III – Well-Endowed: The Language of Ownership and EVE’s “Death Popup”

“Can I bring my Griffin?”

Imagine you hear this on comms.  Odds are, you immediately have an image of the player who’s saying it.  I’m willing to bet that image is of a wide-eyed newbro trying to be helpful.

At first glance, you might say this is because of the ship choice.  In most new player groups, Griffins are one of the staple force-multiplier ships.  They are dirt cheap, flyable from day one, can sit at maximum range and survey the battle, and can sometimes swing the tide.  Indeed, ranged electronic warfare is a good way for new players to learn the game.

But I don’t think it is actually the ship choice that conjures such a distinct image of a newbro.  Griffins pack an extremely high ratio of power-to-fear factor, and are used all over the game, even by endgame pvp groups like Goryn Clade or Tuskers.  But try to picture someone in one of those groups saying “Can I bring my Griffin” and it just doesn’t seem right.  No, they’re happy to fly the ship, but they would say “Can I bring a Griffin.”  The difference is subtle, but it speaks volumes.

The academic practice of “close-reading,” the basis of literary studies, is based on the idea that we mean what we say; that is, that the difference between my Griffin and a Griffin is also a difference in meaning.  I think this is a really cool place where we can stop and close-read some of our language around EVE Online.

We see this same phrasing in the “Can I bring my Drake”[i] meme.  That phrase simply is not as funny if it’s “a Drake.”  Why?  Because, simply put, the use of the word my implies that the pilot only has one of that ship, whereas the use of a implies that they have many.  The use of my denotes a new player with regards to a Drake or a Griffin because both of those ships are relatively cheap, and anybody past their first few months would likely 1) understand that ships are ammo in EVE, and 2) have several of their cheaper ships.  We imagine that the Tuskers pilot who wants to bring “a Griffin” has a hangar full of them, and happily burns through them like Juul pods.  (In my research for this piece, I found that Griffins are also known to cause strokes, but usually in the people they’re used on.)  In contrast, the newbro who wants to bring “my Griffin” sounds like they only have one – a level of poverty comparable to having to share a single Solo cup at a dinner party, only really possible in the earliest part of a pilot’s career.

If you’re like me, once you notice this vocal pattern, you’ll start hearing it everywhere.  (That is, if you play EVE.  If you’re one of my valued non-EVE readers, and you hear someone in real life ask if they can bring their Drake, please immediately pull the nearest fire alarm.)  Once you start hearing it, you’ll notice that my and a also overlap, forming a sort of gradient that makes the terms quiet indicators of a pilot’s wealth.  For example, if a pilot says “I’ll bring a Deimos,” they sound squarely within EVE’s middle-class: able to expend medium-priced combat cruisers.  But if a pilot says “I’ll bring a Redeemer,” they at least sound like they’re quite in-game wealthy: able to consider ships expendable that would take a new player months just to afford.  Conversely, the same pilot who says they’ll bring “a Deimos” might also say “my Redeemer,” without seeming inconsistent at all – for most of us, ships like the Deimos are expendable, but Black Ops battleships are prized assets.  If a pilot says “my titan,” you imagine that they only have one, but also know that they’re quite wealthy.  If someone says “I’ll drop a titan on them,” you should definitely try to get in their will. 

This simple wrinkle in the way we talk about our ships also affects how we think about them.  One of the key learning moments in EVE is when a player loses a ship early on (maybe their first, maybe not) and comes to conceptualize that ships in EVE are more like shoes than like a house: even if you spend a lot of money on them, you don’t imagine having them forever.  In this sense, the word a before a ship also indicates a willingness to lose it, whereas my might indicate more reservation, just like saying “I’ll wear a pair of sneakers because it’s muddy,” versus “I’ll wear my Gucci loafers because it’s muddy.”  One of those statements sounds a lot more realistic than the other.

