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Chronicles of a New Eden - Beauty & Ugliness in Community

Steven Messner Posted:
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Even though I admitted the same thing months earlier, meeting EVE players in real life remains one of the most bizarre things I've ever done. There's this wonderful surrealism about sitting in a bar in Iceland with a person I've only just met, discussing a virtual war with the same intensity that we would later display talking about the American politics. But that's what EVE gatherings like Fanfest have always been about: embracing the odd and often ludicrous ways the real world and EVE's virtual one can mash together. And in that respect, Fanfest is a beautiful experience.

Going to Fanfest this year, I was curious to see what the tone of the players would be like, and once again I found it to be nothing short of uplifting. EVE Online might be a game known about wars and corporate theft, but so much of that seems to fall away next to the camaraderie you feel wandering the blustery streets of Reykjavik with someone you just met. There's a sense of belonging there that, as someone who has hopped from MMO to MMO for the past decade, I've never really felt anywhere else.

But that's the problem with EVE Online, you don't get to have hashtags like #eveisreal and experience great moments with strangers without also having to deal with a much more disappointing side of the community. Because the fact is, if EVE is real, then so is all the harassment, drama, and general filth that gathers in its virtual gutters.

Last week just after Fanfest, Brendan Drain of MassivelyOP ran an interview with CCP Falcon about the state of harassment in EVE Online. The article itself was fairly innocuous, but it did stir up a response from tinfoil-hat-blogger Gevlon Goblin, who panned the article for glazing over the harsher lineage of harassment that has plagued EVE Online for a decade.

In his post, Gevlon details several instances of harassment that he believes were mishandled by CCP, including the infamous vandalism of the EVE monument in Iceland and even more recent instances where an EVE streamer was harassed over the recent death of her grandfather. And it's in these moments were a strange dissonance begins to form between the two realities that EVE Online is a game about real people but also a game that is almost entirely experienced through the safety and anonymity of the internet. For the rare few who dare to attach their real identity to their virtual one, the results are almost always some form of harassment. Even the Mittani himself has had to deal with his fair share of it.

But as much as I love EVE Online's community, I'm not going to pretend like these issues are just isolated cases. Anyone who has flown fleets is well aware of the kind of gross social atmosphere a mumble channel can propagate, but that's not the only place where you'll find casual racism and sexism running rampant. And it creates a weird parallel between having to toughen up due to EVE Online's harsh mechanics and having to toughen up because of EVE Online's often brutal culture.

I don't envy the position that CCP is in, either. During Brendan's interview, CCP Falcon talks about how tricky it can be thwarting harassment due to CCP's rather short range of jurisdiction over the game. Unless harassment is happening within in-game channels, there's very rarely anything they can do to make it stop unless it becomes a big enough issue. And of course, people will also be quick to mention that a huge part of that problem stems from the fact that CCP has proven themselves unable to enforce their own rules consistently. It's not uncommon to have players receive warnings for what could easily be spun as in-game trash talk, while much more insidious comments get ignored altogether.

But I think, at the end of the day, what needs to happen is that there needs to be more of a transparent discussion between CCP and its audience. What frustrates me the most is how often we talk about how amazing the community is while conveniently leaving out how devastatingly depressing it can also be in equal measure. When players do something incredible, CCP is quick to place them on a podium to champion how great EVE is. When they do something despicable, it's quietly swept under the rug.

These moments exist in EVE on a daily basis, but they often feel like they only get addressed once the fires they start burn big enough for CCP to pay attention. The result is that, for many of us, thousands of incidents of harassment go completely unpunished for a variety of reasons—and I'll venture a guess and say that most of them aren't CCP's fault. As a company, they'll never have enough fingers to plug all the holes, so it's our responsibility as players to do what we can and that starts with talking about it.

Gevlon Goblin was heavy-handed in attacking Brendan's article because, as Brendan said in the comments, "I didn't have to ask about harassment in EVE in this interview, but I specifically chose to in order to get a response that might start a serious discussion on the topic within the community." And he's done exactly that, but there needs to be more of this discussion and it needs to happen without the hesitation I have to imagine CCP feels when wanting to address how truly ugly the community can be sometimes. Yes, there are festering wounds growing in the EVE playerbase, but we are far better served by addressing them frankly and honestly than by pretending they largely don't exist until they stir up enough trouble to warrant attention. And furthermore, I think CCP needs to stop using banning as the only defense against this kind of infection. If we went around chopping the limbs off of everyone who was sick, well, we'd be a pretty sorry lot. Instead, there has to be more nuanced ways we can affect positive change in the EVE community.

As players, I think we can also be doing a lot more to create a better culture within EVE Online. As a sandbox game, it's beautiful that we can have a virtual society with as many brigands and thieves as there are knights as soldiers, but that doesn't mean we should continue to ignore how ingrained aspects of racism, sexism, and homophobia have become within certain circles. All of that starts with people opening up and sharing, and it requires CCP to stop being a caretaker of the image it wishes EVE Online had because it's not the one it really has. EVE Online can be beautiful, but it can also be intensely ugly too. We should figure out how to do something about that.


Steven Messner

Steven is a Canadian freelance writer and EVE Online evangelist, spreading the good news of internet spaceships far and wide. In his spare time, he enjoys writing overly ambitious science fiction and retweeting pictures of goats. Speaking of retweeting, you should probably drop everything and go follow him on Twitter @StevenMessner