COMMUNITY MATTERS

Submission 2015-12-09

The EVE Online community does not exist.

More specifically, “the EVE Online community” does not exist.

The difference between the former statement and the latter? The latter refers to an idea and a concept. It is a nuanced distinction, one which requires elaboration.

EVE is comprised of hundreds of thousands of people engaging in social gameplay and extra-game interactions. It has entire websites (much like this one) devoted to analyzing the game, and a whole host of other components. I wrote extensively on the human nature of the sandbox some time ago, and all of those observations still hold. Insofar as these interactions and dynamic social structures exist, they comprise a whole that forms a living and breathing gestalt that we can shorthand as the EVE community. This community exists.

“The community” does not. “The community” is an idea, a notion that we are all somehow tied together in a unified way and express the same opinions and have the same desires. “The community” is frequently cited in an effort to gain legitimacy, to appear to have widespread backing, or in an effort to prove that something is right. “The community” does not exist.

The first definition is all-inclusive. The community simply comprises everyone doing whatever it is they do, however they wish to do so. It is a value-neutral proposition to which any EVE player can lay claim. The second definition, “the community,” is exclusive. It inherently assumes in the conceptualization that there is a Truth out there, and that Truth will be brought to the People by prophets of the Truth. Should you happen to disagree with that Truth, you find yourself outside this exclusive “community.”

As an illustration of this exclusive definition of “community,” let’s examine the events of the past few weeks. First, the Imperium faced a huge outcry of how we were acting against the best interest of “the community” when we evicted Pandemic Horde from our borders. We received more of the same after our launch missteps regarding how “the community” didn’t back the Fountain War Kickstarter and how that was our fault for not listening to “the community.” I got a stack of hatemail from “the community” for my article on that same topic that pulled no punches in exploring the self-destructive hypocrisy of “the community.” Some people were incensed that I had the audacity to call out the behavior of “the community,” and the pundits were quick to invoke and defend that same “community.”

Bullshit.

Let’s start with the obvious. Certain bloggers and /r/eve badposters have defined Goonswarm and the Imperium as outside “the community.” Despite the sheer size of the Imperium and how many players we represent, they have taken the intellectually courageous step of implicitly—and in some cases explicitly—saying that we are not part of “the community.” That is, that we don’t act or behave in the manner they think adheres to some cosmic truth regarding how to have fun in a dynamic sandbox game.

Let us acknowledge what is actually behind these judgmental, exclusionary statements: attempting to invoke “the community” is a naked political play by people who lack the courage to stand for something on their own. It is a lazy way to elicit the illusion of mass consensus while shouting down opposing viewpoints. We see this same technique in political campaigns worldwide in the form “the nation’s people demand” and such. This is not a novel approach, and it is as transparent in EVE Online as it is in real-world politics.

Unfortunately for both the punditry and the /r/eve minority, Goonswarm Federation and the Imperium are not led by spineless pandering idealists desperate for the validation of a nonexistent “community.” We are hard-eyed realists who know what it is to fight against impossible odds to build the largest, longest-lasting, most organized, and most effective gaming community the world has ever seen.

Here is the deepest irony of this whole discussion: As much as our intellectually dishonest critics are quick to anoint their personal opinions with the approval of “the community,” the only real community involved in this two-sided so-called discussion between an imagined “community” and the Imperium is the Imperium. Goonswarm Federation has existed for a decade. The Imperium has existed for half a decade. We have built, we have laughed, we have cried, we have marched to war, we have lost dear friends. We are deeply invested in the wellbeing of the whole because we comprise that whole. We have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities, we have raised the visibility for any number of individuals and issues, we have helped our people in uncountable ways.

This rock solid commitment to our own ideals and to the community we’ve collectively built means that when I inevitably find myself in the trenches or in dire straits, I have but to look to my friends standing next to me. They have my back and I have theirs—not because of self-interest, but because they would do the same for me.

If you are a long-time observer of Goonswarm, you’ll have noted that Mittani begins all his speeches with “my people.” My people. There’s a powerful underlying message in those two words, the promise of a leader who cares deeply enough to look out for the people he leads and the acknowledgement that the responsibilities are his and his alone. This is the tangible measure of what defines a real community: a set of shared ideas, a willingness to work together for a shared cause, and an ability to bring our shared vision to life.

Let’s contrast this with the sham construct of invoking “the community” for personal axe grinding. For that, there is no better place to look than /r/eve.

/r/eve is not a community, it is a platform. There is no attempt to build. There is no engagement with unpopular opinions. Posters that express contrary opinions or divergent points of view are either shadowbanned, down-voted into oblivion, or crushed by the mass of the upvote-hungry mob. The fundamental mistake then is conflating socialization in a shared space with community. Communities can only thrive when the hard discussions can be had openly and when people can engage with unpopular opinions in a productive manner. Truth by consensus is absurd, truth by who can yell the loudest more so. But that’s what /r/eve is, a haven for rogue players with no stake in the game, no shared fate in the destiny of our virtual world. Toxicity is mislabeled as passion, falsehood as insight, ignorance as strength. It is a tremendous tragedy that many prospective players’ first contact with the greater EVE social structure is through so myopic and dirty a lens.

I don’t know how /r/eve came be the way it is or where the fault lies there, but what I do know is that it does not represent my community. The greatest trick /r/eve ever played was convincing people its opinion mattered.

To preempt cries of “What about Karmafleet?”, let me again reiterate the definition of a community: shared values, shared cause. To critique /r/eve isn’t to criticize every subreddit or reddit-based community. Karmafleet has been a fantastic addition to our community, and both TEST and BRAVE are vibrant communities of like-minded people looking to have fun in this game and build something special for their fellows.

Stop trying to use “the community” to push your personal agenda. Invoking “the community” for political gain is repulsive. If you don’t have the backbone to stand on your own and need an imaginary mob behind you, find some other word that doesn’t conceptually diminish the hard work and passion people put into building real communities.

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