He Who Controls The Past …Tarek Raimo
In May 1915, a German submarine torpedoed and sunk the British ocean liner Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. The German Kriegsmarine insisted that their action was based on solid intelligence, that the United Kingdom had been in breach of international agreements by using the ship for arms transports and other purposes of warfare. The British denied this and accused Germany of committing an unlawful atrocity. The fact that 128 U.S. citizens were among the dead contributed in a major way to shift the public opinion in the United States to join the war on Britain’s side, which they eventually did in 1917.
From our history lessons many of us will be familiar with the story of cold-blooded Germans ruthlessly sinking a civilian ship. A historic narrative written by the winners of that war, justifying their cause. Any claim that things might have been different was relegated to the realm of conspiracy theory until 2008, when a diving expedition did in fact find ammunitions in a secret cargo compartment of the wreck. Only last year it became public that a prior salvage operation in 1982 had been warned about unexploded ammunitions. It became sufficiently clear that the British government had presented a manipulated account of historical events which cast them in a positive light while vilifying the Germans. Even today many people still believe that version of history to be true.
What Does That Have to Do With EVE?
“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
Historic revisionism like this was an inspiration for George Orwell’s famous quote, delivered as a slogan of the totalitarian Ingsoc regime in the book 1984: He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past. Incidentally, that doctrine also plays a role in the way major organisations constitute themselves in EVE. Every long-standing player who has been involved in major factional conflicts will be familiar with the concept of propaganda, and historical revisionism has always been part of it since the first time major conflicts developed among players. One of the most widely famous examples was probably the declaration of Sir Molle that Goonswarm had been eradicated. In the near future, revisionism is likely to reach a new level with the publication of EVE’s first commissioned work of player history: The Fountain War.
This book will be published by The Mittani Media. That appears to be a company which was formed “[t]hrough the combined efforts of TheMittani.com and Jeff Edwards”. That makes sense. To publish a book which uses another company’s intellectual property as a basis (CCP’s EVE Online) one wants to engage with a business partner on equal footing. It has been confirmed by CCP Falcon that The Mittani Media have indeed acquired the rights to use CCP’s IP for their product. With the permission to do so, The Fountain War will describe the campaign of the ClusterFuck Coalition (CFC) against Test Alliance Please Ignore (TEST) and their allies in 2013.
Other than Andrew Groen’s book on EVE player empires, this is not going to be a historical report, though. Jeff Edwards—the hired author—is a writer of military fiction, and in his own words he describes his effort to write The Fountain War as the result of “searching for ways to recreate that first heart-pounding experience [of reading the novel The Beyond at the age of eight].” The sample excerpt on the Kickstarter page also makes it sufficiently clear that we are dealing with fictionalised reality here:
Captain Darius Yaaah lowered his body into the pod, feeling the warmth of the semi-liquid amniotic gel enfold his limbs and torso. He gave a final encouraging nod to his bridge crew as the door of the armored capsule swung down to enclose him.
Clearly, this is not going to be a documentary but rather a docu-drama, a form of quasi-historical entertainment popularised by the History Channel and BBC One, among other television channels and filmmakers. As such, it will not provide a historical overview, like documentaries or textbooks do, but will engage the reader in a narrative that will doubtlessly revolve around interesting protagonists and spectacular set pieces. This already creates a very subjective view of events which lends itself very well to revisionist bias. Furthermore, docu-dramas often take a lot of artistic license to make events appear more spectacular. The superlatives used in the book’s description indicate a similar tendency. At the very least, a reader is invited to identify with the main characters of the story and immersed in a particular view of events. The short sample text, for example, puts the character of one Pandemic Legion spy front-and-center. More importantly, it labels the side who is paying for this endeavour as The Imperium. Readers who will receive this work of fiction may not know that Imperium was not what this coalition called itself back then. Already we can see revisionism entering the picture. Retroactively the CFC is rebranded to its current image.
Beyond this, the Kickstarter campaign promises a personal chapter in the book for everyone who pledges sufficient money. Max Singularity tweeted as a response:
Getting my name in the book! Because I must feed my #narcissism! and I want to be a part of EVE history.
While this is a cute tongue-in-cheek commentary, and I doubt anybody will pay the $10.000 for that (except if they are more insane than even I consider possible), it does not bode well for historical accuracy. Sponsorship that has such influence is usually not a good idea when accuracy is the goal. There is a famous Dutch painting of a battle between the Dutch and Spanish navies at Gibraltar. In it, a particular ship is displayed prominently. Historical data shows that this ship was never present in that engagement, but its owner had been a sponsor of the artist and paid a major contribution for having his vessel in the painting. Is this the version of EVE history The Mittani Media are going to aim for here?
At the same time, players are invited to submit their version of events to the author, no matter which side they were on. This is a nice attempt at aiming for impartiality, but will those submissions be corroborated in any way? Will there be any kind of vetting process or a balance between submissions from one side or another? Certainly, the author will be guided by the views of those who hired him, and the text will be as balanced as they want it to be.
Who Cares Anyway?
In a conversation I had with one of my fellow CZ writers, I was challenged with the following:
Some guy having an idea and no job. If people want to pay to have a book and help someone make a living, it’s their choice. It’s a book that will be read once by EVE people, [it’s] not like it will change anything.
