The Roleplayers of EveTarek Raimo
No, this piece is not about people dressing up in Amarrian robes at Fanfest or men who train hard to become as ripped as their in-game Brutor character. This is a piece about a much more subtle form of roleplaying which occurs every day in the game. Traditional roleplayers are often ridiculed or at least not taken too seriously by the wider EVE community, but not all roleplaying has to involve in-game lore, dressing up or talking weirdly on voice-chat. There are many ways to roleplay in EVE which are generally not recognized as such. Those who engage in it might even deny that they are doing so. I will discuss those hidden roleplaying aspects of EVE here, working my way outward from highsec.
The strongest roleplaying element in the game are certainly the highsec griefers. Premier example of this is CODE and their site minerbumping.com. Almost all their posts are written in-character. It may be that many of those roleplaying shenanigans only exist as a means for evading the anti harassment clauses of the TOS, but whether this is true or not does not actually matter. The effect remains the same. Generally griefers base their whole modus operandi on a fictional narrative that is technically not necessary as a justification for ganking miners and mission runners.
They can become quite creative with explanations for what they do. Back in my newbie days, I encountered a group of highsec wardeccers who pretended that they were AIs who had taken over the ships they flew and are now fighting a war against capsuleers whom they see as their natural enemies. Griefers do not always come up with such elaborate backstories for their activities, but even the most prosaic ones will inevitably be roleplaying. After all, it is them who regularly point out that they are not really antisocial bullies. They are only playing one in EVE.
The Faction Militias
The reasons why Faction Warfare is divided up as Gallente+Minmatar against Caldari+Amarr are directly tied to the in-game lore. That creates a natural attraction for those who want to actually roleplay in the traditional sense. However, even the ones who are only in it for the PvP and the added benefit of loyalty points are not just playing with that in mind.
To begin with, everybody chooses the race they want to play based on some sort of affinity or desire to emulate a role. Sure, there are farmers who will just min-max and look where the best rewards can be found, but the majority make a personal choice of which side they want to be on. Identifying with that faction, they come up with slurs directed at the enemy, calling them Squids, Frogs or Slaves. Propaganda is used widely, and much of it conveys a specific positive self-image and a negative one for the enemy. Those tropes become internalized and form part of the unconscious roleplaying persona of the Faction Militia player.
The Pirates, Mercenaries and Outlaws
The self-appointed professional PvPers live by a code that is only partially pragmatic. Of course it is reasonable for pirates to honour ransoms lest they not get paid by the next victim and certainly professional conduct helps mercenaries to attract more contracts.
Independent outlaw groups in lowsec and NPC nullsec tend to have the least roleplay elements, but even they are engaged in it to a degree.
All of those groups have a competition going on that only exists as a result of their chosen role. The killboard statistics which are at the center of that competition are not only a metric of economic performance, they are also a record of achievement that proves the validity of their chosen profession.
Elite PvPers smirk at kills that were achieved during Pyrrhic victories with massive blobs. Among their peers they command respect through the number of fights they can win while significantly outnumbered. Hardly ever will they attack unarmed targets or newbies – there is no glory in ganking a hauler in a bubble.
Pirates have no problem with trapping and ganking the unwary, but they play a different game. For them it is about ransom and loot. The loot exists in-game, but it is by no means the most efficient way of making ISK. Ransoms are a metagaming device, and are also not necessarily the best way to generate income either. Pirates clearly chose a playstyle based on a role that they enjoy playing.
The mercenaries are certainly the most business-like. Still, there is no reason to be a mercenary in EVE other than wanting to play that role. Usually they also have a number of rules in place about professional conduct in chat and voice communication. By behaving like that, they cultivate the image of a guild of professional hitmen. Not exactly pure by-the-numbers gameplay either.
The Alliances of Sov-Nullsec
The common consensus is, that a sov-nullsec alliance needs its own narrative to be successful. Of course, where there is a narrative there are protagonists. That role is taken by the players who are part of the political and military powerhouses of nullsec. That is most evident with the leaders of those groups. Read or listen to the various State of the Alliance records published over time on EVE news sites and elsewhere. Nobody talks like that in real life. Especially The Mittani delivers his speeches with the flair of someone who has participated in too many LARPs (A baseless accusation with not a single shred of evidence to back it up).
The alliances of sov-nullsec have their own lore and history. They are not roleplaying in the sense that they embrace the in-game lore CCP has supplied, but the propaganda, metagame and narrative create their own roleplaying framework. Individual players adhere to their alliance’s chosen narrative, but they will act differently when not engaged in gameplay. A look at Fanfest or any other player gathering is sufficient to see that. The most faithful Goon can easily be best friends with the most stalwart Nulli Secunda guy after a few beers. Taking in-game baggage with you into real-life relations is universally frowned upon. A clear sign that there is a significant difference between person and persona.
Not only have the wormhole residents chosen the most difficult place in EVE to play in, they have also developed their own code of savage romanticism. In many ways they are similar to the professional PVPers of lowsec and nullsec, but they go beyond that. Over the years an ethical framework has developed within the wormhole player community. It dictates that every group of wormhole residents must engage in fights when challenged. If they do not abide by this rule, others may band together and evict them from their home.
Whole invasion campaigns in wormhole space can be triggered by factual or claimed transgressions against those unwritten laws. Technically, there is no reason for that ethical code to exist. It is an invention of some wormhole space occupants which serves the purpose of distinguishing themselves from other players in EVE. Again, this is clearly a form of roleplaying. Even the wormhole players who are not part of the prominent alliances of media renown often emulate the same sort of behaviour.
EVE Online may not be the kind of MMO where roleplaying is readily apparent and widely practiced in its traditional form. Still, there are many ways players will get in-character when they sit down to log in. Despite the attitude against roleplaying which is publicly displayed, many EVE players engage in it regularly. The way how roleplay manifests in EVE is intrinsically tied to the metagame. All of the aspects I have discussed are a function of that rather than an in-game lore. As I have pointed out, the Faction Warfare militias have the strongest ties to that background, but they are not even the most extreme roleplayers.
Remarkably enough it is the casual PvE players of highsec who do the least roleplaying. Again that is related to metagaming aspects. Because those players are more isolated from the politics and playstyles which others participate in, they have less of a reason to differentiate themselves by acting in a certain way.
Paradoxically enough, it is often the really fervent metagamers who laugh most at the idea of roleplaying. I wonder how many of them consciously realize just how deep they are into it.