Wednesday, March 26, 2014

No Laughter for Cruelty

   Well, this blew up rather quickly.

   There is a massive cascade of a threadnought underway on the forums, which it is now entirely unreasonable to read the whole of, but the vocal opinions have divided themselves mostly to extremes, with about as many decrying player Erotica 1's actions as defending them as funny. There are a much smaller number asking about what the principles we should be using to resolve a course of action in this kind of situation, and where the line between players and CCP should be drawn in terms of responsibility. However, the general inflammatory rhetoric has tended to bury those voices so far.

"You just don't get it. (But I do, for I am enlightened.)"
"What if it was you? (You aren't as full a human being as I am, here have some empathy.)"
"Show it to someone else and see what they think. (Then you'll revise your opinion.)"
"This is the way Eve is. (I don't want to examine my beliefs or the status quo.)"

All of these things sound the same to to me, despite the fact that they come up on both sides of the debate:

"I get this, and have distilled it down to its essence -anyone else is wrong, and the discussion is now over. I acknowledge no viewpoint but my own."

That we are embroiled in such a low level of 'discussion' for such a nuanced topic is discouraging.

   To get my visceral reaction out first: I hate the attitude that considers cruelty funny. Ignorance is not funny either. Even when possessed to such a degree as to render the owner ridiculous, and a faun among wolves as is the case here, I do not think we should laugh at it, nor should we attack people personally, through a game or out of one. Does this mean we should we protect fools from losing their things? No - games should not matter enough that losing the whole of your investment in them is a crippling blow. As long as Eve's harsh realities are contained in the scope of damage to Eve characters, I have no problem with skulduggery taken to its extremes. But that is not the same as condoning, either through praise or inaction, the taking advantage of people's insecurities and vulnerabilities, to debase and humiliate them. Once someone moves past the avatar to maliciously harm the player behind them, they have gone too far.

   Is this a grey line? Yes, of course - for our avatars are nothing without the investment of part of our real selves, so to adhere to the letter of what I propose would render all forms of PvP interaction impossible, and Eve would be an empty game. Sensible people will admit that such is not the spirit my remark is to be taken in. There must be balance between how much we put in, and how vulnerable we allow ourselves to be through doing so. So, personal feelings aside, what should be the standard for behavior in a game like Eve, which allows us freedoms we don't normally have? We are trying to define what to allow into, and what to keep out of, our culture and our reputation, but most vitally our own experience as players.

   Some seem to want such a thing as meta-game bullying and personal attacks to be part of what Eve is associated with. Others do not. I agree with the notion that human should always be treated with respect, even when they are in a situation disadvantageous too them. This point of view is often derogatorily and incorrectly referred to as 'space honor.' Everyone is free to act without regard to others, and abuse others if it is with their power. But they cannot expect to be extended respect and protection for such an act. If someone perpetrates a heinous act, that is abominable to the majority, they deserve exile, and are not exempted on the grounds that they are a minority viewpoint. How do we judge when that threshold has been crossed?

   Here is the acid test I would offer: if after being tricked, a reasonable and intelligent man would say "it was my own fault," then the practice is not one we need to police or even censure. Eve already has built a great reputation for this sort of practice, where we can stab people in the back, break alliances apart, steal, pod people, and generally be bitches and bastards - but then share drinks and laugh in a pub if we ever meet up in real life. 

   But mind games are a thing too - are they acceptable? Take a game item, it is ephemeral, easily regain-able, it is not as valuable as a physical item. However, toying with the emotions by means of those ephemeral items is only possible if we value them. How ought to engage ourselves in those items then? If I might extend Eve's first rule a bit, it is still; "don't invest what you can't afford to lose." Beyond investment in the form of capital and game assets, a reasonable person must also not engage their temper or their hopes, or their hatred, or their dispassion past an appropriate level. Otherwise, they will be vulnerable to injury. If a reasonable man loses his temper over a gank, or a scam, or his own mistake, that still is not necessarily a bad thing, if after he has regained his equilibrium he can say, "I was wrong to be so angry over something that should not matter to that extent." But it is critical that he can re-balance his emotions.

