Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How low can you go?

Kael Dorin, over at his new blog, has touched on a topic that I've been thinking about on and off for the last year: the choices EVE gives you and the morality of those choices.

Warning: geek philosophy ahead.

As I sometimes do, I'm going to invoke a movie, and the movie this time is True Lies, a very clever collaboration between Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, based on a story by three French writers.  Be warned: I might spoil some plot elements, but the statute of limitations has definitely run out.  And before I start with the quoting, I'm going to ride ride past the complaints that have been made about this movie's misogyny and "Arabs as fanatics" plot-line, if that's OK.  I would just as soon keep this blog apolitical.  I'm interested in the movie solely from its role-playing stand-point.

That's right.  I'm gonna write a tiny bit about role-playing in EVE.  Buckle your seat belts.
Harry: So basically, your lying your ass off the whole time. See, I can't do that.
Simon: What are you, a boy scout? No, no, no, think of it as playing a role as fantasy.
Say hello to the mot ironic exchange in a movie chock full of ironic exchanges.  Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger's character) works for an intelligence agency.  He's worked for this agency for longer than he's been married to his wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis, visibly having an absolute ball with her part), something like 15 years.  He has to lie to his wife about what he actually does for a living, and has been doing so successfully for the full length of his marriage.

But because of both this and the demands of his job, he's not a very good husband.  He suspects his wife is having an affair with Simon (Bill Paxton, in one of the two roles that pushed him out of the supporting cast and into leading roles the very next year).  He resists the impulse to immediately destroy this guy long enough to get to know him, even having lunch with him all the while lying even more about the pretense that brought them together.  Harry's life is full of lies.

And yet, here he is claiming that he can't do that even in the midst of doing it.  ;-)

But here's the kicker: Simon has wormed his way into Helen's affections by claiming to be an intelligence agent!  Harry's partner, Gib (Tom Arnold, also having an absolute ball) worries aloud to Harry "The guy's a spook.  He could be working her to get to you!"  The worry turns out to be unfounded; Simon is actually a used car salesman.  In one of the great ironies of the movie, Simon receives his comeuppance for his lies not once, but twice.

Harry doesn't receive a comeuppance at all, despite being involved in much, much bigger lies over a much longer period.  In fact, the exact opposite happens: he's greatly rewarded for his lies.

Anyone who doesn't see how this connects to EVE Online hasn't been paying attention.  ;-)

In Kael's blog, he points out that playing EVE gives you choices, among them (edited for clarity):
  • You want to be a pirate, so you get a Rifter and head to low sec.
  • You want to post contracts to scam other player out of their ISK... well, sheep are meant to be fleeced.
  • You want to use your elected CSM position to create a false sense of security to scam anyone foolish enough to trust you as an intermediary on super-cap transactions.
Then he says, "on a personal note I am not really capable of doing those, but that is my choice in the game."

But of course, there are others that play EVE differently, and make those choices every day.  Outside of the game, EVE players are lovely people.  Inside of the game, more often than not, all of us are out to inflict pain, misery, and suffering on our fellow EVE players, some more directly than others.  This happens every time someone is scammed out of billions of ISK or has billions of ISK taken out of a corporation or personal wallet.  It happens every time a billion ISK hauler is ganked in high-sec.  It happens every time a mining op is smart-bombed, or freighters are conned into null-sec to be destroyed, or a recruitment scam is successfully pulled off.  Hell, EVE players inflict pain, misery, and suffering even when there's no direct benefit to be gained from it, by popping AFK pods in high-sec or seeming to care about another player in an in-game convo while secretly laughing up your sleeve at him.

I mentioned the new GSF recruiting drive the other day, and that recruiting post is full of ways and means of inflicting this suffering, whether for material gain or not.  It's a core component of how a lot of people play this game.

The question every EVE player has to ask themselves (often, more than once) is how far they're personally willing to go.  I've seen otherwise wonderful human beings inflict massive losses on other players through notorious scams.  I've also seen truly annoying, anti-social people who nevertheless say that they could never do something like this.  We all decide where our personal dividing line is and how far we're individually willing to go.

Some players flatly say that their morals will never allow them to act like dicks, even in a video game.  Others cheerfully separate their real life from their EVE life and see no reason to connect the two, and become confused if you try to.  And a third (and to me, most interesting) group would never plan such actions... but if they're suddenly entrusted with hundreds of billions of ISK in assets... welllll...

