EVE is Real (Evil)

I don’t play EVE, but I have been following the developing story of Erotica 1 (E1) with a particular interest this past week. The drama itself is interesting enough, but the entire episode asks a lot of compelling questions on the nature of games, social interactions outside of the game but still concerning the game, and the role (if any) of the developers.

EVE, as you might already know, is just about the most hand-off MMO on the market. Scams, extortion, and piracy are not only allowed, they are encouraged. “Be the villain,” and all that. One such scammer took things to another level though. Basically, the deal was that E1 ran an ISK-doubling scam that actually did pay out occasionally, such that it was ambiguous as to whether you could make a bunch of money. After passing the first tests, there was a “Bonus Room” in which you could quintuple your winnings again. The catch? You had to hand over 100% of your in-game assets and then jump onto a Teamspeak server for hours (!) of recorded humiliation.

You can read the full breakdown of what transpired in this particular Bonus Room on Jester’s Trek. In fact, the two hour, seventeen minute SoundCloud file is also linked. The victim has a speech impediment which is fully exploited, and when he finally snaps, E1 and his crew drive the victim’s wife (who showed up to ask what was going on) into a panic attack.

I doubt this is what CCP envisioned with their “EVE is real” campaign.

The reactions to this incident have ran the gamut. I was first made aware of it at all by this post on Greedy Goblin. Gevlon’s take? I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count. Spoiler: Gevlon blames the victim. And in a certain light, it is something you can almost get behind – why didn’t the guy just turn the computer off? Well, for one thing, he had already given away 100% of his in-game assets at that point. And for another, it doesn’t fucking matter. The only truly relevant point (for CCP) is whether or not someone like E1 is worth having in your game.

And indeed, CCP, perhaps finally realizing the potential media shitstorm brewing, came out and issued a statement:

While the content of online interactions between players cannot realistically be gated within our game worlds, CCP strongly disapproves of clear and extraordinary levels of real life harassment against our players in the outside world.

CCP, in collaboration with the CSM, have agreed and would like to state in the strongest possible terms and in accordance with our existing Terms of Service and End User License Agreement, that real life harassment is morally reprehensible, and verifiable examples of such behavior will be met with disciplinary action against game accounts in accordance with our Terms of Service.

While they didn’t announce anything specific, we know from other sources that E1 was permanently banned. I don’t actually recommend going to that second link there unless you’re a fan of sadism, or want to see a rather frightening example of the sort of players EVE’s mostly hands-off policy attracts.

Still, I feel like there were some arguments surrounding this incident worth deconstructing. Gevlon and a lot of other commenters argue that this issue could be solved by not falling for the scam in the first place. Plus, they argue, what’s really the difference between a prank and a bully? Given how tomorrow is April Fools Day, it’s even somewhat topical.

My response would be: there really isn’t one. The difference between assault and a scuffle is someone filing a police report. The prank example that was offered was blocking someone’s door with phone books. Prank or bully? That’s two different questions. First, it’s entirely reasonable to suggest it wasn’t a prank at all, but rather harassment – again, with the difference being simply the victim’s decision. As to whether someone is a bully for doing that depends on their intentions. We can imagine a scenario in which a guy constantly “pranks” people who shrug it off when, in fact, he derives pleasure from the misery he creates. As I mentioned in the comments on his post, someone is a liar regardless of whether anyone believes them.¹

Gevlon then claims that we cannot prosecute people like E1 with intention-based arguments because no one can prove intention. Except the courts do it all the time via mens rea. There is a rather instructive scenario outlined in a related Wiki article:

For example, suppose that A, a jealous wife, discovers that her husband is having a sexual affair with B. Wishing only to drive B away from the neighbourhood, she goes to B’s house one night, pours petrol on and sets fire to the front door. B dies in the resulting fire. A is shocked and horrified. It did not occur to her that B might be physically in danger and there was no conscious plan in her mind to injure B when the fire began. But when A’s behaviour is analysed, B’s death must be intentional. If A had genuinely wished to avoid any possibility of injury to B, she would not have started the fire. Or, if verbally warning B to leave was not an option, she should have waited until B was seen to leave the house before starting the fire. As it was, she waited until night when it was more likely that B would be at home and there would be fewer people around to raise the alarm.

The Bonus Round victim could have turned off the computer at any time. So too could E1. And this is besides the point that there isn’t a jury in the world that would say the outcome was not exactly what E1 and company were intending to occur.

