I've been skirting some of the ideas that brought me back to EVE but I think it's about time I went deeper into it. I've talked about wanting to be nice in a place that doesn't seem set up to reward that, but let's explore what I really mean in detail.
On a basic level I just want to prove to myself that not only is it possible to be a nice person in the game, but it can be a rewarding way to play. Signal Cartel has fashioned an identity as a non-aggressive service corporation whose weapons of choice are harmless snowballs and fireworks - or 'hugs' to use the corp terminology. And that is interesting, refreshing even, but only part of the niceness puzzle I'm trying to negotiate.
I feel some Real Talk coming on
I'm going to talk about something that I think some people might take exception to.
I do think there is a tendency for EVE's fans to apologise for - and even celebrate - a level of nastiness that exists in sections of the EVE community, even if the bubble they've created for themselves is quite nice.
As far as I can tell, the mentality goes something like this: it's a massively multiplayer sandbox, and when you build a sandbox you have to take the good with the bad. It's not a place where you can assume your individual concerns are going to be catered for, and if you're not prepared to accept that, then you should probably stop playing.
One thing that makes me uncomfortable with this mentality is that it's partly based on the idea that the fact it's a sandbox absolves the creators of any responsibility for what happens in it. But not all sandboxes are created equal. EVE's most certainly isn't a sandbox which is neutral with respect to how its players ought to behave. EVE is a sandbox with a cake and a gun in the middle, and a voice in everyone's head reassuring: 'It's okay, this is all just a dream. Now, get the cake. GET THE CAKE.'
And if it really were all just fun and games, maybe that'd be okay. But it's not. It's a group of online communities which some people devote significant proportions of their lives to. And I've already mentioned how easily this stuff can spill out into other aspects of one's life. In a situation like that, I think that it does become a moral concern that real people could be getting hurt - either by being on the recieving end of harrassment or abuse, or finding themselves in an environment where they feel peer-pressured into harrassing or abusing others.
In that situation I don't think it's quite good enough to just shrug and take the attitude 'if you don't like it, get out.'
I should say at this point that the developers themselves have very clear policies on this sort of thing. Here are the first few, at the very top of their terms of service:
You may not abuse, harass or threaten another player or authorized representative of CCP, including customer service personnel and volunteers. This includes, but is not limited to: filing support tickets with false information in an attempt to gain from it or have someone else suffer from it; sending excessive e-mails, EVE-mails or support tickets; obstructing CCP Employees from doing their jobs; refusal to follow the instructions of a CCP Employee; or implying favoritism by a CCP Employee.
You may not use any abusive, defamatory, ethnically or racially offensive, harassing, harmful, hateful, obscene, offensive, sexually explicit, threatening or vulgar language. (Alternate spelling or partial masking of such words will be reprimanded in the same manner as the actual use of such words.)
You may not organize nor be a member of any corporation or group within EVE Online that is based on or advocates any anti-ethnic, anti-gay, anti-religious, racist, sexist or other hate-mongering philosophies
You may not use “role-playing” as an excuse to violate these rules. While EVE Online is a persistent world, fantasy role-playing game, the claim of role-playing is not an acceptable defense for anti-social behavior. Role-playing is encouraged, but not at the expense of other player. You may not create or participate in a corporation or group that habitually violates this policy.
The problem, as I see it, is twofold. Firstly, and I would love to be corrected here, but it seems to me that these rules are routinely ignored without consequence, and tricky to figure out how to report in the first place. I've seen no evidence that any language or behaviour that violates the above is being checked for or acted upon as a matter of course, and when I right click on a player the only thing I can directly report them for is being an ISK Spammer. From what I've seen I'd be laughed out of chat for even suggesting that someone's abusive behaviour in Local was inappropriate or against the rules.
Secondly, and more complicatedly, I think the way that the sandbox is designed actively fosters this kind of behaviour in some ways. As I've mentioned before, it's very deliberately designed to push players into conflict with each other and favours that far more than it favours cooperation, particularly between groups. And so it's great for clique forming, and there are plenty of ways to mess with players which are perfectly deniable and so technically within the above rules but not really in the spirit.
Someone could, say, take exception to what I'm saying here and place a big in-game bounty on my head and generally do things to make my life more difficult in an effort to silence me, or in the hope I'll just give up on the game. It wouldn't be too hard and I've no doubt it has been attempted before. We've already established that the relation between out-of-game and in-game is complex.
And the thing is, if someone really did do that to me, I'd be alright. I might decide to give up the game or I might not, but I'd be fine. I'd just hate to think that someone more vulnerable, perhaps someone young and impressionable or someone with mental health issues could be hurt by harrassment and abuse here. I've seen it happen to people I know and like in other corners of the internet, and I just can't pretend it's a non-issue.
And just in case anyone is in any doubt about whether it's truly that widespread, I paused at this point in writing to see what was currently happening in Local chat. I'd skip the next part if you don't want to look read hostile and abusive language. Here it is with names removed:
A > SHUT UP A > GET OUT A > NOBODY LOVES YOU A > NEVER RETURN B > ^ wise words B > i guess you didnt get the memo B > GET B > THE FUCK B > OUT C > your on the edge A > YOU ARE THE BIPRODUCT OF A CRACK ADDICTION AND THE WILLINGNESS TO SELL ONE'S BODY D > ^ lol A > YOU ONLY EXIST BECAUSE YOUR MOTHER BOTCHED THE ABORTION SHE DIDN'T UNDERTSND THAT PLASTIC COATHANGARS DO NOT WORK A > ONLY METAL ONES DO C > im sorry but thats reportable A > SORRY BUT GET THE FUCK OUT B > i mean it's the truth C > guys i have to report him sorry
After apologising (imagine!) for the fact that he/she would have to report this stream of abuse continued unabated. I imagine it hardly even registered as a threat to the abusers. Given the frequency that I see this sort of thing, I can only assume it is very rarely reported or acted upon.
Where from here?
It can't just be about me being nice. or even about me hanging out with people who are being nice and avoiding the nastiness.
My challenge to myself is to find out how to report this kind of behaviour, and endeavour to do so when I notice it, from exchanges like the above to the general background noise of sexist, homophobic and transphobic chat I see on a near-daily basis. It is right there in the terms of service and anyone who disagrees with my stance on this is very welcome to take it up with the developers.
I don't expect everyone else to hold themselves to this (though I would be delighted to find people who will or already are) but I would at least invite them to consider whether continuing to compartmentalise this stuff is healthy for the game.
And if you'd like to talk to me about this I'd be happy, but please don't protest that 'most of us aren't like this'. I know that. But it is still clearly an issue, and one which is routinely ignored. And from where I'm sitting as a new person, that reflects poorly on everyone.