I want to continue my series of posts looking at "EVE players behaving badly" this week with an eye toward finishing the series before the end of the month. Before I continue though, I want to address a one-off question on this topic: why should CCP care how EVE players behave? If I'm out here advocating that CCP should start to try to put the brakes on bad behavior (and I am), does CCP get anything out of it?
And the answer to that question starts with two young men you've never heard of, James Upchurch III and James Egbert III. Go ahead and read their Wikipedia entries if you like, but I'll summarize. Yes, this is another history lesson... but recent history this time. James Upchurch III is currently serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for the brutal and sadistic slaying of Lieth Von Stein, the step-father of one of his friends, Chris Pritchard. James Egbert III committed suicide. Both of these incidents were tragedies and I don't want to minimize the effect they had on the families of the people involved. But they do make an interesting point. What did these two young men have in common? Both of them played Dungeons and Dragons in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Some of you know where this is going now. For the rest, I will explain.
In the early 1980s, I myself was in secondary school. One of the teachers in this school was the adviser and supervisor for a sanctioned "D&D Club" that met once a week on campus. By the time I left that school, the club was forbidden. By that time, you see, D&D had achieved a reputation as a satanist, destructive game that drove children to murder and suicide. Now the murder of Lieth Von Stein and the suicide of James Egbert III were undeniably tragedies as I've already said. But both were only very peripherally tied to D&D... yet there were just enough fantastical elements in both stories (the particularly horrific murder, the steam tunnels where the suicide took place) and enough whispers about the culture of the game (demons! hell! devil worship! chaotic evil! the book promotes the charisma of Adolf Hitler!) that the press at the time had an absolute field day.
There were books! There were movies of the week! There were episodes of TV series! There were outraged parents! There was a 60 Minutes piece! And in the middle of all of this was a little company with no staff that nobody had ever heard of called TSR trying to answer a lot of really embarrassing and off-putting questions from reporters all over the country.
The fact that their little game was only peripherally involved in the suicide and the murder didn't seem to be relevant to anyone.
All those dozens of satanist murders that you think you've heard about happening related to D&D? Didn't happen. All those murder-suicides you think you know about? Didn't happen. All those cults of demented kids studying witchcraft and occultism at the feet of some dungeon master out there? Didn't happen. As far as anyone's ever been able to prove, James Upchurch III and James Egbert III were all it took... and TSR's little game had only very little to do with either situation.
Yet, for the next decade, D&D had a stigma associated with it. TSR tried to fight it. Didn't help. They changed the names of creatures in the game to be less off-putting. Didn't help. They tried outreach programs explaining to parents that kids that played D&D read more, studied more, and did better in school. Didn't help. The company soon ran into financial difficulties, reorganized twice under new owners, eventually failed and was bought out.
All anyone knew or cared to know about D&D was "Isn't that the game where..." plus the fantastical story they could think of pulled out of a book, movie, TV episode, or pamphlet. Tom Hanks got an early paycheck out of it.
I assure you that CCP Manifest would rather volunteer for exploratory dental surgery than ever have to deal with a similar situation. And yet, I worry that's where things will eventually head. If you're a CCP executive, how do you deal with the fact that this is the reputation that your game develops? Sure, a lot of them kind of laugh it off. But sooner or later, I feel like someone in EVE is going to do something permanent and nasty to someone else in EVE or to himself and it's going to be one of those sick little viral stories that goes around.
If something horrible like that went down, CCP could say all the right things: that it's a tragedy, and that their game was only peripherally involved, and the individual was disturbed, and he was in no way emblematic of the player base, et cetera et cetera. It wouldn't matter. Discussions about EVE Online would suddenly start "Isn't that the game where..."
For those of you saying "Yeah, but that was decades ago. A company having to respond to a massive crisis with only one or two tragic deaths? Something like that couldn't happen today.", Toyota would like to have a word with you.
It probably won't happen. I hope it doesn't. Generally, EVE players -- even EVE players that dislike each other -- are pretty mellow at player gatherings and events. EVE players that commit suicide -- and tragically, there have been some -- generally have other factors in their lives also impacting their mental health. But all it takes is one disturbed individual to take things too far.
EVE is real.