Unwritten Laws

 
Last week CCP banned a number of accounts all on the same day. Except that the number of bans looks a bit high, that would not warrant special attention. After all, CCP bans players all the time for using bots or engaging in RMT. CCP Fanfest presentations on the subject clearly demonstrate that. The bans of last week, however, lead to extensive discussion on Reddit, forums and #tweetfleet because they differ in nature from business as usual. It appears that the charge is “real-life harassment” this time, and bans of that kind happen rarely, usually only in high-profile cases. Two such prominent examples are the temporary ban of The Mittani in the aftermath of the so-called “Wizard Hat Incident” and the permanent ban of Erotica 1 after Ripard Teg wrote about the practices going on in the “Bonus Room” scams. The most high-profile group ban happened when a few people scratched out another player’s name on the EVE monument. It appears that several of those who got banned now have been involved in the “Bonus Room” system and/or belong to CODE alliance. Then again, some other banned players seem to have neither a relation to CODE nor Erotica 1, or at least claim that they have not actively participated in the “Bonus Room”. Of course it is hard to verify what is exactly going on because CCP will clearly not discuss their decisions, the EULA forbids people from directly quoting messages they received from CCP, and some of the people who offer information on this are with CODE alliance and therefore not impartial. What we do know is, that CCP Falcon has released this statement, seemingly without context, on the day that the bans occurred. Later he followed it up with another forum post which in turn lead to a long blog post by CSM member DJ Funky Bacon. I would recommend reading it because he discusses the matter at length and I will not re-iterate his statements here. I do – however – intend to further discuss the circumstances and implications of CCP’s actions..

Harassment

Prosecuting people for harassment always raises the fundamental problem that what constitutes harassment is subjective. An example from another game nicely illustrates that: the chess master Aron Nimzowitsch – who hated the smell of tobacco smoke – once accused an opponent of deliberately provoking him by putting a box of cigars on the chess table. In his mind, the thought of a cigar being lit became so prominent that it affected his concentration. He complained about harassment to the arbiters. This story also prompts consideration of the other side. What if those who are accused of harassment do not even view their actions as malicious? Nimzowitsch’ opponent very likely did not see his placement of the box there as an issue. After all, he did not smoke during the game – as Nimzowitsch always requested – but only intended to do so during breaks. In EVE the same thing can happen. What one group of people might see as mostly harmless ribbing, hazing or trolling might be experienced as deeply humiliating by the subject. Furthermore, EVE is a game which includes the express permission to gank, camp, scam, and otherwise victimize other players. It can easily happen that someone “plays the villain” without actual malicious intent but the subject of such attacks may feel harassed nevertheless. cyberbullying_how_victims_felt_2007 Thus a back-and-forth argument ensues which has one side defending a playstyle based on causing trouble while the other side argues for the right of individuals to be left in peace. That argument inevitably gravitates to the core question where the equilibrium point between those divergent interests might be. When is harassment objectively going too far and where does the threshold lie at which EVE loses it’s sandbox character and becomes a regulated themepark? That argument is virtually as old as the game itself, but there is a certain consensus which reappears in the discussion each time: many players would draw the line where psychological or emotional harm is actually intended. In individual cases that criterium may work, but on a larger scale it becomes difficult to apply yet again. Whole campaigns of sov-warfare are built on the strategy to frustrate and demoralize the opponents until they lose the will to fight. Faction Warfare also has that aspect and so have all “asset denial” contracts done by mercenaries. In all of those cases, in-game actions are used to cause distress to an opposing group of players rather than achieving a purely in-game military victory. It can hardly be intended for EVE to regulate conflict to an extent where those methods of psychological warfare are no longer allowed. Maybe the answer lies with the instrumental phrase “opposing group of players”? In sov-warfare and in Faction Warfare those who join one side implicitly consent to being preyed upon by their enemies. They effectively forfeit their right to complain about demoralization tactics used methodically during a conflict. If that argument is taken to its most extreme conclusion, however, we end up with the often repeated statement “You consent to PVP once you undock”. Albeit that this is an exaggeration, it is true that one can not opt out of PVP in EVE. There are only ways to try and avoid it through caution and quick wits. Those who argue the case for the defending party (i.e. those who got banned) point out that all their victims had the opportunity to avoid their fate and only greed, laziness or carelessness got them into trouble. Their claim that anything they do is only the result of in-game action and reaction is open to discussion as long as there are no strict rules. Such rules are not established clearly, though.

