This post is a reply to Blog Banter 37: The Line in the Sand
EVE Online sits on the frontier of social gaming, providing an entertainment environment like no other. The vibrant society of interacting and conflicting communities, both within the EVE client and without, is the driving force behind EVE’s success. However, the anonymity of internet culture combined with a competitive gaming environment encourages in-game behaviour to spread beyond the confines of the sandbox. Where is the line?”
People are usually different in real life when compared to their online persona. The difference is the mask that most people “wear” in real life, which hides some traits and properties our society might not like. Society requires certain behavior patterns, and will reject those who don’t accept them. Some kinds of behavior are considered okay, some are considered wrong, but each have consequences. While people usually have only one indentity in the real life society, one can have multiple identities on the internet. It is much harder to escape responsibility in real life than it is online. If a person crossed the line and it resulted in social rejection by the community, all one needs to do is to establish a new online identity. Granted, full anonymity on the internet is more less fiction (unless one is a serious VPN user), but usually only the governments and security services have the means to establish real identity behind an online persona. Normal people have rather limited means* to do so, and that’s why people still feel generally anonymous online.
* Google, Twitter -> Facebook
How does above apply to EVE Online?
To answer this, first question to ask would be what kind of group is EVE Online community? Blog Banter #35 would be a very good starting point to answer it. Becasue of the sandbox nature of the game, EVE community is one that generally accepts almost any kind of behaviour in the game itself. Players are even encouraged to play bad guys. Each player can have up to three alternate characters (alts) per account, so assuming multiple identities is as easy as changing ships. Where does that lead? It allows the darkest parts of human psyche to the surface. Some players deliberately exploit this, playing as dirty as the game allows, but the community generally accepts this, because that’s the main reason to play a sandbox game in the first place.
What if conflict leaves the sandbox?
It’s wrong, but not so bad, when it ends on threats against another player (or his family). For CCP, as well as some of the playerbase (and me too) this is the line: threatening other players is a bannable offense and CCP will swiftly punish the offender with a lifetime ban. The EVE Community as a whole however is rather tentative towards this kind of things, because “it’s just words”, and some players will still see nothing wrong with that. Since for some players this is already wrong, and for some this is still right, conlcusion is, that RL threats is one of the “gray areas”. Real problems arise if we are talking about harassment in real life. Beating someone up IRL for something that happened in game is so far wrong on the scale, that no one questions it. Why would anyone resort to such extreme means? Because they bought most of their ISK with real money? Maybe because they really value their virtual posessions? Or maybe because they are
******** in real life people with issues in real life, just like they are in the game. The list of possible reasons is quite long. Why? Because even though New Eden is a virtual world, time investment is real. In this sense, EVE is real.
It is worth mentioning, that there is many more gray areas, than just insulting each other. Corporation warfare should only exist in game, but wars tend to leak from the game as a part of emergent gameplay. It is not uncommon for one warring party to DDoS websites and tools of their opponents*, such as Teamspeak/Ventrilo servers in order to gain an extra advantage (or, simply, just for griefing purposes). The anonymity and specifics of a DDoS attack make it hard to provide actionable evidence. As a counterexample, Aideron Robotics CEO stated once that Aura will never be used for metagaming, i.e. as an intel gathering tool. Even banning or locking out opponents from the use of Aura is considered out of line and will never happen.
I have experienced different kind of harassment in EVE Online. I made a stupid mistake: being a CEO, I have posted my mobile number on the corp forums, so members could contact me when I am not online. Unfortunately, one of the members was experiencing some personal problems and would keep calling me to talk about his “issues”. I would probably turn a blind eye to that, but because of time zone difference, that guy was calling me in the middle of the night! After two weeks or so I have chosen to lock that person completely out. I have shut down my mobile number for two months (had to buy a prepaid card in the meantime) and blocked all of this person characters in game. However because this was likely not intentional, I did not report this to CCP. Did he cross the line? For me yes, because he has used (abused) my contact information for different purposes than expected. Of course one can say it was my fault in the first place, as my mobile number should have never be posted online.
So there is no line?
As you can see from the examples above, there is no universal line. If we have drawn a line for each person, we would get a gradient instead, from white to black through a lot of lighter and darker shades of gray. The anonimity of the internet and the possibility to create multiple identities in the game unfortunately doesn’t help, because players can quite easily escape the responsibility. The fact, that others have different standards doesn’t mean everyone should do the same. As a character and as a person you have a choice. EVE is just a game, and it should always remain that way.
For me, the line is clear: what happens in New Eden, stays in New Eden.
When I was reading other Blog Banter entries I remembered one more instance when someone actually got bruised up for his transgressions in a virtual world. A friend of mine took over an IRC channel when we were still at high school. Four thugs caught him when he was going back home and beat the hell out of him for… taking over that IRC channel. So if you wonder if virtual conflicts can turn into real world struggle, then the answer is: yes, definitely.