Close-reading tells us that the way we talk and think is a feedback loop: we pack hidden meaning into what we say (as I’ve explained so far) but what we say also imparts meaning back to us.  This is the original logic behind political correctness, which suggests that when I call someone something dehumanizing, I am first putting bad out towards them, but I am also reinforcing my own belief in that reality, reinforcing my biases and putting bad into myself.  In the case of EVE and our assets, maybe saying “my Griffin” indicates outward that I only have one of this very expendable ship, but it might also reinforce my attachment with the ship, and make me more averse to losing it.  If you don’t believe me, try putting “Griffin” into the first line of the US Marine Corps’ Rifleman’s Creed – “This is my Griffin.  There are many like it but this one is mine.”  Still feel like you can throw that ship away?

Of course, one day the Rifleman will die, and the rifle will no longer be his.  The world is funny that way.  We use language, not just fancy legalisms but simple words like my and a, to make us feel like we own our car, our land, or even our ideas, while yet knowing that we are mortal and cannot possibly have these things forever.  Our assets in EVE are the same way.  Everything in New Eden can die and be permanently lost, and even if it isn’t lost in-game, every single EVE player will also die one day and lose their virtual assets just like their real ones.  At some point, the servers will shut down too.

These latter features, of server apocalypse and players’ own mortality, are shared by every online videogame.  But the first part, the permanent death of assets, is intentionally built into EVE and affects every player’s experience of the game even while still… alive.

So, maybe the use of the phrasing my Griffin, my Drake, or even my titan, is fundamentally at odds with the nature of EVE, just like how my property is fundamentally at odds with the nature of reality.  That’s not necessarily a problem for us, as long as we can keep our heads straight about the actual value of those assets, and not let the Endowment Effect keep us from actually enjoying the game.

The Endowment Effect[ii] is a psychological and economic principle that suggests that we ascribe more value to things that we own than those we do not.  The Rifleman’s Creed is attempting to trigger this reaction with its first line, getting a Marine to think of their weapon as more important that someone else’s identical copy.  We’ve all felt it before.  For example, I used to hate on iPhones until I got one, and then suddenly wanted to believe that iPhones are great, and moreover that mine was great; I used to sneer at everyone and their cat having a blog and a Youtube channel, and now I’ve lived long enough to become the bad guy.  This effect is used in videogame monetization[iii], which is an entire industry devoted to the science of getting people to place value on legally valueless things[iv].  They’ve gotten very good at it.  This is the exact tactic behind CCP’s latest scandal, the new player death popup[v].

The idea behind the Death Popup is not just to get the player thinking forward rather than back (arguably good for retention but also priming them for monetization) but also to trigger the Endowment Effect with their ship.  Three different times in the popup it refers to “your” ship, clearly reinforcing that that ship was somehow special because it was owned.  Just look at that popup and imagine it says “Lost a ship?” and so on, replacing the word “your” with “a”.  That is just not as strong of an incentive to spend money.

Yet, as we’ve seen, the Endowment Effect is fundamentally at odds with the nature of EVE’s world.  While it might make certain things easier to monetize, such as EVE’s “magic moment” of first death, that is a gimmick that can only occur early on in a player’s career.  Imagine the advanced player who just lost “a Drake” getting this popup – the phrasing your ship would seem utterly alien to them.  In fact, I would argue that EVE does a fantastic job at blunting the Endowment Effect and letting people learn to take more risks.

I have posted on Reddit[vi] about how the Scarcity Era’s real challenge is in reducing players’ dopamine rewards after years of Pavlovian training towards risk-aversion and asset-hoarding.  I have also planned a post on this blog[vii] about how skills-based games are harder to monetize, explaining why CCP pushed for half a decade towards the horizontal skills-growth[viii] that allowed for years of increasing dopamine from cheap sources.  Those are two profoundly bad business decisions for CCP long-term, as both made EVE less unique compared to its competition, while also making players’ attachment shallower and more chemical. 

I also think that the real issue with the new-player death popup is how it promotes the illusion of ownership in a world of permanent loss.  This, too, is a short-sighted mechanism that only trains new players into misconceptions about the game.  Let me be clear about this: advanced players learn to refer to their assets with the word “a” as a method of survival.  Simply put, that emotional detachment from assets is the only way for this game not to be emotional torture, because you will die.  A lot.  CCP teaching new players to feel attached to their assets might be a way to snag a quick five dollars, but it is also priming players to be more upset the next time.  As players repeatedly die and get monetized, many will quit out of frustration, and a few “whales” will hang around.  However, turning the new player pipeline into a few risk-averse, emotionally abused, cash-cows is at once irresponsible and unhealthy for the game. 

