Editor’s note: This is a companion piece to Gray Doc’s article, “Git Gud: Reframing the Delve Miracle“. Seir Luciel is an editor at INN, and a member of Pandemic Horde Inc.
When Goons first entered the game, “the veterans of EVE Online laughed at the naivety of this swarming pack of new players in terrible ships” writes Andrew Groen. “Goonfleet embraced this idea, and co-opted the idea of the ‘swarm’ for its own self-image. Its pilots adopted the mascot of a chubby, cigar-smoking bumblebee wearing a World War 1-era German helmet, which they appropriately named “Fat Bee.” Their battlecry: “We’re terrible at this game!”
What a battlecry! At the time, Goons openly disdained those who were “good” at the game, who took things so seriously, who looked down on others. What Goons were bringing to the game of EVE was a new culture, a new ideology to New Eden: the point of video games wasn’t to be “the best;” the point was to have the best time. If you’re having more fun than the other guys, even if you’re losing, you’re winning. It was a beautiful philosophy, one gaming culture at large can learn from. It prioritized what was really important while simultaneously forging bonds of friendship between like-minded, fun-prioritizing, elite-disdaining individuals.
Groen writes that “the Goons prided themselves on being the worst. So when they lost, they laughed. When they won, they laughed harder. The Goons represented a new crop of EVE Online players, and some of the old guard didn’t like them at all. Groups like Band of Brothers tended to view them as disrespectful of the history and power structure of the game.”
A Break From Tradition
The old guard – groups like Band of Brothers – were traditionalists. Power was power. Wealth was wealth. Hard-earned, well-practiced, highly-refined economic and military machines were what one took pride in: being “good at the game.” Being able to stick up your nose and look down on the other members of the game for not “getting gud.” In short, elitism. Behind this ethic was a simple, understandable logic: games are meant to be excelled at. Why play a game if you don’t try to play it well? Why not be well and do well at whatever you are doing? After all, isn’t winning more fun than losing? Isn’t not getting blown up while killing the other guy more fun than going down in a fireball while the enemy taunts you in local?
But as Groen notes, “behind the irreverent attitude, there was a social genius to the way the Goons approached the game. In essence, their morale was unassailable because they deliberately under-inflated their self-image. According to some sources, the name ‘Goon’ was intended as a way of turning the stereotype of basement-dwelling internet cretins against itself by publicly owning it. The Goons of EVE Online demeaned themselves publicly and claimed not to care what happened to their ships or their territory.”
We’ve come a long way since then. Now Goons loudly remind the rest of New Eden that their becoming as powerful as they have become is no accident. They will tell you that they’ve worked hard, that they’ve earned their stripes, and if the rest of the galaxy wants to earn respect they ought to start by getting some of the “gumption” Goons had. It’s a familiar tune; its the same one used by Band of Brothers (once the mortal enemy of Goons), still called up from the dead occasionally in order to distinguish Goon identity from the risen specter. “See how different we are?” they say, pointing to the tired ghost. How frequently, when attempting to formulate one’s own identity, one conjures up an Other, usually a straw man, to point to and say “Look! We aren’t like them!” Identity is often also formulated in the negative: not by what one is, but by ideas of what one is not.
The Laughing Specter
It is here that the conjured ghost of BoB begins to laugh, a dark and scraggly laugh, at the Goons who conjured it. An eerie silence falls upon the hushing Goon crowd; even Moomin, a master of the necromantic arts, stumbles back from the laughing ghost, an ill omen, summoned before the Goon assembly for their oft-repeated Identity Affirmation Assembly.
What does that laughter mean? Does the ghost laugh because Goons have since forfeited what once was, perhaps, their greatest strength? Groen recounts that the Goons’ former position of elite-disdaining nonchalance “was a stark contrast to how things had been run before the Goons’ arrival in New Eden. For some of the best player groups in the game, pride was a resource. Skilled pilots could build up their egos after winning a string of battles, but it was only a matter of time until they were humbled. And when they were, the illusion of mastery could unfold and unravel the social fabric of the group.” Here Groen asks the million dollar question: “If your corporation is based on being the best, what happens when you lose?”
Building an identity, even partially, on being better than all others is building a house upon sand. It has been proven over and over again across time and the stars of New Eden. The reasons are simple: as Groen notes, somewhere along the way you are going to lose; another reason, connected to the first, is that everyone wants to beat the group that thinks, rightly or wrongly, they’re better than all others. Being the best makes enemies; saying you’re the best makes even more enemies. Once enough enemies pile up, the weight of them all cannot be sustained by the pillars of raw elitism. That’s one of the inherent tough parts about being the best: you’ll always be a minority. And if the majority decide to turn on you, your better-than-ness won’t be able to make the numbers even.
