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Chronicles of a New Eden - The He Said, She Said Propaganda War of 2016

By Steven Messner on May 19, 2016 | Columns | Comments

Chronicles of a New Eden - The He Said, She Said Propaganda War of 2016

There's a war happening in EVE Online. Much of it is being played out within the game itself, with players logging in night after night, hopping in ships, and heading to the frontlines to blow each other up. But there's another less tangible war happening amid the explosions of virtual spaceships, and it's not really happening within the game at all. It's the propaganda war—and no one is winning.

Propaganda has been a part of EVE Online for some time now, and, as I've written in the past, can be a powerful tool when wielded effectively. It is, essentially, a battle to control the narrative of a war; to paint your enemies actions as wrong and your own as noble. If you've been playing EVE Online for some time, you've seen this propaganda war played out a million times. That's why I find it so supremely frustrating that all those years of experience seem to mean nothing.

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The latest war in EVE Online is one of the more heated I can remember, but that's almost solely because The Imperium, the old superpower of New Eden, had managed to piss in enough people's cereal that they all rallied together to fight back. There's a real sense of hatred that flows through many EVE players towards The Imperium—directed at the leadership, specifically The Mittani, Sion Kumitomo, and The Imperium's old counter-intel wizard, Digi.

Members of the Moneybadger Coalition have, in many ways, been led to believe that these three figures in particular are cancers on the culture of EVE Online that should be blasted with radiation and expunged. In response, The Imperium feels the need to match the intensity of the enemy's narrative with one that is equally damning and malicious, but in the process is also beginning to fuel a propaganda arms race in which neither side is winning.

As someone who isn't really connected with either side (I've flown with Karmafleet, an Imperium corporate for a few months but eventually left), and as someone who writes about EVE on an almost weekly basis, the lack of honesty from either side in this war is infuriating.

A source I have linked me to a post on the TEST (members of Moneybadger) forums in which one of their fleet commanders announced that the war was effectively over and declared themselves the victor. In this post, claims are made like "everyday hundreds more wake up and realize that this is a fucking video game and not NSA Online". It's a jab leveled directly at Digi himself and the accusation that The Imperium collects real-life information on their friends and enemies to use against them.

But here's the problem with that statement: The war isn't over, TEST haven't won, and "hundreds" of players aren't waking up to realize that The Imperium is a big bad evil. In fact, it's quite the contrary. In the last two weeks I've been speaking with line members of The Imperium (Goonwaffe and Karmafleet mostly), talking to them about how they feel the war is going and whether or not they feel like they're on the right side. This is hardly a legitimate census, but I was struck by how many of them asserted that this was some of the most fun they'd ever had in the game. I didn't find one who felt otherwise.

Of course, right now the hot topic is whether or not The Imperium are bleeding members, something that Moneybadgers look to the website Dotlan to support their claims that they are. But the truth is more nuanced than that. I'm not saying that The Imperium isn't losing members, they obviously are, but we need to be more discerning when asking ourselves why that could be. Is it that "hundreds" of line members are waking up each day and realizing that they don't believe in the banner under which they fly? No. It's more likely that a coalition with a sizeable playerbase who enjoyed a vast region of PVE content just lost all of it and is now relocating those characters into different corporations so they can do that elsewhere. It's also not too scandalous to suggest that, in losing so much of their territory, The Imperium is shedding useless weight from opportunistic pilots who don't want to contribute to the war effort but want to leech off of The Imperium however they can. And then there's probably a bit of truth to TEST's claims, and a faction of people are leaving to join the dominant side in this war—but certainly not "hundreds."

The problem isn't just TEST making these bold claims that the war is over and The Imperium is slowly imploding, it's also that Imperium leadership feels the need to rebuff those claims with the same intensity, creating that propaganda arms race I mentioned earlier.

The Mittani asserts that his alliances are gaining members but those gains are being hidden by Dotlan reporting because of some of the reasons I just listed. But he also twists the discussion in his own way to paint the Moneybadger Coalition as a group of soft children who will likely be giving up the war and heading back home in a few weeks—another claim that is most likely false given how many alliances in Moneybadger gave up their territory to set up shop in the systems The Imperium once owned.

The result is that, as each side becomes more desperate to paint the other as a demon, both are becoming increasingly divorced from any semblance of truth. Their claims are becoming bolder and bolder, yet anyone can plainly see that neither argument is really sticking. In the end, both sides are beginning to sound like bleating sheep rather than master propagandists leveling crushing blows against the enemy—and that's kind of infuriating.

I have no doubt that the Moneybadger Coalition has the upperhand in both the real war and the propaganda war—at least for now. But if they want to keep that edge they have on the Imperium, they're going to need to be more careful about how they attack their target's morale and willpower. Flowery statements and bold claims are great, until you look a little deeper and realize that, in many cases, they're trying to make a grey issue very black and white. And The Imperium is just as guilty.

Wars in EVE Online are often won through cunning and strategy, but I'm disappointed to say I've seen little of that on either side when it comes to the battle to control the narrative. Instead, what we have is the year's biggest "he said, she said" war. And in conflicts like those, everyone loses.

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
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