If CCP changed the popup to say “Lost a ship,” it would not be nearly as bad.  That’s how powerful language can be.

It is also incumbent upon existing players to fight back against the language of permanent ownership, and the Endowment Effect that comes with it.  Their success in getting new players to ask if they can bring “a Griffin,” even on their first day in EVE, ironically might determine how long all of their assets might live until the servers shut down.


[i] A ubiquitous meme from the 2012 era of EVE, when the flexible and easy-to-fly Drake was by far the most common ship in the pvp metagame.  Because just about every group ran Drake fleets, just about every pilot owned one, even if it was the only pvp ship they owned.  The nucleus of the meme developed as these pilots would routinely ask “Can I bring my Drake?” on non-Drake fleets, because it was the only pvp ship they had.

[ii] Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/romantically-attached/201608/how-will-the-endowment-effect-affect-you

[iii] Unfair Play? Section 4, “Discussion”

[iv] Unfair Play? Section 3.3, “In-game purchases and consumer protection”

[v] A change in June 2021 that caused massive uproar in the community, the “Death Popup” prompts new players to spend real-world currency to replace their ship after first loss.  My favorite take on it is from Ashterothi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2f6lp_mYxQA

[vi] https://www.reddit.com/r/Eve/comments/k3xr9h/we_were_trained_to_hate_these_changes/

[vii] Check in next week!  Post III in the main blog will be about some other sections of the Unfair Play? article, and how companies want you to solve problems with money, not skill.

[viii] Check out Post II on the main blog for more on vertical versus horizontal skills growth, and why one is good and one is… lucrative.

II – The Real Skillpoints: Vertical vs. Horizontal Learning in EVE Online

EVE Online has a development problem.  No, not from the developer, CCP Games, but in how its players are asked and encouraged to develop their skills in-game: specifically… they’re not.  This both makes the Day One experience of a new player more like the opening of “Predators”[1] than your average kindergarten, and also limits the possibilities for advanced players to keep getting better at the game.  This problem of skills development is responsible for the challenges in developing new Fleet Commanders, in switching in-game careers, and creates a feedback loop in large alliances, where players don’t grow new skills an are not asked to grow new skills.  The problem, in short, is that EVE usually asks us to scale the skills we already have horizontally—across more accounts and assets—rather than learning vertically, getting better and better at the game.

This framework could be applied all over the game and the community.  I’ve planned several posts about this, including one next week on how this affects EVE’s monetization – but because I plan to get my money’s worth out of this concept, I first want you to have a strong foundation of what I’m talking about.

In real life, I work as a teacher, and use a teaching style known as “metacognitive skills pedagogy.”  That’s a term worth quite a bit in student loans, which essentially refers to the current trend in teaching.  Basically, it puts two branches of teaching together, for an exponentially greater effect. 

The term “skills pedagogy” refers to how most sports and musical instruments are taught.  Essentially, it means breaking down complex processes into the individual skills it takes to accomplish them, then designing exercises to strengthen those skills, then putting it all back together.  The teacher’s primary job is to keep breaking processes down into the most granular skills possible, then scaffold the process of practicing them and building back up.  This can also be referred to as “vertical pedagogy” – that is, learning new skills on top of old ones.

The word “metacognitive,” or thinking about thinking refers to a practice of asking reflective questions, so the student learns how they learn, and can become their own teacher.  This is commonly used in English classrooms, such as a journaling exercise at the end of a class that asks “How do you think about this book differently than you did an hour ago?”  The teacher’s job in this case is just to hold these conversations.

Commonly, sports and music education lack the metacognitive reflection, limiting students’ ability to see the big picture and teach themselves.  Humanities classrooms often lack an attention for individual skills, instead asking students to scale their current skills horizontally, just like EVE Online.

Let’s take a few examples, one from EVE and one from the real world, side by side:

Let’s think about playing a certain drum beat as a complex skill.  You can break it down into smaller skills, such as expression, reading, and coordination between the limbs.  You can then break these down into even smaller skills: coordination includes independence of the limbs, counting, and possibly moving between different drums quickly.  Expression includes dynamics (volume level), where you hit the drum, and counting.  Reading includes counting, multitasking, and knowing the notation.  As you see, when we break it down to this granular level, the basic skill of counting time helps in every area.  This is why music teachers often focus on that so heavily.