   Not everyone who plays this game will be reasonable. When someone with unreasonable expectations encounters someone with unreasonable limitations, we get the scenario that has played out. If the same scenario had occurred without the mediation of a game, the victim would have and deserve legal redress for the abuse they had suffered. It is cowardly for anyone to try and hold up the 'nature of Eve' as a shield against moral culpability. It is not reasonable to suppose anyone wishes or deserves to be treated inhumanly, and it is not reasonable or responsible to take advantage of those who leave themselves open to such treatment.

   The implicit contract we are entering into while playing Eve is ultimately meant to be one of fun. We play in order to have fun. But if what constitutes fun for you cannot ever be taken to assist the enjoyment of another, then you are not participating in that contract. The player who is scammed learns to avoid their own greed. A gank may fall abruptly, but next time one can take more precautions, carry less value at once, manage one's risk. Every mistake or falling to another player's stratagem becomes a chance to get better at the game - avoiding the mistakes you made in the past opens the portal into feeling of accomplishment and enjoyment.

   The idea that you should present something to someone else can be your moral compass and confirm or deny something along with you is a misguided argument. It is rhetoric, designed to scare someone into recanting their own view. "You think that's funny now, but what if it was you?" is the wrong question to ask. We really should be asking "Does an objective standard of what constitutes acceptable behavior apply to all of us?" Some people want to say that the can be no objective standard, and so we should each go our own ways with our personal, subjective, one. But in a community game, played by differing people, such a view is selfish, naive, and generally held only by the contentious. The community standard has to come from the community, inclusively of all those who consider the good of the community, and not dictated by the few who only want freedom to do what they want, and not consider the effects of those actions.

   So if we all, as Eve players decide we will allow bullying and abuse with our game, that will be our standard. We will be failing to exercise our compassion and our decency, and setting up a very exclusive club of vicious tyrants. Whereas if we decide that our shared experiences are more important than the freedom to harm people without reason, that we can chat in a friendly manner with the player that podded us, that there are real friendships and relationships at play behind the lighter substance of out avatars and items, then we should also embrace the higher standard that preserves those good for us in the real world. 

   I haven't listed to the recording and I don't want to, just as I don't want to see someone break a treasured possession, or receive news of the death of a beloved. Spiritual pain is unavoidable as part of life, and human beings are affected not only by what we experience personally, but through extend empathy with others, so that their experiences become ours as well. In that light, either deliberately hardening oneself to real pain or allowing it in unnecessarily scars us.

   We laugh at what is comedic, and we laugh at what is tragic as well. Both are expressions of catharsis, of remedying what is either too ridiculous or too painful to accord to a harmonious understanding of life and our experience. But laughter has to end somewhere. To keep laughing betrays a depraved mind that cannot reconcile itself to taking things seriously. And one who can take things not in the proper way is not to be respected or tolerated.

   Think back to that idea that in some way we can all be jerks but then share a drink. That's what we are really doing in Eve, having a shared experience, a fun experience. It is not enjoyable 100% of the time, nor is it meant to be. But neither should it crush us, it should not be, if we are playing sensibly, unremitting pain. It gives us war stories, exploits, a group of our own peers. If someone is taking actions that would make it impossible to meet in a civil manner in real life, those actions should be countered and punished. If we want Eve to be a harsh game, then we need to work to make our players more mature, so that they can stand in-game loss. Bullying is opposed to this sort of tough love, because it suppresses and eradicates the growth of an individual at the outset. 

   Bullying is an expression of power for power's sake, and laughing at someone who slips and falls is only appropriate if they can get back up. Laughing while keeping them down is sadistic. Danger in Eve should come from slipping, not from people who will hold you down and refuse to let you up. Sometimes, while the majority disapprove of an act, it should still be allowed, for the sake of our sandbox, and our diversity, and our war stories. But this is not a matter in a gray area where allowing heinous behavior can benefit our game. To torture people is vile, and condoning it poisonous. If we allow that poison into our game, we should not be surprised that it will becomes less and less fun to play, as the boundaries of acceptable get pushed further and further, and such cruel people encroach further and further into the player population.

