EVE Online, as we all know but sometimes forget, is an internet game. In some ways it is very different than real life; dozens of studies over the past two decades have proven that people are meaner when anonymous online than they are in real-life and face-to-face conversations. In other ways, though, the internet is more real than real life; many of you probably know someone who told online friends about their sexuality or their struggle with depression while they were still wearing a mask in “real life.” Because of this juxtaposition—is online life the artifice, or is real life the artifice?—it can be interesting to look at the way certain activities play out differently in EVE and in real life.
Let’s look at one of the major differences between online and offline war, especially the attitude towards noncombatants. In so doing, we’re going to come away with the conclusion that there is no such thing as a civilian when it comes to null-sec.
War Is Everywhere
In theory, at least, Goonswarm is not involved in any active wars, not since the peace treaty that ended this summer’s savage beating of Pandemic Legion, Northern Coalition, the now-defunct Circle of Two, and various other parties. However, you would not reach that conclusion if you flew around Delve for a few minutes. As of the time of this writing, Goonswarm’s staging system of 1DQ1-A is third on Dotlan’s list of most violent null-sec systems; 402 player ships (not NPC rats) have been killed there in the twenty-four hours from 1700 EVE time on January 1 to 1700 on January 2. I would go so far as to suggest that there is no system in the entire region of Delve that has not had at least one hostile ship in it during the past day, and many systems are host to permanent cloaky campers as well. This situation is not unique to Delve; if I were a betting man, I would wager that most null-sec systems had at least one hostile ship pass through them looking for targets of opportunity.
We may draw two conclusions from this state of affairs. First, war in New Eden is a semi-constant state of affairs, and there is really no such thing as “peace” when even “peacetime” involves solo and gang PvP sponsored by the major null-sec coalitions against each other. Second, and related, is that you don’t have to go looking for war in New Eden; war will come to you, whether you want it to or not. Whereas in the real world there is a clearly defined distinction between peace and hostility, no such distinction exists in New Eden.
What Is a Civilian?
Similarly, international law makes a very precise differentiation between civilians and combatants; New Eden does not. Indeed, most of the hostile intrusions into Delve specifically target ratters, miners, and haulers, the closest things the game has to civilian non-combatants. Hostile fleets do not seek out fair fights against organized defenders; they intentionally seek out those least likely to be able to fight back.
The most obvious justification for this is that miners, refiners, haulers, and industrialists all contribute to their alliance’s military might, so that makes them legitimate targets. This was the logic employed by Germany in World War I and World War II when it engaged in torpedo warfare against civilian vessels shipping war materials from the (theoretically) neutral United States to the United Kingdom. It was also employed by the United States Army Air Force later in World War II when that organization engaged in “strategic bombing” not just of military targets but of factories in Germany that were producing materials for the war effort.
The analogy breaks down in one major way: the United States/United Kingdom and Germany were at war with each other, which is why we can coherently speak of a “war effort.” It is not logically valid for two nations—or coalitions—which are formally at peace to wreck one another’s industries while speaking of “military might” and “war effort.” To argue that miners and haulers are valid targets for this reason during wartime does not imply that they are valid targets during peacetime. For that, we need a different line of thinking.
There Are No Civilians
The logic that makes ratters and miners into valid targets, then, is this: all players in null-sec corporations are combatants, and there is no such thing as a civilian. Nearly every player in Goonswarm, if not literally every player, has to meet certain participation requirements in order to avoid having themselves or their corporation kicked from the alliance. Within the past three months, every player in Goonswarm is guaranteed to have joined a fleet or done some other activity that resulted, or could have resulted, in combat against other players. The same is almost certainly true of other alliances as well.
Whether a player actually has gone on a combat fleet in the past month is immaterial. What makes a person a combatant according to international law is not that they actually have fought against the enemy (most soldiers in most countries’ militaries have never fired a shot in combat, after all), but that they could. At any moment they could join a fleet on behalf of their corporation or alliance and go shoot some people. This permission to fight means that they fit the legal definition of “combatant,” not “civilian,” even if they happen to be hauling salvage at the moment they’re attacked. Nobody is off limits.
What’s The Point?
As I said at the beginning, EVE is in some ways very similar to real life and in other ways very dissimilar. In real life, the question of combatant versus non-combatant is a very big deal; shooting the wrong person literally means that a soldier is guilty of a war crime. By contrast, very few if any of the readers of this article will have ever stopped to ponder the question of whether certain players in EVE should not be considered valid targets (except, perhaps, as a hostile gang warped away from the space-dust that used to be your ratting ship, and you wondered, “Why’d they come after me?”).
Some may not even see the point of such examination; an interviewer once asked George Leigh Mallory why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, and he replied, “Because it is there.” Why do we shoot other players? Because they are there. No further thought is required.
Yet I believe this misses the point. EVE is a vast sandbox, not merely a digital location but an entire economy, political system, and military simulator all wrapped together. When we find a disconnect like this one between real life and online life—when the question of “who is a valid target” receives such detailed attention in real life but receives no attention whatsoever or questions of “who cares” in our game—we want to pick at those cracks, because looking at the differences between the two helps us figure out whether the “true us” is the one we see in real life where we’re forced to play by other people’s rules or the one we see online where we’re free to make our own rules.
The final question is, does this “everyone’s a target” philosophy actually work? Several times in recent history, organized militaries have deliberately targeted those behind the front lines. One such instance was the Blitz in World War II, where Nazi Germany bombed London and other English cities. Not to be outdone, the Allies later firebombed the German city of Dresden, and the United States attacked Tokyo in the Doolittle Raid as early as 1942. In all those cases, the goal was the same: to discourage the ratters and miners (so to speak) in those societies, to demoralize ordinary people and in so doing weaken the enemy.
Is that working with regard to Goonswarm? Considering that the Goons are still defending MER champions (with over four times more ore mined in Delve than in the second highest region and similarly impressive numbers for ratting), one would have to say no. Did it work in real life? No, repeatedly. Unrestricted U-boat warfare didn’t keep the United States out of World War I; it dragged them in. The Blitz didn’t break the British; it strengthened their resolve (and later gave us a rocking Iron Maiden song). There is no indication that the Doolittle Raid made a meaningful impact on Japanese morale. Every attempt to discourage the ratters and miners of society either had no effect or accomplished the opposite.
Perhaps that’s one way that EVE and real life are not so different.