flow, it is driven by the same motivators.
Flow is the base axiom upon which the enjoyment of small gang PVP in EVE rests, and probably the reason I love lowsec so much. However, the more you do it, the harder it gets to attain that same state. The magic lies in reaching for new heights, more risk, more skill. Something just within reach. The inherent quality of PVP is that an intelligent being is providing the problem to solve, to beat. As such it can be an unpredictable challenge, forcing you to react in the present moment. A shortcut to right here, right now, if you will.
It is this pursuit that keeps us coming back, looking for the flow, the shakes, and the sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction that comes with it. To me, EVE is about that reach, not accomplished goals or going through the motions of a successful routine.
As players age in EVE, they chase this dragon. It becomes harder and harder to find the thrill that seemed to come so easy when you locked up your first target and hit F1. In a time when it is very much en vogue to talk about new players and their experience, it is important not to forget the veterans who have stuck around through thick and thin because of that magic – many of whom have not experienced the characteristic EVE “high” in a very long time.
“This is EVE” may get people through the door, but flow, the shakes, whatever you want to call it, is what keeps them coming back. A complacent player soon becomes a bored player. Before you know it, you are logging in and going through the motions out of sheer habit. When something becomes easy it also becomes boring.
Passion stems from challenge: the reach, the aspiration to be something more. So get out there and push the limits, because without passion, what’s the point?