The complex process of Fleet Commanding (FCing) in EVE is similar to playing drums, in that it is a quintessential expression of multitasking and muscle-memory.  We might break FCing down into a few smaller skills: grid awareness, decision-making, clear communication.  We can then break each of these into smaller skills.  Grid awareness includes manual piloting skill, knowledge of the meta and of fittings, and an ability to use advanced overview tabs, such as angular velocity.  Decision-making includes knowledge of meta and fittings, knowledge of fleet-members’ competency, and understanding fleet goals.  Clear communication involves regulating your own emotions, filtering useful and useless information, and perhaps also the complex process of decision-making. 

If you were to teach someone to FC, you would start by isolating the smallest level of skills.  For example, you might take manual piloting and design a racetrack where a pilot has to focus on only that one skill with their full attention.  Once they are performing that task successfully, layer in an element that requires them to read angular velocity, then layer in asking them to communicate that velocity to someone else, and so on.  This is how you would vertically develop someone’s skills into being a Fleet Commander, bit by bit.

EVE doesn’t do this.

Yes, I know, it’s a sandbox game.  The problem is that in many parts of EVE, there is no natural bridge towards more complex skills.  Beginning players are asked to scale their current skills across more accounts, and more assets, not learn new skills, and wind up like Nick Andopolis and the giant drumset he can’t play[2]

Let’s keep rolling with the example of FCing.  It would appear that the natural step below FCing is being a linemember in a fleet, just as the natural progression to a more advanced drumbeat would be a simpler version of the same beat[3].  A natural process would be for linemembers to learn some, but not all, of the skills of an FC, so that when they take the leap, they have fewer skills left to learn.  But in reality, the linemember isn’t actually asked to learn most of the skills of an FC. 

Clear communication?  Linemembers are told to keep comms clear.  Decision-making? Linemembers, by definition, are given orders.  Grid-awareness?  Not really, as most linemembers set ships to automatically follow the FC and follow broadcasts either for friendlies who need help or targets to shoot. 

Linemembers are given a checklist, not a scenario to interpret, and just need to react efficiently and quickly to orders.  The only way to become a better linemember is, once able to comfortably check these boxes on one character, to start doing it on two, or three.  Thus, there is a way for a linemember to do more but not actually do better.  The linemember is asked to scale a rudimentary set of skills horizontally, not learn new ones.

This is the exact same trap most essay-based classes fall into: in a three-paper semester, the first paper might be 5 pages, the second 7, and the final 10.  In most cases, students are not asked to write a better paper each time, but are asked to write a longer paper at the same level.  (That’s right—multiboxing logi[4] on a strat op is the same as writing a 10 instead of a 5 page paper!  Quick, print this out and give it to your mom!)  This standard course plan is also horizontal skills development.  A vertical skills approach would be to ask for three 5-page papers, each one at a higher level, or using new skills.

Thus, the path to becoming a Fleet Commander does not naturally run through being a fleet member.  From a teaching perspective, this makes about as much sense as if the path to painting professionally required you first learn baseball.

This also means that for a linemember to volunteer to FC, they have to take a blind leap into a whole new set of skills, all at once.  Given that FCing also happens in front of a whole crowd, this is like asking an amateur guitarist who likes to play at the campfire to volunteer to play an extremely hard piano solo in a packed Carnegie Hall.

Put in these terms, it seems pretty reasonable that a lot of people don’t want to do that in their hobby time. 

So what would the path be?

I’m not here to be an armchair developer, and thankfully I don’t have to be.  There is actually a playstyle that teaches many of the skills of a bloc FC at a more granular level: smallgang[5] pvp.

In a small gang, you have to manually pilot your own ship, pay attention to advanced overview metrics, communicate with fleetmates (there usually is no single FC), and know what to engage.  (There are also skills that don’t map as vitally onto big-fleet FCing, such as managing heat damage on your own modules.)  Broadly speaking, one could learn many of the skills involved in bloc FCing by doing smallgang pvp.  These skills include those involved in a more complex fleet role such as the logi anchor—communication, manual piloting—but also build on them. 