And in True Lies fashion, it's nearly always the worst deceivers among us that are most rewarded, with little or no comeuppance for their actions.

P.S. A list of the most common EVE scams and how to avoid them can be found in this forum thread.


  1. I think most of those heinous acts in the game are done from boredom. Without "dicking" around the game would be too predictable and boring, because it would be more like a job instead.

    All work and no fun is not something that people would pay to play. So CCP decided to promote this moral butterfly effect that you can participate in and have fun with. Player created content that is based in causing misery to other players, because it is too much work to make a difference and affect others in any positive way instead. Simple as that.

  2. In my experience, people who are 'ungentlemanly' in mmos are generally the same irl. Asshats rarely admit that they're asshats - least of all to themselves. Why should anyone believe them when they say 'I am only like that in a game'?
    That said, CCP allowing these tools freedom of action is what makes Eve great. Fear and uncertainty is why I log in.

  3. Maaaaate!

    (ex-)CCP Zymurgist started that thread 2011.09.23. You probably know @CCP_Zymurgist as @ZombieBrewer these days, since he no longer works at CCP.

    Your "timing" sucks, you insensitive clod :P

  4. Yipe! Didn't even realize that. Comment removed. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. I take issue with the notion that EVE players are "lovely" people even if they behave atrociously towards other players while in the game. My experience mirrors that of Anonymous - players behave in the game closer to where their true character lies. Someone who plays an asshat inevitably is one in real life.

    It is true that EVE creates a sandbox in which players can define their own values and ethics. This also means that a honorable behaviour is not forced through the game mechanic but is a matter of personal choice and integrity. Those are the people I seek out as my friends to enjoy spending my time with. And I am very lucky to be flying with a corp of like minded people.

  6. Oh, leave the link in Jester! My comment was only about the "timing" thing. And that you're an insensitive clod :P (IMHO just point out that "CCP Zymurgist" is known as "@ZombieBrewer" these days)

    That thread should be mandatory reading material for all players, regardless of how long they've been playing.

  7. I´m also of the opinion that the scammers of EVE are rather not to be trusted whatsoever.

    I´d NEVER get passed out drunk around those guys, for example. ;)
    Nor let a GF do the same (ESPECIALLY THAT) LOL!

    In fact it´s not power that corrupts but actual true anonymity. EVE is the perfect vehicle for that, even thrives on the griefer nature it furthers.
    No wonder, as it was originally designed by griefers anyway.

    Oh and frack you, now I need to watch True Lies again!
    Gawd, Jamie´s strip alone...

  8. @Mara: I didn't (and don't) know the names of everyone who got laid off. The timing comment was because I saw the link today on Twitter and thought it was a new link. On second review, it turned out to be a link from late September, so the timing comment was doubly flawed. Thus, I removed the edit.

  9. I have a hard time believing that people can somehow completely separate in game and out of game behaviour. The capability to do evil or to be an asshole (can I say that word here?) must be somewhere in you, otherwise it wouldn't surface somewhere.

    A few years ago Edward Castranova published some relevant and interesting material touching on this subject, too. Will try to find it when I get back from work.

  10. @Sered Woollahra. The capability to do evil sits in all people. But most people have also a lot of good that dominates in real life.

    Just by playing an evil character in a game doesn't mean the person is one. It's like saying an actor who potraits a villian in a movie must be evil in real life as well. And if you think that it is not the same, then you should take some time away from the game to realise it is not reality.

  11. It was something from Castranova's book "Synthetic Worlds", and I have applied some of it's reasoning to Eve Online here:


  12. Of course you can separate them. Actors are doing it day in day out. It just requires an imagination.

    Or is Arnie deep down a human-killing android? Hopkins a cannibalistic killer? Ralph Fiennes (as Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies) another sadistic killer out to cause pain and have dubious off-times with snakes?

    Being able to 'act' differently doesn't mean it's in your nature. On that note, it doesn't mean it isn't either. It holds no evidence either way in the matter.

  13. Sered, you are painting a large group of people with a pretty broad brush there. It is your opinion and you are welcome to it but it doesn't seem to be informed by personal familiarity with the human beings behind the in-game personas who do the "bad" things.