   I wish I could be more articulate than I have been about this subject, but I hope the discussion continues. The final word in this needs to be more than any one players viewpoint, but drawing that line in the sand should never, in my opinion, be on the side that condones cruelty. I don't want to be part of that, and I don't think we are that. If I'm in any part right, this extent of sadistic behavior will be curtailed. If I'm wrong, I hope I can find a different place to have fun. Either way, it is now the turn of others to speak out.

Monday, March 24, 2014


   Just a quick comment on this dev post, regarding the upcoming summer expansion. I like what I see, and am quite willing to defer to more dedicated numbers people that the changes will not be catastrophic. Given that I've been working more out of wormholes lately, having the ability to refine and compress in a POS changed for the better makes it more likely that I'll dabble in actually manufacturing some stuff with the spare minerals we accumulate. We'll see if I can actually make use of that feature with my limited playtime.

   I hope this has the effect of shifting more industry out to Null, though I wonder how many people will actually want to risk their researched blueprints in capturable stations. Time will tell, I suppose. Honestly, I don't know enough about what goes on behind the Sec-curtain to be at all insightful in this field.

   Regardless, however nice this is, I hope we see something decidedly new for the summer expansion as well, not just improvements to existing balance. I would really like an expansion I can be excited about, rather than one that makes me go "oh, that's nice." Still, there will be plenty more to consider in the next month or two. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Heroes Fleet Up?

There is a new Blog Banter up, as follows:

Today's topic comes Diaries of a Space Noob blog and other sources:

Do classic heroes exist in EVE? Is such heroism even possible in EVE? How would you go about being one without opening yourself wide open to scams? Is the nature of the game so dark that heroes can't exist? How do you deal with that irony? What effect does this have on us and the psyche of new players coming in from other MMOs? Is it something special that we don't have classic heroes, or should we? Are our non classic heroes more genuine?
- - -

   So, heroism, in Eve. Hmm. I'm of a split mind on this. On one hand, I don't think we have any heroes, not in the sense the word deserves. One the other, I do think player characters occasionally do take actions that approach the heroic, but are still prevented from ever attaining the merit of the name. 
The main problem with being heroic in any game is that we are always insulated from ultimate failure, and are very restricted in our ability to partake in any sort of meaningful spiritual struggle. Without these, one can be admirable, brave, exemplary, even remarkable, in-game - but not heroic. Heroes should have to face some real opposition, risking the possibility of failure - they are heroes because they overcome these challenges that non-heroes fail at. The onus is then to say more what is a 'real' challenge, in order to define a 'real' hero.

   Is it heroic to take one's first risk, to cross into Low-sec for the first time, or to enter a wormhole when you have no idea what is on the other side? Overcoming the fear one might have for those places could be a significant struggle for some, but is it a heroic struggle? Could it ever be? No one has to visit Low or WH space, or take up with a new corp, or take risks of any kind. There is no imperative to overcome the barrier, just a recognition that a path remains closed if it not overcome. It is not a critical matter for the soul whether or not such an action is taken or pursued.

   Classical heroes are driven by something. Can one be a hero without a cause? The paladin is on a crusade for justice, the liberator cannot rest while his chosen people are in chains. Oedipus must save his kingdom, Ajax defends the ships, Frodo must resist the temptation of the Ring, Anastasia Kerensky seeks to re-forge her clan. There are countless examples in both high and low literature, where the hero has their obvious burden.

   So what makes those 'real' heroes, especially considering they are fictional characters? I think the key is that while they may be works of fiction, and substantially imaginary, we, the experiencers, be it through book, movie or other mediums, are asked, and agree to consider them according to the standard we hold living people to. That is, we accord these fictional characters the same respect in considering their motivations and resultant actions, as we would our friends, or leaders, or historical figures. Do we extend the same grace to another player's avatar, or do we consider the player themselves in that way?

   I do not think we do, or can, or should. Most of us do not engage with games seriously enough for us to grant this sort of integrity and complexity to our in-game actions. Indeed, part of what makes a game a game is this lighter heft, the escape from the burden and stress of such weighty decisions as the ones we are expected to deal with in life. Eve itself encourages us to take things more lightly - there is such ease of loss and acquisition, we leave morals pertaining to theft and vengeance and backstabbing at the door, admittedly to various extents.  It may be argued that games may or should allow for the same level of investment, but I would take a stand against this - we should always put our lives first, and our amusements are only part of that life.