Thus, the natural vertical progression to being a bloc FC, if designed by a teacher, would be:

Linemember -> logi anchor -> smallgang pilot -> bloc FC

In this case, three levels of the vertical development could occur in large fleets, but a huge amount of skills would need to be learned in that missing link of smallgang pvp.  In this sense, I think it would be advantageous for more blocs to encourage their pilots to do smallgang pvp, as they would be able to help more junior FCs take that leap.

Whereas the progression for the smallgang player would be:

Damage role -> support role -> tackle role -> multiboxing roles

In this case, the progression is simply from simpler (note: not easier) to more complex roles within the same progression.  Contrary to popular belief, smallgang is thus actually more helpful to new and developing players who want to get better at the game—it more resembles how a teacher would build a game.  However, whereas horizontal branching into more accounts in the big-fleet career path can occur at the first step, “linemember,” horizontal branching in smallgang can only occur at the final step, as piloting an individual ship is so much harder and requires so many more skills.  That’s not for everyone, and that’s ok.  The game also needs good linemembers!

So, what’s the problem?

I’m just going to say it: EVE would have more players if it was designed in part by a teacher.  EVE would be a better game if it was designed in part by a teacher.

FCing is one example.  Is it a problem that the game only encourages linemembers to do more not better?  Arguably, no.  That’s how many of us want to play the game, and that’s great.  Is it a problem that the game doesn’t naturally develop FCs?  Many current FCs think it is.  Fewer FCs means more burnout, less content for linemembers, and less activity in the game overall.

We can also apply this framework to many other areas of the game, and see how some are issues and some are working just fine.  I’ll do that in later posts.

But there are definitely places where, in my opinion, the game is hurt very badly by promoting horizontal over vertical skills development.  For instance, broadly speaking, ships get easier to fly the bigger they get.  The natural progression to flying an interceptor well would actually be:

Titan -> Carrier (sirens) -> Lachesis -> Interceptor

Obviously, this makes the game hard to get into for new players, as proper piloting of the ships they can fly first includes more skills—knowledge of the meta, angular vs transversal vs radial velocity, heat control, etc.—than most ships that come after them.  It hurts on the other end as well, such that Titans are extremely easy to scale and run simultaneously.  Titan pilots are not asked to grow new skills, but to expand their asset base horizontally; and moreover, expanding their assets doesn’t usually require new skills either.  CCP Falcon once made a brilliant suggestion[6] for how to make Titans harder to fly—making them worse for bad titan pilots and better for good ones, neither a nerf nor a buff but an expansion of the skills needed to fly them—and I think everyone should check it out.

This also creates a Catch-22 for blocs, such that what is best for them today is to get everybody multiboxing DPS ships, and to protect their moneymaking space so people can afford more DPS ships, but what is best for them (and the game) tomorrow would be to invite smallgang conflict in their space and encourage pilots to grow, so that some can make an easier leap to FCing. 

Also, new player missions are a pedagogical disaster[7].  There’s a lot to discuss here, and in future posts I’ll apply this framework elsewhere in the game.  Between this, and the framework I set up in the first post for defining what makes art, we’ve got a lot to work with – and, probably, most of our readers on life support.

But for now, this post is already too long.  (Sorry.  I learned that habit from all those classes that asked me to write longer papers every time.)


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xO32-jqYdq8

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CqOtEz6PfA

[3] Here’s a good example of layering skills on other skills, and a really damn entertaining video even if you don’t know anything about music!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1j1_aeK6WA

[4] For non-EVE players: “Multiboxing” refers to playing several game clients at once, a common practice in EVE.  “Logi” refers to Logistics ships, the game’s term for healers.

[5] For non-EVE players: “smallgang” refers both to fleets of usually less than 10-20 pilots, and the tactics used by those fleets.  Commonly, with fewer people, everyone is encouraged to share information during fights, and decisions are made much more collaboratively than in larger fleets, where communication would be too cluttered with everyone talking, so members are asked to stay quiet while one person (the FC) calls all the shots.