    My in-game experience as a pirate, on the other hand, allowed me to get to know a lot of such players--many as RL friends. They can all be easily described as "normal" and "decent" in RL. Some are in fact are generous, loving, and supportive beyond the call of duty to both their family and friends. Their in-game credo != their real life credo.

    No doubt there are sociopaths who play EVE. However, for most of us, the line between acceptable behavior in a game vs. real life is normally crystal clear. It is the same line observed when we immerse ourselves in a good but violent book like Game of Thrones and yet somehow manage to avoid whacking an irritating neighbor's head off with a sword.

    (Aside: Even if I did quit EVE, Jester's blog is too good to resist the occasional indulgence!)

  14. I really think it's somewhere inbetween the "Good people doing bad things" and "bad people doing bad things". Two good points from above:

    "a third (and to me, most interesting) group would never plan such actions... but if they're suddenly entrusted with hundreds of billions of ISK in assets... welllll..."


    "Fear and uncertainty is why I log in."

    And this.

    These two things together are why I love EVE and is what makes it IMHO the best MMO on the market. It's a great way to cause and enjoy the results of a little schadenfreude.

    Just because people are bad doesn't mean they get punished. The same is true in real life.

  15. @Targh, the way that 'inflicting pain' on others is advertised by Goons, for instance goes way beyond acting. It isn't called 'griefing' for nothing.

    @Carole, I'm sure there are lovely people who are - perhaps in a manner as Targh suggested - merely 'acting' pirate. But like I said to Targh, there's a whole other subculture of people who are differently motivated I think.

    I never intended to call all of you pirates out there sociopaths; that's way too easy, indeed. Castranova really had some good things to say about why some people show certain behaviour, you should read his book if you get a chance - or the blog post I linked above.

  16. Character is what you are in the dark. — Attr. to Dwight L. Moody (American Evangelist, 1837-1899)


    You won't get much darker than EVE. You have the veil of anonymity, the setting, the world, and most of the people in it actively encourage you to be "bad" and there is little to no penance for being "bad" in the first place.
    Who can blame you in the end for pretending to be the bad guy? It is only a game after all and your not really hurting anyone are you?

    Are those really legitimate excuses or just another way to dehumanise your target? After all that's not a miner you just suicide ganked its a bot. Thats not a 2bil isk nightmare you killed, its a loot pinyata. Those arnt people your shooting their just care-bears.

    You can try and claim it doesn't mean anything, that your not a bad person because of how you act in a video game, but the way you act when nobody's looking DOES reflect back on your true nature.

  17. I know many pirates and terrorists in game. I know none (to my knowledge) in RL. In game I play a terrorist/freedom fighter with shady dealings including Boosters. In RL I build hospitals, highways and windmill farms. I give blood, volunteer my time to help the elderly and donate to various charities.
    Talk to Flashfresh (eebil pirate in game) when he returns from an aide mission or after helping people following the Phillipine Flood Relief (http://i-pirate.blogspot.com/2009/09/philippine-flood-relief-2009.html) on whether or not he's evil in RL.
    There are asshats everywhere but just because you are one in game, doesn't mean you are one outside. I think that kind of broad generalization is just wrong.

  18. Can´t believe the intellectual laziness of some here, or is it corruption?

    Equating the "make believe" of film or drama actors with the griefing behavior that has actual consequences, however "virtual" they may seem.

    Reminds me of the Darwinist relativism people try to excuse their sociopath tendencies with.

    Ethical behavior is never a relative.

  19. I may be a bit slow so help me out:
    "Equating the "make believe" of film or drama actors with the griefing behavior that has actual consequences, however "virtual" they may seem."

    Are you saying that because someone "griefs" you in game they are a "griefer" outside of game?

    EVE is a game where you /should/ expect non-consensual PvP.

    There are many definitions to "Griefer" so I went for Wikipedia's Populist definition: "A griefer is a player who does things in a game to deliberately cause annoyance ("grief" in the sense of "giving someone grief") for the griefer's own enjoyment. Such a player is a particular nuisance in online gaming communities, since griefers cannot be deterred by penalties related to in-game goals"

    Eve allow/encourages that kind of interaction so much so that the CSM candidates participate and are elected as a result. I'm not talking exclusively about Mittens either. Mynxee, pirate, by definition a griefer as she is a Player Killer (according to Wikipedia). Larkonis Trassler, another CSM / Griefer. Seleene? and I can keep going. If you come into this game expecting puppies and rainbows then... well you are doing it wrong.