Where things get really amusing is when people argue that E1 can’t get punished because it’s not against the EULA. Except the EULA includes the ToS, of which the very first goddamn entry might be instructive. Or that E1 shouldn’t get punished because it sets a “chilling precedent.” Or the line is too ambiguous, as Gevlon states. Or it somehow would obligate CCP to start banning all such offenders. Or that it opens the doors to nefarious individuals impersonating people and getting others banned. And a number of similar armchair philosopher attempts at rules lawyering.

That sort of nonsense might work on religions and in college electives, but it doesn’t pass muster in the real world. Items #25 and #26 in the ToS give CCP carte blanche to permaban anyone for any reason. Arguments towards precedent and a nebulous obligation to do a full crusade sort of remind me of the Buridan’s ass paradox. On paper, it “makes sense” that a donkey inbetween two equally distant piles of food would starve to death because it can’t decide between them. In the actual real world, people have the ability to make arbitrary decisions and judgment calls. Just because E1 is banned does not necessarily mean CCP has to, by some mysterious logical mechanism, ban the EVE guild that threatens to blow your ship up unless you sing to them on their chat channel. So very few people understand the Slippery Slope is actually a fallacy; it’s entirely possibly to (subjectively!) determine that one is a more egregious example than the other and stop on the slope.

Then again, hey, that singing extortion thing is pretty fucking weird and exploitative and maybe they shouldn’t be doing that either. If these are the sort of examples people point to concerning how “EVE is real,” perhaps it’s time to re-examine whether that tagline actually relates a positive quality. We don’t have to abandon every game in which someone’s feelings might get hurt, but how about we aim for, as Jester points out, the ballpark figure of “your mother can listen to this without thinking you’re a psychopath.”

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¹ Gevlon’s counter-argument to this is that a liar no one believes is an actor or comedian. Err… no. Those professions do not rely on untruth to scam or exploit out of wealth, power, or security; the intent is to amuse, surprise, and entertain. It’s a nonsensical argument akin to suggesting a torturer and a dentist are similar because they both hurt you.

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Posted on March 31, 2014, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. EVE is just like any other MMO in that there are good, helpful people and there are bad, trolly people. I played for a year or so and I was in the New Order as a miner ganker for a spell. The fact that that group glorified Erotica 1 and his “business” never really sat well with me. After I left the New Order I found another group of guys to fly around with and had a great time before a mixture of real-life and general boredom of the game (the most boring part of EVE is actually playing the game) caused me to quit.

    People who are vilifying Ripard/Jester for using his celebrity and CSM seat to cast light on this incident are idiotic. Isn’t that one of the perks of being a celebrity? People actually listen to you. I was never a frequenter of the forums but I bet there have been several threads posted complaining about Erotica and other similar “humiliation”-type scams so CCP was probably already aware of this incident. Kudos to CCP for making what was probably the correct decision in removing a person from their game that could cost them subscribers. I wonder if anyone has quit playing EVE because they heard a story about Erotica’s actions and thought, “hmm, I like that EVE allows scams, but that sounds a bit too heavy for me. I think I’ll go play something else.”

  2. Well, I can tell you that this kind of stories are the stuff which keep pushing EVE down in my “try one day” game list. I must be looking at the wrong places, but discussions about the game itself are hard to find on the various EVE-talking blogs. Everything seems to be about politics, treason and downright sociopathic behaviour.
    Since I play games for the “game” side, i.e. fun, optimization, a bit of challenge and a some socialization, why EXACTLY should I go in a place which sounds like the game itself is irrelevant, or is an endless grind? And where the social interactions you hear about are always about treason/scamming/etc.?
    As a result I’ve come to associate EVE with the cesspool of MMO players and steer away from it. It’s not like there aren’t any other games I can waste my time in….

    • Yeah, for me the question is: what’s the upside? I’m not someone who is going to be scamming people, so the ability to do so is simply a liability. And while the overarching meta-narrative is interesting to read about on occasion, I can absorb that vicariously while playing games that actually require pushing buttons.

      • I get much more EVE satisfaction from reading TAGN than actually playing the game itself.

      • I see two upsides to EVE’s acts of villainy, treason and general assholery:

        1) They make acts of kindness, loyalty and heroism more meaningful by comparison.
        2) Blowing up a genuine villain/traitor/scumbag is immensely satisfying.

  3. In regards to your footnote, Paul Eckman, the lie guy, says that lies are only lies if they’re perpetrated on people who aren’t expecting a lie. As a result, actors are not liars at all; there’s a social contract between them and their audience that removes the “lying” condition. Not that it really matters, of course, but I thought you might be interested.