[6] The comment has since been deleted (or I can’t find it) but the essence was: remove guns from titans and let them fire a lance every minute.  In addition to the changes to the skill ceiling mentioned above, this would also implement a diminishing return on dropping mass numbers of titans.

[7] Among many, many others, but perhaps the most thorough: https://www.reddit.com/r/Eve/comments/hcpfnu/an_analysis_of_eves_new_player_experience_by_a/

I – EVE Online is a Work of Art

If you’ve ever hung around a Liberal Arts college long enough for paint to dry, or to catch an experimental art show (maybe it is watching paint dry) then you’ve probably heard some formulation of the question, “What is the difference between Art and Artifice?”  (Yes, capitalizing the word Art does capture he way people tend to ask this.) 

Here, “artifice” is taken to mean anything made by human hands, such as a jacket or a pot, while “art” is generally accepted as common media, such as music, literature, film, and so on.  To put it another way, this question asks, What’s the difference between a toilet and an opera?  Both are made by people, used by people, and enhance our lives.  Both are usually all-white and get shit on by the general public.  But more importantly for artistic professions, what’s the difference between a TED Talk and a play, or a novel and a work of nonfiction? 

I was posed this question on the first day of college, and I spent much of the next few years pursuing a suitable answer to it.  The most common definition I heard was that art “goes beyond itself,” to some deeper experience or understanding, while artifice is simply anything else.  I won’t get into the thorny philosophical issues with this definition: suffice it to say, this would allow a tree or a toilet to be art for one person and not for another—it means art is defined only by its reception.  I wanted a more objective definition that was more useful to my work.  I settled on defining art based on the objective qualities of its medium—the words on the page, the placement of the sculpture—rather than the experience it aimed to curate.

Here’s what I came up with:

Art is something that has to exist in its medium—sound, writing, visuals, as a few examples—in order to create an experience; artifice is either something not designed to create an experience, or something that does not fully make use of its medium.

I’ll explain this more in a moment, but since this is a blog, and an essay, about EVE Online, I first want to point out the most important difference between my definition and all the others I heard in school: in my definition, videogames can be works of art, and as more than just visuals[1].  This is important to me.  It means we don’t have to wait for high society to recognize videogames as a legitimate new form, but can legitimize it ourselves, with our own actions.

Now, let’s unpack this medium-based definition a little bit.

Every medium does something uniquely well.  Prose fiction can move through time, consciousness, and perspective with more freedom than any other form, because language is how we think, and one word can turn everything inside out; music gives us the most immediate emotional response of any medium, probably before we even know we’re feeling it; film gives us the best multimedia input, allowing for sound, visuals, and language, seamlessly and simultaneously; cuisine gives us the best heart disease.

The best works in any medium always use what the medium does best and lean away from what makes it struggle.  A sculpture becomes art when it demands we view it from multiple angles, or from a certain position; theater becomes art when it must be done before a live audience for full effect.  A song becomes artifice when it ignores the emotional directness of music; a book becomes artifice when it ignores its ability to manipulate consciousness.

This understanding lets us do a bunch of different things.  As an artist, it lets you look at mediums not as definitions, but as a toolbox, and it lets you pick which tool for which job.  As a viewer, it lets you appreciate not just the experience something gives you but how it achieves that experience through its very existence in that form.  As a scholar, it lets you dismantle that thorny problem of whether or not art can even be ‘good,’ and why people like art that you deem ‘bad.’  The answer to this last problem, under my framework, is quite simple: something that uses its form innately is not better art, but is more art.  I cannot say this strongly enough—everybody likes what they like, and the terms good and bad are completely useless.  The goal of this framework is to allow us to assess how something does what it does without judgement, hopefully opening up the discussion to include more forms than you’d encounter in a traditional education.  That includes videogames.

So, what does a videogame do best as a medium?  We need to answer this before we can assess whether a game is using that or not, which in turn defines when it becomes a work of art.

Like film, videogames are multimedia projects.  Games use creative writing, sound, acting, coding, and multiple aspects of visual art.  What they do uniquely, however, is engage with the viewer.  While certain aspects of Postmodernism in any medium are built by the viewer[2], videogames are designed around this principle.  From an artist’s perspective, you would pick the videogame out of your toolbox if you wanted your viewer to build the experience with you.  No other form can do that so well.

