In spaces between the relentless mercantilism of high-sec and the dynastic feuds of null-sec lies the vast swathe of low security systems; the tattered fringe of order slowly unwoven by the ruthless chaos of lawless space. Traditionally, low-sec is home to pirates and brigands, criminals deemed unfit to exist under the rule of the four nations of New Eden. Many only head to low-sec for one reason: they're looking for a fight. But while a large portion of EVE Online's pilots avoid these systems like the plague, they have, like any region in EVE, evolved a society of their own. Helicity Boson wasn't like other pilots. He was, from his first days, forged in the conflict of pirate space.
Helicity, like many other potential players, just didn't get EVE the first time he played.
"I tried it and I hated it," Helicity told me during our interview. "That's the thing about EVE, you need to get what it's about, and it's not about the actual video game. The actual video game has very little to do with what makes EVE."
It wasn't until years after his first dip into the black pools of New Eden that EVE Online finally clicked for Helicity. He discovered a blog by a pilot named Spectre3353 documenting his exploits as a newbie pirate and immediately Helicity was hooked. He created a new account and messaged Spectre asking if he could join him.
"I had no money, no skill points, and I just went into low security space and I never came back out."
But knowing Helicity today, it's almost hard to imagine that at one time he was just another overwhelmed and wide-eyed newbie. At the height of his time in EVE, Helicity was infamous for one thing: Hulkageddon. Leveraging his growing popularity in low-sec, due in part to his own blog documenting his swashbuckling, Helicity organized an event to bring pain and death to the miners of high security space. Mobilizing the divergent pirate factions of low-sec, as well as anyone else looking to join in on the bloodshed, Helicity turned one of EVE Online's most controversial practices into a sporting event. Players would hunt down mining vessels in high security space and destroy them before subsequently being destroyed themselves by CONCORD police units. The first Hulkageddon was a modest success with about 300 ships lost (including the aggressors). Hulkageddon 2, however, was a bloodbath. In 2010, with the word spreading and donations flowing in, Helicity sparked the event that would destroy over 1700 mining ships. It is, to this day, one of the bloodiest moments in high-sec history.
"Honestly, it's not my favorite thing about EVE other than what it represents. It's a demonstration of what you can do in EVE with no money and only a little bit of charisma," Helicity said. "It was funny, mostly because I had been reading the forums and there was already a lot of complaining from high-sec players saying, 'high-sec should be safe. I should be able to play the game I want.'"
"That's, at the core, not what this game is about. You're separating yourself from the game universe that you should be immersing yourself into," he said. "This is a game where anything can happen because it's a game about people and people are inherently unpredictable."
But despite the overwhelming success of Hulkageddon, it isn't what Helicity most fondly cherishes about his time with EVE Online.
"The thing that I really loved are probably my early days of playing, just scraping by. I was only playing one account and one character—I didn't have another character to make money for me. I was just living off of what I could scrape together from the people that I could kill."
In the system of Mara, infamous as a hive of piracy, Helicity told me he would lurk, waiting for fights between other players. When the battles were over and both parties had left, he would quickly salvage the wrecks and scoop up the leftover drones to sell. It was a pittance. But it was also just enough for Helicity to carve out his meager existence.
"It gives more value to the assets you actually have," Helicity told me.
That mindset has extended to many more aspects of Helicity's life in low-security space. His time as a pirate has certainly come with its own successes and failures. Helicity recounted a time when he, as a newer player, took on a battleship while only flying a frigate, or another time when he made the mistake every new player makes when he decided to fly something he couldn't afford to replace. It was devastating.
But EVE Online was more than just a video game about shooting other spaceships for Helicity, it was a culture that he belonged to. As dubious as the morals of pirates may be, there is an undeniable bond built through the violence of low-sec life. Helicity told me that it wasn't uncommon for rival gangs to work together to take down mutually beneficial targets. During the Bloodbath of B-R5RB, EVE's largest conflict, Helicity and several gangs managed to catch a titan on its way to the fight and worked together to bring it down.
"There's this whole pirate code," Helicity said. "It's generally understood that if one group asks you to join them to kill a juicy target there is never any betrayal there. You go there, you kill the thing with them, you share the loot, and you bugger off. After you get home, all bets are off again."
Running into one of those pilots later that day, however, Helicity would have certainly not missed an opportunity to, as he put it, "gank the ever-loving shit out of them." But it's that brutal philosophy that makes EVE Online what it is. As Helicity said, EVE Online is a game about people. Few places in New Eden can be as ruthless as low-sec, but talking with Helicity makes me realize that the harsh conditions of pirate space are merely the catalyst for creating some of its most interesting players. The culture might be cutthroat, but there is a sense of belonging that draws players in and never lets them go.
"People like to laugh at this roleplaying thing because when they think of that they think of these really over the top roleplayers that you have," Helicity said. "You have these guys who always insist on always being in character."
"But that's not all that roleplaying is; everybody in EVE Online is role-playing, they just don't realize it. Nobody identifies as just an EVE Online player: you're an industrialist, you're a pirate, or something else. The fact that you identify in that way is very telling about the fact that you're embracing a role within that universe."
"The moment you sit down behind your keyboard and you log into EVE Online and start playing the game, your whole attitude changes."