Thin Lines And Grey Areas

The bottom line is that it’s down to members of the community to know where the line crosses from common decency to harassment. – CCP Falcon
CCP remain deliberately out of that whole discussion despite the fact that they are the final arbiter. If we look at the prominent cases of the past, then CCP always acted retroactively as a result of public outcry. The Mittani only got his reprimand for the “Wizard Hat Incident” after there was a major community upheaval about it. The same applies to the “Bonus Room” activities of Erotica 1. That those scams were going on was known, certainly CCP could have been aware of it because Erotica 1 published the Bonus Room recordings and boasted about them in public. Still, until Ripard Teg wrote about it and caused a broader response in the community, CCP did not act. Now it looks like there was an action undertaken by CCP which was not prompted by a major community outcry. I do reckon there was a response by the affected parties, otherwise the forum thread by CCP Falcon would have come completely out of the blue, but wider parts of the community also reacted. A Reddit post which is full of smirking sarcasm directed at the banned players got a lot of attention and a large amount of upvotes which aggregate to 78% at the time of me writing this. Without knowing exact numbers it is hard to say how representative the expressed sentiment of “good riddance” is for the whole playerbase, but at least on the EVE sub-reddit it appears to be a majority opinion. Despite the allegation that many banned players are from CODE, their alliance leader, James315, has not responded with a publication yet, but CODE members have participated actively in the public discourse. Their reactions often include surprise that CCP suddenly issues such bans proactively. SignsOfFaith The big questions about CCP’s decision revolve around consistency. CCP Falcon acts like CCP has a really definitive and uncompromising stance on the subject. While it is true that the EULA and TOS include clauses which would support that, CCP’s enforcement has been somewhat hesitant and arbitrary in the past. There were even cases of players reporting incidents that would be considered stalking or harassment according to the laws of many countries, but CCP would be reluctant to take any action exactly because those things occurred out of game. Definitely CCP’s handling of “real life harassment” was not strict enough to warrant CCP Falcon acting as if everyone should have known better. Especially in the light of his statement that CCP prefers the community would judge their own, it seems strange that they would suddenly ban people proactively. Maybe there is more at play here? I can not speculate on banned parties who were neither involved in the “Bonus Room” nor have any affiliation with CODE, but those who belong to that group are certainly a focus of CCP’s attention lately. During Alliance Tournament XII we saw something happen which is unprecedented: for not showing up to their first match, CODE got banned from ever participating in the tournament again. In the light of former transgressions in AT history, that looks excessive. CCP Gargant dropped a comment during one of the studio sessions in the match breaks that CCP takes it serious if someone breaks the rules of the tournament process. I might be wrong, but I took that as a hint that CCP is – colloquially speaking – pissed off at CODE. I would not accuse CCP to be so petty as to ban CODE players because they do not like them, but I would go so far to assume that CODE are under a magnifying glass. When such scrutiny is applied, it can easily happen that CCP finds more grounds to ban people than they usually would.

Change Of Policy?

It could be that we are witnessing a change of course by CCP. While they do not want to put specific rules in writing, they do seem to have become less reluctant to enforce the rules of the EULA and TOS which prohibit malicious behaviour that is intended to gravely offend, humiliate or harass players even outside of the game. Possibly they want to rid themselves of the negative image that EVE has in the general public; a game full of sociopaths and cyberbullies who are even encouraged by the game developers. It also appears that they take a much harder stance on Alliance Tournament transgressions. Their past reluctance and their current refusal to define the actual line which must not be crossed is understandable. As I have pointed out, applying and enforcing such rules is difficult when deviant behaviour and aggression are part of in-game interaction. It is not the worst of attempted solutions to let the community decide, but acting proactively under such conditions is dangerous. This time the bans have hit a rather prominent group of players, and therefore they became public knowledge, but what if CCP quietly bans others who they see as transgressors without consulting the community? People who are not well known and have no public spokespeople. Incidentally, CODE is not a popular group of players in EVE and in retrospect there is wide approval of CCP’s actions, but now that this door has been opened we should remain watchful and maintain our good judgement. The discussion about the subtle difference between playing a villain and actually doing amoral or unethical things to players has to remain active. It is a complex issue, and the unique nature of EVE is highly dependent on the ability of CCP and the community to deal with it in a responsible and mature way.
Tags: banning, bonus room, ccp, CODE, tarek

About the author

Tarek Raimo

Former nullsec spy (no not under that name of course) and current failure at lowsec solo PVP, Tarek spends his time not logging in to the game as much as he keeps thinking about its social and metagame nature and sharing some of those thoughts with the CZ readers.