At EVE FanFest in Reykjavik this past weekend, one couldn’t go far without seeing the papal hats of the Sixth Empire adorining bags or hanging around the necks of capsuleers as they went to and from panels and events in the Harpa Concert Hall. The Sixth Empire has operated in EVE Online for years now and while over five hundred people at any given time are active within the Empire, one man has come to define what EVE’s most visible neutral faction does: The Space Pope.
Known in game as Max Singularity, the story of how this unassuming EVE player became one of the game’s most visible figures has humble and solemn origins. After “seeking the truth” (basically a shot of Icelandic Brennivin at 11am, which woke me up instantly), Charles White, the man who as accepted the mantle of Max Singularity the VI, First of His Name, recalls solemnly the origins which led him to assuming the office of Pope.
“I joined in 2008 and up until 2015 I was just another F1 junkie,” White recounts seated on a couch surrounded by an entourage of EVE players dressed as Space Monks. “Something bad happened to me in 2014 and I lost five friends to suicide. In 2015 I lost two more. So in two years I had lost seven friends to suicide. I played an Admiral for the Amarr (a race in EVE Online) in game [and] I just started listening into the comms. People may be depressed and they said they might commit suicide, and I would say ‘Don’t you do it. Don’t do it.’ Because I was so mad and sad at my other friends.”
As a result of White’s insistence to players he heard in the comms laying bare their intentions, some played in an EVE Facebook group decided to troll him - in a good way. They would say “He’s not an admiral, he’s the F****** Space Pope! You know this guy’s awesome, he’s old and he’s got wisdom. He’s been around the block a few times - you need to listen to this guy - he’s the Pope.”
White decided then to counter troll - so in secret he had a Pope costume made.
“CCP [during] 2015’s FanFest had a cosplay contest,” recalled White. “Most people would dress up like an NPC, I decided to dress up like myself. So I walked down the streets of Reykjavik and was followed by a police car and everything. I ended up coming to the Harpa and people were like “Oh my God - he is the Space Pope!” While I took off the clothes, it was permanent.”
White says people started to send him messages asking him for blessings from the Space Pope, and at first he was a little silly about it. In the end, Max Singluarity was a gamer. But after awhile the man underneath the Pope mitre started to really think on what this meant.
“After a while I was like, ‘Well, what is a blessing? In the end, we all have the power to bless. We can all send out blessings. And from that moment on it changed me. It really got to the point where I was saying, ‘Ok, something’s happening here. I am the Space Pope.’ The players gave me this thing, and the players can destroy a thing. I live in constant fear that I’m going to screw something up, but that also makes me think more about what I say and what I do, because I’ve seen players fall from high places in this community. You do not want to piss off this community.”
While the fame didn’t come quickly, instead happening stages, even people outside of EVE’s hardcore can point to the Space Pope as an integral part of EVE’s lore now.
The Space Pope his entourage from the Sixth Empire
Even now though, the origins of what became the Space Pope still stick with White. He had no clue that when he started playing EVE in 2008 that one day he’s be dressed in Pope regalia talking about his work in game.
“No idea, no. I was literally just player mining; I was doing combat. It wasn’t until I lost all my friends that I started listening to what’s going on out there, and I would say ‘Okay. No More. Just don’t do it.”
This level of service is what has defined the work of White and his Alliance in EVE Online. While the game has five NPC races in the game, he and his team have created the sixth, calling it the Sixth Alliance. Represented by the Papal hats I saw adorn players throughout the halls of the Harpa, this alliance is a non-combative alliance that seeks to embody the ethos of the Coast Guard. In a game defined to outsiders as one of warfare, subterfuge, betrayal and just the sheer scope of getting into it, it’s interesting to see an alliance that embodies the exact opposite of what EVE is known for. The Sixth Alliance provides a home to transitioning pilots who are inbetween the big alliances, literally giving them a safe harbor - a Keepstar called the “Vatican Freeport Popestar - in the middle of the map so that players can dock, get out of their ship and do other things in game.
StuofBeef, an EVE Player who joined about a year ago and has risen through the ranks to become the Deputy Alliance Leader, handles a lot of workings as well in case the Pope himself is In Absentia. So there are times Stu becomes Actual. In moments where he needs it, Stu will consult the Space Pope and seek guidance, however there are times where Max Singularity needs to get involved himself as well. The Sixth Empire also has a senior management group which are called Cardinals. Cardinals are the ones who make decisions on behalf of the whole organization. In the end, though, you can get the feeling that the workings of the Sixth Empire are pretty fluid.
Being a non combative alliance, the Sixth Alliance also has diplomatic relations with the different military alliances, such as Goonswarm and the Pandemic Legion. In a game where war can break out at a moments notice, it’s interesting to see an alliance maintain relations with everyone and still maintain neutrality.
“It’s very much like a ship going through a storm,” White says. “We provide the safe harbor for those transitioning from different alliances. We also have a White Hat fleet that helps players who, say, want to stick to mining.”
This idea of incredibly friendly EVE players might feel foreign to outsiders, however, it’s pretty commonplace in-game. EVE University, a player run resource and alliance that helps newer players get into EVE and learn the ropes is another example of an alliance that isn’t all about betrayal and warfare. In the end, the Sixth Empire means to preserve and help its community in any way it can. It comes back to helping the community and the legacy of the Space Pope, as well as his followers, is one of hope and community.
It's real, we feel down, tired, and sometimes alone. This is called "Decompression" after a major event like #EVEFanFest. Talk to your corpmates, talk to your online friends, or even join the B4R channels and help talk to others that feel decompression. 6E & Space Pope loves you! pic.twitter.com/aLz2G9TUt9 — Max Singularity Space Pope (@MaxSingularity) April 18, 2018
“There’s a beautiful painting of a really depressed person who’s all by himself in a dark room with the light of the computer screen,” White said. “And on the other side of the screen is twelve gamers all behind him. They are supporting him. So players have this huge support network. If any of my seven friends said they were in trouble I would have dropped everything and helped them as much as I could. We have actual evidence from people who have [attempted] suicide and survived. When asked why they didn’t call a helpline, they would say, ‘Well, they don’t know me. They’re not my friends. They’re just going to use it against me and just make things worse.’ But we’ve created this organization in game where people can call us and we’ll talk to them and will recommend they call professional help sometimes.”
That statement stuck with me: “people can call us.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room for misinterpretation. If you find yourself having these thoughts in game, you can call the Sixth Empire an you won’t be ignored. On the contrary, their motto is “Answer All Calls.” And while White is quick to remind that they are not trained professionals, they are there to provide what resources they can to help bring that person back from the brink and remind them that they are, in fact, not alone.
“We’re not trained professionals. We’re just players - if you need real help, get it. But you’re not alone, and sometimes that’s all it needs. This is kind of like Smokey the Bear - preventing forest fires. And we put out that spark before it’s a full fire.”
If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide, you ARE NOT ALONE. Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Hero image courtesy of Kotaku.com