    No one is excusing anyone's "sociopath" tendencies but this is just a game. If you play Call of Duty, do you shoot people in RL? Is it a requirement not to feel remorse for the other people that you kill in game? Thief! A great game but oooohhh the moral implications of sneaking into a castle, killing the guards and stealing.... I loved that game.

    Hmmm... maybe I have a problem... OR maybe I just like alternate realities where I don't have to have to feel guilt over pixels.

    Ethical Behaviour is relative to the persons moral definitions. I have catholic relatives that will not support in-vitro fertilization as it requires the choice of just a few embryo and the destruction of others. I have a friend who believes that having a blood transfusion is against God's will and a sin. His moral compass is slightly different than mine as each pint of blood I give could potentially save 6 lives.

    It's a game.... that's it. Now you'll excuse me as I need to storm the cars on the street and start exacting a payment for them to pass by "my" corner... Yarr!

  20. Oh, and @Ivar..... "Intellectual Laziness..."...

    don't even know where to begin on that one....

  21. Sadly you already did Claus.
    Equating shooting pixels in single player games with griefing other people´s accomplishments in MMOs(EVE) is exactly what I meant with "I.L.".

    I´m of course aware that EVE is a griefer´s game. Its inception and design is based on the "brain-juices" of old UO griefers and just like any biotope it has various forms of "life" in it.

    Problem is that griefers generally think their playstyle is somehow more valid than what the carebear "plankton" does.

    Usually expressed in such utterances as "sweet tears" or "you mad?".
    Or the oldie&goody "it´s a game". That is supposed to somehow excuse the most heinous betrayals and corp thefts, or the lamest of gate&suicide ganks.

    You just had to go and drag religion into it now.
    Well then go look up the golden rule and it´s silver brother for the dummy version of a moral absolute.

  22. Lulz.

    Belief systems, such as Religion, surrounds us whether we want them to or not. The "morals" and "Ethics" of many are influenced by belief systems whether they are religious in nature or simply philosophical. I didn't drag religion into this, I used two different belief system that happen to be based on two different religions to prove a point. I would apologize if that offends you but it wouldn't be sincere. I'm not religious in the least and don't pretend to be BUT the fact that my belief system and "ethics" come from my parents and theirs from their parents and so on doesn't change the fact that their beliefs, morals, ethics, work ethics are based on a religious school upbringing at a time when the churches ran the public schools in my country.

    Time and experience changes things (necessarily) but I think you completely miss out on the origianl point.

    Whether it's FPS or MMO etc... it's still just pixels. I did play UO (a long time ago) and I found it irritating the PK and "griefing" that was going on in that game. I finally left the game due to the massive amounts of holes in their architecture that would allow inequalities among players regardless of their tenure. The game wasn't about PvP and that's not what I wanted at the time so I left.

    Does that make me a bad person still? Point is you seem to be painting the entire population of one MMO with the same paint brush stating that their play style is a true reflection of their Moral and Ethical selves. Skip me and my character but let's go to Mynxee, PK'er extraordinaire. I have her (The RL person) as a friend on FB as well as on G+. She has a house, property and animals that she takes care of. Her hobbies are going around shooting people in RL. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure she even owns a weapon though her part of the US many do. (side note: Mynxee has been transferred to a new person whom I don't know)

    Flashfresh another pirate and PK'er. If you followed the link above. I believe he is search and rescue and travels to most distant places in order to help people out of their misery.

    Having been in EVE for 3yrs now I can honestly tell you that the people that I have met and spoken with are likely the nicest and most intelligent group of people that I've ever met. Yes, as noted, there are plenty of "asshats" but there are many of those in my RL as well. I have no issue with carebares or industrialists. Btw, I belong to a corp that produces all types of ships (mostly Minmatar), incl. Capitals of all races.

    Regardless of your dismissal of the phrase, it's still just a game. Don't take it personally just play it in whatever style you want and if you don't like it then either take action to change it or leave. There are plenty of games out there and if ppl in this one upset you then find something that more suits your play style.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.