Is this the reason the ghost laughs? Or is it because, over time, Goons have adopted the very attitude that they once hated. Perhaps the conjured ghost laughs because the joke’s on Goons; both Goons and the ghosts they call back up aren’t that different, because the Goons who killed BoB long ago are just as dead as the ghost they’ve conjured, with New Goons being the proud wearers of the Old Goons lineage, but still distinct from them nonetheless. New Goons may be literal successors of Old Goons, but arguably they aren’t the spiritual successors. Maybe the ghost is laughing because it questions, cynically, whether the Goon nonchalance that once characterized the organization looks now only to be a narrative device – deflecting shame for once being “bad at the game,” a device promptly dropped once they themselves are in power. Or, after everything, does the ghost laugh because nobody in EVE exhibits the nonchalance that once characterized Old Goons.
The Opposition Perspective
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that PAPI at large somehow represents the ideology of nonchalance. I think an argument could be made that Pandemic Horde specifically replaced Old Goons somewhere along the way as the zerglings of EVE, traveling in cheap ships, less organized, but with high numbers. I don’t know if Horde is thought of that way now, however. Also, they never really leaned into the “we are bad at the game and laugh whether we win or lose” mentality that Goons once had, despite the name “Horde” being a similar self-referential to the “swarm” playstyle once exhibited by Goonswarm. The roles haven’t been reversed, is my point.
But I do think that, for the most part, the ideology of the Old Goons has been pretty well replaced. You might see glimpses of it: “Goons was never about holding Delve, but about the friends we made along the way.” PAPI mocked the phrase, saying it was just a saying for Goons to comfort themselves. Maybe it was, but personally I think it’s the right way to go. However, phrases like this don’t reflect the culture of New Goons at large. They are more and more an exceptions to the rule, and I think that’s too bad.
Prioritizing fun and friendship over winning is a more healthy gaming behavior than always trying to be the best, and trying to convince others about how good you are at this video game. Having said that, everyone wants to be good at what they are doing. Blowing up sucks. So I get why the urge to be better and better is pursued by players the longer they play; there’s only so much criticism I think we should aim at such a sentiment, even when we use “elite/ism” in the derogatory.
Time to Face the Music
In the end, I’d say the Goons of yore, the ones who took pride at being bad at the game and roared with laughter whether they were winning or losing, are gone. On a wide scale, Goons no longer have that culture; it has changed and evolved into something new, something that looks more similar to Band of Brothers, though Goons will swear up and down they aren’t anything like BoB. But at this point PAPI has no chance of wiping out those Glorious Goons of Yonder Years, shining and laughing in the halls of memory; they don’t exist anymore.
Much of the negative toxicity of Old Goons has been purged, (though The Mittani’s command to go make fun of Vily during his CSM interview was questionable, at best), but along with those changes, most of the positive elements of Goon’s anti-establishment culture have also dissipated. What remains is a culturally moderate, establishment nullsec power with a Mittani-esque flair for the unhinged, who occasionally flirts with a bad-boy-I-still-scam-on-my-offtime public image. In essence, a 40+ year old successful CEO who still dons their fits-too-tightly leather jacket every once in a while. Always dropping reminders that they were young and rebellious once, but otherwise wearing custom-fitted Armani suits and driving cherry red Italian sports cars, still talking about that one time they put BoB out of business.
Maybe the ghost laughs for many reasons, and after an awkward pause, Goons chuckle nervously, making comments like “Guess the ghost got stupid after it died” or “Seir doesn’t know what he’s talking about; he’s just spinning cause PAPI’s jealous deep down.” Regardless, whether Goons collapse, or survive, or even thrive after this war, the version of Goons who will be facing a post-WWBII EVE are not going to be the same Goons that Groen wrote about. They are no longer those who shout “We’re terrible at this game” – instead, they will smugly tell you to “git gud.”
Meanwhile, the last thing Goons hear as they leave their Identity Affirmation Assembly – snapping closed the doors of their Italian sports cars to drive home for the night, champagne on their breath as they say “that guy’s crazy, completely nuts!” – is the chilling echo of a summoned ghost’s laugh, fading away into the cold irony of New Eden’s stars.