   Eve doesn't play into the power fantasy as much as other MMOs. As anyone who's seen a battleship taken down by frigates, or a bling fit successfully ganked knows, higher stats do not protect you in Eve. Even high numbers of allies does not make you safe. Our sandbox is partially defined by the notion 'you are not safe anywhere.' What is out there to be overcome? There is no great enemy in Eve, only a thousand small dangers. And no matter what we do, they aren't going anywhere. If one wanted to be a hero here, the only thing only could really oppose is that invincible hydra. Frankly, I don't see that ever being done successfully, and to do so would end the game as we know it anyway.

   So if we aren't playing to feel heroic, why are we playing? I think it must be because there is some struggle in attaining success, whether that be a certain amount of isk, kills, territory, skillpoints, exploration or what have you. Eve does not gift you with success, you have to earn it, but there is never only one way to achieve something. For me at least, that's one of the reasons why I still like Eve - while I may lose a ship, I learn something about flying it, while I might buy a module off the market instead of hunting rats for it, that isk had to come from somewhere. At some point, I have to participate in the inter-connectivity of the Eve universe. It's more interesting to be part of a large world than live in your own little one. That is Eve's greatest strength, and I think why the established community tends to be so scathing of people who come in and expect to buy their way to success.

   In the end Eve is only a game. Despite the way Eve mirrors the environment heroes would occupy more closely than many of its brethren, it still can't have proper heroes itself. Games don't have heroes, life has heroes. However, games can be an opportunity to practice what we will use in life. Jumping into low for the fist time is not literally life-or-death, but it can take some real courage. Teamwork, organization, commanding, all of these skills can be elevated to heroic stature when something that really counts is on the line. And they can be practiced in Eve, but doing so doesn't make us heroes.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Second New Eden Open on the Books

   Well, after all the fire dies down, Warlords of the Deep has taken first with Thingy and WeHurt below them on the podium. It was a very shut-out last weekend, with no series being contested since the break on Saturday. Honestly not the most fun to watch; last weekend had some much closer matches, with the outcomes not necessarily foregone when the comps landed on the field.

   I don't think WeHurt could have ever pushed past Warlords of the Deep, though it was good to hear during a between match interview with them that they attributed their unexpected success to practicing like madmen. That goes to show what one needs to do to leave a mark, but it's disappointing that no one seems able to challenge Warlords. Flying well is a necessary start, but few in Eve practice the tournament meta-game with their degree of competency. Until someone else can both dance in the mind and field good pilots, we're not going to see much shift in the handful of elite experienced teams that keep winning tournaments.

   Still, congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to everyone who participated! The first two weekends were quite enjoyable, and I hope the next NEO sees some strong challengers!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Something Like a Mission Statement

     This is the beginning of an experiment, since I have lately been more and more prickled by the inclination to write about the games I play, and this accumulation of nudges has finally achieved critical mass. Hence, welcome to Afterburning Weasels, a blog of, as yet, no reputation or merit. Bottles of champagne are on the left, please break one over the captain's head as you leave. It might give the ship ideas, and that is, after all, the point of this project: try to write, and free from mental chains the ingenuity of my muse, or something like that. Come ye, of the wilderness and listen. Or don't as you please, perhaps an idea will come roaming to you instead.

     There is always something sad and, indeed, risky, in this releasing of ideas into the wild, for they take on lives of their own at that point, and the creator relinquishes the control that they had while he or she was cultivating them. Yet at the same time, so much of what we, human beings, do and are, is taking in such free-roaming ideas into ourselves and then re-releasing them with new perspective or elements, that there is much happiness and satisfaction in the practice. So, as long as I have something to say, that I can articulate, here it will go, and may others make good use of what they find.

     As it has been primarily my changing relationship with the game of Eve Online that prompted me to begin writing, subjects relating to Eve are what this blog will likely focus on, though I will not limit myself to speaking of Eve exclusively. But given Eve's significance in sparking the whole endeavor, for a first post it seems right to offer a brief of my relationship to it, and try to say why Eve matters to me now.

