The Split-Personality CommunityTarek Raimo
Recently I joined the Redemption Road crew on a public NPSI roam for a piece I was working on. While flying around in search for targets I interviewed the founder of RR Greygal. When I asked her what she liked about EVE she concluded her answer by saying how much she loved the player community of this game. Nowhere else had she met so many warm and friendly people.
I was a bit surprised by that answer. Certainly, there are many nice people in EVE, but quite often it is not easy to find them. Sometimes it can appear like one has to comb through the playerbase with a very fine toothed utensil to find them at all. How does the impression of Greygal fit together with a statement like this one:
“It’s the other players you are forced to deal with that utterly ruin this game and make it unplayable. That is of course, unless you’re a sadistic psychopath.” – User review on Metacritic
Paradoxically, both perceptions of the EVE player community are valid at the same time. I decided to sit down and put some thoughts together in a blogpost to discuss how that is possible.
The one time I was at a Fanfest and saw people jump and scream along with Permaband’s “Harden the Fuck Up” was an experience that went beyond cringeworthy for me. I am not particularly fond of macho chestbeating and find it particularly repulsive when it is done by large numbers of people. The negative implications of that performance do go further than just my personal distaste. CCP have not only created a gaming environment which is harsh and unforgiving, they openly encourage that people make full use of its possibilities and that everyone who can not deal with that is a weakling who has no place in their game. Making a prominent member of an alliance known for its griefing tactics lead game designer did not help at all to moderate that message.
Behaviour that would get people banned in other games is not only tolerated in EVE, it is actually celebrated as creative content and emergent gameplay. The image that is thus created is part of the unique nature of EVE on one side, but it will inevitably also attract people who do not only play the “sadistic psychopath” but who actually have such personality traits. Such individuals can act openly and those who do not have the strength of character to deal with them or avoid them completely will not only be victimized, they will also be laughed at by everyone else.
Before he retired from blogging, Ripard Teg tried to put a finger on that sore spot and bring this problem to the attention of the playerbase. Unfortunately he went way too far in his campaign. I would even say that he was influenced too much by the internet tough-guy attitude himself. Like the ones he accused of misdemeanor he used hyperbole and sensationalism which cost him credibility.
The internet in general is full of terribly degenerated forms of interaction. The various game related forums and comment-sections of the EVE community are no exception to that. Often, decent arguments are impossible to pursue. One can completely forget about sophisticated ones. As soon as a point is made with any nuance, trolls and cat-callers will derail the conversation with idiotic one-liners and stupid provocations. The worst example were the various comment threads that developed in the time when Mintchip still had some publicity within the EVE community. She definitely was a flawed character in many ways, but instead of pointing out her flaws incisively, countless sexist slurs would be used instead.
A more recent example is the “Grr Goons” mentality that is mainly driven by (former) members of Test Alliance. No matter how valid or sensible a given statement may be, if it comes from a player who is affiliated with the CFC or – god forbid – an actual GSF member, they will be downvoted on reddit and run into the ground with a bombardment of unreflected hostility.
Since I am on the subject of Goons and TEST. I am not sure whether it was them who introduced the ceaseless spouting of memes and the childish practice of local spam, but they certainly made it a staple of their so called culture. While I am all for taunting your enemy and making fun of them in witty ways, I can only roll my eyes and sigh at such behaviour. If it were drunk teenagers who do things like that, it would be ridiculous enough. In fact it is men in their thirties who think themselves funny for spamming local with idiocy. I don’t know whether there is anyone who is influenced by that in any other way than completely losing any respect for those who do so. Regurgitating platitudes does not make one witty or even dadaistic and absurd, it just makes one look like a person who can not come up with their own puns.
All of that would not be so remarkable if it would occur in the comment section of a random Youtube video, the chat channel of an FPS game or the League of Legends forums. This, however, is the EVE player community. A group of gamers who collectively claim to be more mature and sophisticated than other gaming communities.
A group of people who have such pretenses should do better than that.
Angels, Universities and Compassion
Fortunately not everything about the EVE player community is as bleak as I have described it in the first two parts of this article. If that were so, Greygal could never have developed her impression. There are great initiatives in this game that are genuinely helping people. The many blogs, podcasts and wikis which provide a wealth of information that CCP completely fails to supply. Educational programs for new players like EVE University or the Agony Unleashed courses. The public roams organized by Red vs. Blue, Spectre Fleet and Redemption Road. Initiatives like the Angel Project which is designed to help newbies in need financially and is funded entirely by player donations. Last but not least the many examples of EVE players generously donating to disaster relief and even to support individual EVE players who have fallen on bad times.
One of the most wonderful examples of that compassion happened when Sean Smith aka Vile Rat got killed in Benghazi. Not only did his fellow Goons extend their support to help his next-of-kin and honour his legacy, many other players – even those who were in-game enemies of the Goons – did the same. I know of no other gaming community where something like that has ever happened on such a scale.
When some of the types who seem incapable of separating a game from reality, or are possibly even borderline sociopathic, wrote tasteless comments about that unfortunate event, many lashed out against them and rightfully so. Unfortunately there lies a bitter irony in this too. Years ago, Goons themselves openly used the RL death of a Band of Brothers player to provoke their in-game enemies.
For the record, it was The Mittani – then only a director of Goonswarm – who stated quite forcefully that such behaviour should stop immediately.
Also when it comes to communication, there are not only low-brow trolls populating the EVE forums and in-game chats. Fortunately the mature personalities do manifest from time-to-time, even if they are quickly drowned in the terrible signal-to-noise ratio that characterizes game-related interaction.
Before we leave the room, let’s talk about the Elephant
It is a matter of record that EVE has the least number of women playing of all MMOs. The way I see it, this is not because of the Sci-Fi genre or even the harsh and competitive environment of EVE. If women couldn’t deal with such things at all, they would not participate in professional sports, business, the military, play many other online games or watch Battlestar Galactica which was a rather dark Sci-Fi show and did attract a significant number of female viewers.
I would identify the problem by going back to the beginning and the attitude that CCP have endorsed with their HTFU message. That is not to say that women are not capable of dealing with harsh environments. What women – and in particular the strong and emancipated kind – have a problem with, is a lack of sophistication when it becomes the staple of a community. One should not be fooled by Katee Sackhoff using the HTFU phrase on screen. She’s an actress reading a script after all.
From all personal and statistical evidence I am aware of, women have very little patience for inanity in men and will avoid it whenever they can. That low tolerance becomes even less when they are stronger and more independent personalities – the type that would potentially enjoy a game like EVE online. Thus, for as long as the players of EVE refuse to act their age and keep subscribing to the Permaband message of primitive macho posing, this will not improve. CCP might have thought that introducing avatar-based gameplay might help, while in fact it would be much more helpful to stop their message that immature bullies are actually valued members of the game.
That is not to say that CCP should make the game less harsh and more friendly, they would just have to stop actively inviting people with such attitudes and celebrate them. A harsh gameworld needs its real-life counterpoint.
Fortunately, there are more and more efforts that go into the right direction.
Hilmar pumping his fist and shouting “Destroy” on stage was not one of them.