That is a fair series of statements. There is nothing that objectively speaks against TMC, and by extension Goonswarm leadership, monetizing their community more than they already do. The Mittani himself said many times that nothing obliges EVE Online players to remain loyal to their organisation. If they don’t like it they can leave.
“…create a narrative which presents them as the most heroic and righteous group in the game.”
Of course that line of reasoning can also be turned around. Faced with the perpetual danger of defection, what can a player organisation do to retain their membership? One of the potential solutions for this problem is to create a narrative which presents them as the most heroic and righteous group in the game. When it comes to that, the Goons have long fought an uphill battle. When we look at the presentations done by Alexander Gianturco (The Mittani) himself, and the credible reporting of EVE player history done by Andrew Groen, Goonswarm were once forced to side with the most hated group in EVE besides themselves, Red Alliance, because nobody else wanted them as an ally. The political landscape of EVE has come a long way since then, but still there are many who continue to perpetuate the story of the “evil Goons” and enough of that mindset is left to merit a propaganda effort which counteracts it.
In a more current frame of reference, another argument comes into play which was put up as a challenge by one of my fellows:
The Goons exist. But no one gives a shit about their narrative or mindset. Only inertia and a great bureaucracy are left.
In this view of recent EVE Online politics, Goonswarm and the Imperium are viewed as a stale, stagnant and boring superpower. All they can purportedly offer their members is safety in numbers and great income opportunities for “nullbears”. Actual “fun content” is supposedly not the reason why anyone would join an alliance within The Imperium. No matter whether this impression is correct or not, it is sufficiently widespread to influence player decisions. The current Imperium leadership wants to establish KarmaFleet as a viable opportunity for new players to get great content, and in this field they have to compete with Pandemic Horde, vibrant lowsec warzones and other new-player-friendly groups like Phoebe Freeport Republic, the remainder of Brave Newbies or indeed TEST Alliance.
In the light of this competition, commissioning a heroic, revisionist interpretation of the organisation’s history can go a long way. In doing so, they also create a source document, supported by CCP, endorsed by Grath Telkin (Pandemic Legion, CEO of Sniggerdly), written by a bestselling author, that becomes the main reference for this particular part of EVE player history.
Make no mistake, the subject matter is not an irrelevant chapter either. It is about the consummation of a schism which drove former allies apart and made them bitter enemies to this day. It is also about a lesson taught to the upstart who decided to rise up against their patron. I still remember the declaration of war by The Mittani which stated R64 moons as the main reason for the campaign, but more than that was needed to rally a whole coalition against the then largest alliance in the game plus Pandemic Legion, NC. and Nulli Secunda. Very soon this became a war where the very foundation of TEST culture and leadership was called into question and vilified. During the CFC propaganda campaign against TEST it became obvious that, while this war was about ISK and resources, it was also about one narrative against another. I’d be surprised if this propaganda does not find its way back into the upcoming work of fictionalised history.
Chill Bro. It’s Just A Game
Indeed, it is all just space pixels. I could not agree more. However, for some people those space pixels represent money in the bank. Now, I am not talking about some conspiracy theory related to alleged Goon RMT cartels, but the very simple fact that Alexander Gianturco and Steve Howe call themselves the CEO and COO of a company called The Mittani Media. They intend to earn money on a book that will likely be a hagiography of their achievements in this space-pixel realm. They are of course welcome to do so, but as EVE players we have to ask ourselves: Will this serve the rest of us in any way?
Another voice from the CZ writer’s pool submitted the opinion that this will create more public exposure for EVE Online. Even if that were true, is that sort of exposure what we want and need?
We will not get an analysis of a historical event and its repercussions. Under these conditions, this is simply impossible even with the best of intentions. After his presentation at EVEsterdam Andrew Groen was asked why his analysis of EVE history ends so far in the past. His answer was twofold. On one hand he admitted that there was not enough space to go further than he did without cutting out a lot. On the other hand he cautioned that one can not take events that are too recent and analyse them without having seen the last consequences of them unfold years down the line. This is a viewpoint many real-world historians share. The Fountain war is too recent to merit such a treatment. In the aftermath, TEST were declared dead, and yet they are reformed and are back on the stage. The last word has not been spoken yet on what their ultimate fate will be and how much it was actually decided by the Fountain War.
I have my doubts that this book will be read by many who are not EVE players affiliated with one of the parties in that war, but those who have not been directly involved are likely to be presented with a very skewed perspective of what strategic campaigns in EVE involve, and they will have no way of knowing the difference. There have been many comments about the fallacy of promoting EVE as a game of epic space battles because those major conflicts are rare to begin with, and if they occur they are not that exciting to be a part of, except maybe for a couple of bloc FCs and supercap pilots who have trillions of ISK on the line.
The best that this book can achieve is bringing another bunch of players to the game who have completely false aspirations about what their achievements in this game should look like. In the process they will be attracted to the largest and most established organisation that already exists, and they will help generate more income for its leaders.
In the end, the Imperium control the present through their numbers and resources. By leveraging their position as such a prominent organisation, they control the past through tailoring their historical narrative. Following that, they are poised to control the future by attracting even more support and loyalty.
I congratulate them on their business sense and social engineering acumen, but I seriously doubt that it will bring any progressive change to the game of EVE Online.