    Other than that, this is a fantastic post that really gets to the heart of harassment and examines the harasser’s ideological defenses of it. This is precisely the kind of behavior that make me sick in every game when I see it and has specifically kept me away from EVE.

    I think Azuriel’s point above very fairly states my own thoughts: I’m not going to be doing terrible things to people, so allowing others to do terrible things is not a selling point to me at all; quite the opposite, in fact.

  4. “what’s the upside?”

    Danger. Knowing that the decisions you make will impact you down the road, often in very tangible ways. Your actions have consequences. When your ship gets blown up, you don’t just respawn at the nearest station with all of your stuff in need of a little repair. Your ship is gone. You need a new one, and new fittings, and depending on where your clone was set, you might have a long way to go to get things.

    If I run into Orgrimmar as an Alliance player in WoW and die, no big deal. A little gold for repairs. If I fly my ship into somebody territory or through a known low sec pirate system, things can go bad quickly and end up costing me a ship. But sometimes that makes simple things like travel a daring adventure. It can bring up a level of tension I haven’t felt traveling since trying to run from Qeynos to Freeport in early EQ. When I jump blind through a gate and come out on the other side to see a ship highlighted with flashing red on my overview, my heart rate goes up. There is a lot of depth and a lot of options in EVE.

    I push buttons in both WoW and EVE, and enjoy both, but they are very different games. And to frame EVE as no game, just scams simply proves your opening phrase, “I don’t play EVE.”

    • The danger argument is fair.

      That being said, I personally do not require total risk in order to get my heart rate up. Fishing in Orgrimmar as Alliance for the achievement was more than a big deal for me, at least for the duration; my spot was below and behind the troll hut where all the Horde zoned in from Dalaran. Similarly, I have no issues getting adrenalin from those rare instances where I decide to try ganking. I lose nothing by failing… other than time, pride, and the special shame of failing at a gank when you control all the variables.

      Adding extra losses on top of that simply ensures that if never do it in the first place.

    • Danger. Knowing that the decisions you make will impact you down the road, often in very tangible ways.

      DANGER?!? Of what? Falling off your chair while playing?
      Seriously, in online games the only danger is that you end up wasting endless time doing stuff you don’t want to do. If you think that your actions in a computer game are “risky” or “dangerous” or “have consequences” you are deluded. If you’re seeking adrenaline try extreme sports, of the kind “you fuck up, you end up in a wheelchair if you’re lucky”. THAT is dangerous and that I respect and I can understand…. but a computer game…. please. Honestly I am much more in danger every time I switch on my laser at the lab (it’s class IV) then when playing any computer game…..

    • So, basically, two responses; one says WoW is danger enough and one pretends I meant literal physical danger, and neither respondent actually plays EVE. Don’t know why I bothered to reply at all, I could see where this was going either way.

      Helistar, your response is particularly asinine given the topic of this post. Carry on hating.

      • Er… I said the danger argument was fair. It is absolutely true that it makes something like mundane travel not ever mundane after all. And I will always give EVE props for creating game-space in the activity of moving goods.

        That said, the danger argument doesn’t work for me because past a certain limit, more danger simply means I avoid the danger altogether; I approach 100% risk aversion. But I can see where it’d work for other people. Although, from the Gevlon and SynCaine peanut gallery, it appears that established players have largely mitigated away any real risk by flying only replaceable ships.

        As for the “upside” comment, I was specifically referring to whole scamming/extortion/etc angle. Two people engaging in full-loot PvP is one thing, but there isn’t a scenario in which I see myself ever being an intentional instigator of subterfuge. Hell, I don’t even like trading with people outside of the AH in games where there are GMs willing to enforce chat deals, much less games that all but require escrow agents with established reputations.

        But, yes, you’re right, I don’t play EVE. And once I have (do?), I’ll be sure to revisit these musings and see if anything has changed. My guess is “no,” but I have been surprised before.

      • Helistar, your response is particularly asinine given the topic of this post. Carry on hating.

        You do realize that the opening post is only barely related to ingame affairs and it’s a purely out-of-game event? Very bad IRL stuff has happened on other MMOs as well, but again the game is only the communication channel.

  5. Plus, they argue, what’s really the difference between a prank and a bully?

    I’d say that the difference becomes apparent when the victim asks you to stop.

    If you do so (and maybe apologize), it was a prank. If you go on, it’s bullying.