     Many things have been said about Eve’s player-driven events, the feats of theft and war, politics and industry, and this impressive scope for inter-player interaction is of course, one of the things that I praise in the game when describing it to others. But I do not like taking part in such events personally. I do not fly in combat often, my killboard is abyssal, I do not make isk efficiently, or plot effectively, or even converse with many other players. I have been positively averse to socializing, in all forms. Yet it the prescence of such a universe of blogs, tournaments, anecdotes, and meta-mechanical interaction that currently prompts me to stay in the game. Even though I have very limited interaction with it directly, the network at play in the background makes Eve far more engaging than any other online game I have tried. 

     I have often heard words to the effect that Eve is a game which it is far more fun with friends, and I certainly have come to agree, for the more I speak to other players and try new things, the more I enjoy myself than I ever did in my first few years. I have come to appreciate the social aspect of Eve, despite having started out as initially disconnected from it, and indeed, mostly unaware of it. That introverted tendency, which started off very strong, has been reversing itself for a long time, and now here we are, public writing. I may still play Eve in a rather personal and limited way, but it no longer seems to me that to play it so, I must do so by myself. However, as I have hinted, I did not start out from that view.

     I don’t remember my first experience with Eve fondly. Finally installing a trial I found in my stack of demo discs back in 2008, I spent a summer mining in a rookie frigate, looking around confusedly, scared witless by low-sec, and lost in the interface. I think I made about 30 mil across the three month subscription I upgraded to when I found out there were skills I couldn't train on a trial account. During that time, I wondered how I could get into a cruiser (I had no skill plan and couldn't even figure out what my attributes were for), never asked one question of another player, and generally failed to play the game, until, tired of orbiting rocks, I left. The whole experience had been unengaging and unpleasant. I did not consider returning for several years.

     It was the Incarna debacle that got me back into the game, funnily enough. I’d kept hearing things, once in a while, about what was going on in Eve on gaming news sites, so it was on the corner of my radar, and when the Jita Riots broke out, the community aspect of the game materialized in a way it had failed to before. Players of a game were mad, and it was making news. But why? To me at least, it seemed to be because they loved their home, and that home had been tainted, positively damaged, by a failure to fulfill what it wanted to be, as if a contractor hired in good faith to improve the dining room had built a closet instead. But the residents did not want to live in a desecrated house, naturally they wanted things fixed. I can’t describe it as well as I’d like. What came across to me was that the players’ world mattered to them. Eve was a place that was more than the sum of its parts, an interesting place, and now for me, a place that I wanted to be a part of.

     I did not want to play spreadsheets in space or build the perfect battleship. I did not want take part in the grand designs unfolding through those implements. I was not even particularly interested in playing the game itself, at least as a game. But I did want to be part of a world that was not constructed by the artifice of writers (which I had much experience of), but written by the actions of its characters, its living inhabitants, and I wanted those actions to make sense in the way life does, not the way art does. I was very tired of fictions where unrealistic actions were attributed to humans, and humanity was consequently washed away to stereotypes that undercut the tale they had meant to support – I’m looking at you, Warhammer 40k. So I re-subscribed, just in time for Crucible. Since then, I have been playing off and on, generally about 5 months of each year, until I finally entered college and could rely on stable internet. Sarhyl has about a quarter of the skillpoints her age would indicate, but at least she can sit in cruisers now.

     So now I play Eve every week. I have a few friends to fly with, I’ve been in wormholes and lowsec, and I know (technically) how to make money, even if I don’t often do so very effectively. I read most of the Eve-related blogs and news sites, watch the forums and try to learn new things. Eve is an odd game. In many ways, if you don’t look beyond the programming, it does not offer much, even though the graphics and mechanics have certainly changed since I first undocked. Some changes are good, some things haven’t been changed that I wish would be, and much that has been promised that still hasn't been delivered on. I don’t care too much about that, just as I don't worry over the numbers behind my ship. If I ever feel I’m not getting enough out of the game, I’ll quit. Until then, however, I will see if I can  return a little something to the universe that came alive for me and still is alive for me: the Eve I play to be part of what goes beyond it. What I have to offer to that broader horizon is my perspective, so that is what I intend to follow hereafter.

     Unless, of course, I break and start posting nothing but incoherent tirades about rocket badgers, the mortal enemy of my most heroic weasels. Hopefully we will avoid that. In the meantime, once again, welcome!