This means that some videogames are “more art” and others are less.  One of my favorite examples of a videogame that exemplifies the use of viewer interaction is Mass Effect 3.  (SPOILER ALERT – I might be about to ruin one of the greatest games ever made.)

In the ending of Mass Effect 3, you are presented with a 3-way choice: kill the bad guys, control the bad guys, or find a compromise.  In the famous “Indoctrination Theory,”[3] fans proposed that, in fact, the final battle had been taking place in the main character’s mind, with them fighting off mind control from the bad guys, and that if you chose anything other than to kill the bad guys, they had actually won.  The implications of this are utterly profound: because the one making the decision is both Commander Shepherd (in-world) and you the gamer, if you choose anything other than to kill the bad guys, you in real life have been indoctrinated as well.

(END SPOILER)

While novels can write in the second-person (as in Calvino’s famous line, “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel…”[4]) they are only fusing the perspective of the reader and character.  In the ending of ME3, the actual volition, the actual consciousness of the character and player become one. 

You could only achieve that in a videogame.  In my opinion, this could be a moment in human art as important as when the first words were set on a page.  It is certainly as theoretically significant; what we do with videogames in the next 3,000 years will determine if its outcome.

So what about EVE?

I promise I’ll get to the actual game you’re here to read about much quicker in future posts.  But if you’re still with me, I’m about to make you feel much better about all those hours you’ve spent in New Eden.

One of the other cool wrinkles in my definition is that it allows us to define the quintessential works in a medium—that is, works whose effect is so interwoven with their medium, they could be called the most novel, or the most song.  (Again, I can’t stress this enough, there is no such thing as a “best” work of art in any form – just some that objectively use their form more than others.)  Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! is my example for literature, as it is literally a novel about storymaking, and uses every trick in the book to weave the reader’s consciousness into the story.  Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne is my example of a quintessential sculpture, as it has to be appreciated in person, to be walked around—and as one walks around it, the tension and empty space between the characters becomes powerful in a way you could never capture in a photograph. 

In the same way, EVE Online is the quintessential videogame.  It is the most videogame that a videogame could ever be.  The reasoning is pretty simple: if a videogame becomes art by using viewer interaction to the fullest, EVE is the most a videogame could ever be art, because in EVE, viewer actions matter more than in any other game.  Frankly, if you can have literal history books[5] about player actions in your universe, you have maximized the interaction of their agency and the world.

The ways EVE does this are well documented.  Permanent loss of assets, a player-run economy, and a single-shard world are, for most, the calling card for the game.  Go read any other article about EVE if you want to see how these features make it a great, historic, and famously Sisyphean game.  I’m here to tell you, those features, which work together to make every action important, and to preserve the result of those actions, thus allowing for history to be made, also make EVE as a whole—not just its visuals or music, but the whole experience—a work of art.

Finally, the real genius of EVE is how it allows for such player freedom, but also protects itself from moments of immersion-breaking.  The problem a lot of games face is that, even if player actions matter, many of them are world-breaking.  That is, if you name your character after a real-world celebrity, there’s no way to explain it away.  Many roleplaying communities have rules about in-character and out-of-character communication, but if a dwarf named Beyoncé waddles through, you’ve just got to look the other way.  EVE is actually able to account for this.

To paraphrase a really important part of EVE’s worldbuilding – capsuleers are driven to the point of madness by the training they have to go through in order to become immortal; thus, they say lots of kooky things that one can just discount for roleplaying purposes.  When NCdot named their staging Keepstar “Trump’s Wall,” anyone who wanted to be in-world could just say this was a nonsense name dreamed up by a mentally unstable capsuleer.  When Vile Rat was killed[6], his very touching memorials all across New Eden, some of which continued for years[7], still did not break world; he was able to be memorialized as a person and as a capsuleer, and indeed, like all of us, he was both.  That is due to the simple fact that, like in the ending of Mass Effect 3, the consciousness of the human player and the character are fused, and this fusion conversely brings clarity to the differences between them.

