Lowlife: The Shakes

EVE Online is known for a great many things. Massive battles, cut-throat politics, complicated economic systems, elaborate espionage, ruthless deception – to name a few. Today’s Lowlife takes a look at a different and quite particular aspect of New Eden life, most prevalent in small gang and solo PvP: the infamous EVE ‘shakes’.

Once bitten, twice addicted

“I pretty much operate on adrenaline and ignorance” – Johnny Knoxville
I have spent the majority of my EVE time thinking about the bigger issues lately. The future of lowsec and faction warfare, CSM politics and Fanfest coverage – that sort of thing. Spending too much time in high orbit (yeah, I’m saying it), especially at the frenzied pace that Fanfest and CSM elections tend to bring, can be stressful and tiring. I felt the need to go back to my roots and re-energize. Find that thing that I fell in love with to begin with. Any frequent reader of Lowlife will know that where my heart truly lies is in small scale and solo fighting. The passion derived from this is the molten core that drives everything else I do in EVE, both in and out of client. Below this layer lies a much more base phenomenon – the shakes. I have long since realized that I’m addicted to it. A razor close win in a Dramiel is my idea of heaven; it gives me the shakes like a person on the verge of terminal cardiac arrest and lends that ‘EVE high’ for hours afterwards.

Running the gauntlet

“Nothing makes a man more aware of his capabilities and of his limitations than those moments when he must accept reality by staring, with the fear that is normal to a man in combat, into the face of Death.” – Major Robert S. Johnson, combat pilot during WWII
Managing the shakes in a fight is half the battle. Why? Let’s start by identifying what the ‘shakes’ really are. The shakes is actually what’s known in psychology as the fight-or-flight response. The mind reacts to a perceived danger and prepares the body to either fight for its life, or run for its life. Although other media can bring on a slight version of this, the profound sense of loss in EVE hammers it home more than most. Simply put, when the brain interprets information as a threat it activates a chain of systems, resulting in the production of norepinephrine and epinephrine among other things. Systems not essential for physical combat, movement and immediate survival are shut down. This where the nature of the response and the nature of EVE clash; the body is preparing for an extreme physical activity while the player needs to understand and compute complicated and dynamic information at a much more accelerated rate than during normal gameplay. EVE PvPers might recognize some of the symptoms in the graphic below. Fight_or_Flight_Response It isn’t rare for a pilot to come out of a fight, calm down, and be amazed at the mistakes they just made. Obvious errors that they are fully aware of when in a normal state of mind. Things like burning out a prop mod, not activating a neut, forgetting to launch drones, not warping out even though there is no point applied, not being able to communicate location, not hearing voice comms etc. are common. The reason for this is that the fight-or-flight response is at odds with what EVE combat is asking the player to do. Shaking hands have difficulty clicking the right buttons in the UI. Tunnel vision wipes out peripheral information such as local or parts of the overview. The mind, suddenly wired for physical survival, forgets language, sense of virtual location, has difficulty recalling short term memory and it’s ability to adapt to a dynamic situation.

Stay frosty

“We’re all in strung out shape, but stay frosty, and alert. We can’t afford to let one of those bastards in here.” – Cpl. Dwayne Hicks, “Aliens”
A good way to see this phenomenon in effect is to record one’s own combat (using Fraps for instance) and review it later. A mind in the throes of the shakes can often have difficulty storing information – often combatants will come out of a fight and only be aware of half the mistakes they made. Patterns of simple oversights can quickly be identified and addressed using video. Once recurring mistakes are identified there are ways to get the shakes under control. PvP and GTFO tab – The most powerful tool available to a PvP pilot is a clean overview. Setting up a PvP tab that only shows information crucial to combat is the first step to assuming control of a combat situation. The simpler and cleaner the better. Set up a second tab only consisting of escape destinations – planets, moons, POCO’s, belts (do not list the star, stargates, infrastructure hubs, stations and other obvious locations). Checklist – Establishing a simple checklist and drilling it is a great way to make sure the right things get done and helps the mind sort and understand relevant information. The checklist should be simple, focus on points critical to combat and be run through at regular intervals as a loop. Here’s an example of a basic checklist:
  • Location, movement and velocity – Identify the location of the ship in relation to the field, the enemy and friendlies. Identify the ship type, movement and velocity of the enemy, making sure to categorize behaviour into an engagement profile (brawler, scam kiter, kiter, sniper etc.). If flying in a fleet identify the current location by name (gate, plex, planet, POCO etc).
  • Modules – Check active modules (hide passive modules using the UI), making sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Using the information from the above step ensure that weapons and other offensive systems are being applied optimally (including drones).
  • Tank and capacitor – Check the remaining HP of shiled/armour/structure, making sure they are within acceptable levels. Check the capacitor and identify if it is being affected by neutralizers.
  • Tackle – Identify what type of tackle is being applied to the ship and from whom.
  • D-scan – Check the directional scanner at short or medium range (depending on the location) to identify incoming ships.
Stay calm – The best way to stay calm during combat in EVE is to remind the brain that there is no ‘real’ danger. This helps lessen the effects of of the shakes and allows the brain to process more information. Never fly what you haven’t already replaced – A variation of the golden rule of EVE – never fly what you can’t afford to replace. Having a replacement ready in the hangar lessens the threat of loss and makes keeping a cool head easier. ‘The best defense is a good offense’ is a classic saying, not being able to replace the ship used severely mitigates the mind’s ability to think along those lines and effectively shuts down the tactic. Drilling – A common response to the question “How do I learn to PvP?” is “Buy a lot of Rifters and lose them all”. One of the reasons this works so well is that there is so little risk involved in flying a cheap ship. It’s a lot easier to stay calm facing the prospect of losing a Rifter rather than a Vagabond. The trick is to take the fights seriously and use the low-risk opportunity to drill PvP tactics. Learning patterns in this way means they will be available when the shakes set in.


The shakes are a double edged sword – they can make you dumb as a post but will also give you an amazing thrill ride. Learning to ride that wave unlocks one of the most rewarding and unique experiences EVE has to offer.
Tags: lowlife, lowsec, niden, pvp, shakes

About the author


12 year EVE veteran, Snuffed Out scumbag, writer, graphic artist, producer, Editor-in-Chief of Crossing Zebras and the second most influential player in EVE, according to EVE Onion.