So this is not just a blog about EVE Online, its players, its history, and its development.  This is my attempt to document and elevate a quintessential artifact in the brand-new medium of videogames.  In the last two millenia, our species has only invented a handful of fundamentally new mediums – arguably, just film and videogames.  Every other artistic achievement we’ve made in that time has been a new form in older mediums, such as music, dance, theater, and… maybe whatever fireworks are. 

The actions of EVE players therefore, to me, have the potential to be as important in our history as the actions of the scribes who first wrote down Gilgamesh.  Only time will tell.  But for now, we’re making history and art and explosions together – and it’s my honor to write about it.  


[1] EVE Online in MOMA: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/162462

[2] Think of Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, or Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch.

[3] For a general overview: https://www.ign.com/wikis/mass-effect-3/Indoctrination_Theory

[4] If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, page 1.

[5] Empires of EVE series by Andrew Groen.

[6]Memorial post by his in-game organization, though this story is well-documented across broader gaming media as well: https://imperium.news/rip-vile-rat/

[7] https://kotaku.com/warring-eve-factions-take-a-break-to-remember-a-fallen-1827249191

Intro: Who-are-you-and-what-have-you-done-with-my-spaceships?

For over a decade now, I’ve watched real-life programmers make professional-quality apps for EVE, real-life economists produce analyses that (probably) teach CCP a thing or two about their world, and real-life statesmen shape this historic single-shard server, all while I continued to study writing, music, teaching, and, most importantly, PVP. Maybe I internalized what all those older family members said, that I was wasting my life in the Humanities. (Well, now I have a blog, so I’ve shown them!) It took me a long time to realize that I could also contribute to the community, in my own way. So here it is. This is not going to be your asteroid belt-variety EVE blog.

So it’s fair for you to wonder, Who are you, and what have you done with my spaceships?

The short answer is, I used discursive methods to whittle them into ontological insignifigance.

The longer answer is, nothing.

Nope, I’m not interested in your spaceships.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering, If this blog isn’t about spaceships, is it at least about explosions?  Well, duh.  What about EVE’s stories?  Forever and always.  What about rage, salt, and other trendy condiments?  Reluctantly.  Will you have opinions about EVE’s direction, culture, or gameplay?  Who doesn’t?  So, that would involve some back-seat development?  I have already slashed the tires.  Will you care about my opinions?  Nope.  But I may do some interviews.  Can I bring my drake?  My representatives have advised me not to comment.  Also, I think you mean ‘Risk Averse.’  That’s not a question, but I’ll answer it anyway.

The name of this blog is a nod towards one of my all-time favorite comments from the r/eve subreddit: in response to someone asking ‘Why do you lurk here if you don’t even play the game?’ some wise soul replied, ‘For the same reason people go to the zoo.’  Using this pithy yet catastrophic smackdown as a metaphor, I can say that Isk Averse is something of an all-in-one zoo tour guide, conservation initiative, emergency veterinary clinic, nature documentary, and taxidermist. 

Ok I’ll bite.  So, who the hell are you?

I’ve been a sci-fi writer, literature student, and EVE player not only for all of my adult life, but for much of my earlier life as well.  I probably started EVE first of all these, back in 2008, as a precocious young nerd with a passion for explosions.  In 2012, no doubt influenced by EVE’s world of New Eden, I began developing my own world of speculative fiction, a project that continues to this day.  This blog is a way for me to keep up my essay-writing chops while trying to question the answers that this game, world, and community have left with me for years. 

Yawn.  TLDR?

Well, my inability to keep even this intro short enough you don’t want a TLDR doesn’t bode well.  (Maybe in a future post we’ll get to intersections of EVE and the modern attention span, if I can remember to.)  But if you’ll allow me to wax somniferous for one more moment, I think we can get it done: Isk Averse is a series of social, literary, and political essays about EVE Online that promises to be empathetic but unapologetic, unbiased but opinionated, intelligent but accessible.  One week we might be using EVE players’ mourning rituals to look at how we view death as an online society; the next week we might take a deep dive into the ways EVE develops fleet commanders, or what can make a videogame a work of art.  If, after reading, you appreciate the game more, appreciate life more, come to doubt everything you thought you knew about both, love me, hate me, block me, subscribe, or just want to start playing with us, I’ll consider it a job well done.