There’s a contentious argument over human nature in political philosophy circles: are humans inherently violent animals restrained only by government, or generous and kind beings? This question was first raised by Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century, who argued that “the condition of man…is a condition of war against everyone else.” He believed that a strong central government was needed to restrain humanity’s violent impulses. This was most notably opposed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century, who said that “civilization is a hopeless race to discover remedies to evils it creates,” in effect arguing that humans are born peaceable, but society and government causes violence and oppression.
This has remained mostly a philosophical and academic issue. After all, you can’t just let loose a bunch of humans into the wilds to see what would happen. That’s just impractical, and immoral. But in EVE, that is precisely what has happened.
Into the Savage Garden
EVE 0.0 space is one of the closest things we have to a ‘state of nature’—a blank slate with no influencing factors upon the mind of man—in the world today. Players cannot come to permanent harm, and they are always free to move, fight or gather resources. A believer in the noble nature of mankind might look at this state of nature and conclude that benevolent and cooperative traders and industrialists inhabit it, seeking to make a better and richer world. Alternatively, they might think it would be full of skilled warriors seeking out fun, mutually agreed, battles.
This is entirely untrue. 0.0 is full of dictatorial empires which are constantly in a state of war. Campaigns of terrorism and violence are periodically launched against the mostly peaceful denizens of high-sec. On occasion, major conflicts brew up, which see the destruction of hundreds of thousands of dollars of assets, and the ruination of entire alliances. I probably don’t need to go on. Most readers are, I’m sure, able to list all sorts of unpleasantness 0.0 residents inflict on each other.
It could be maintained that though this does occur in EVE, the actual value provided to the philosophical debate is limited. First, EVE is a game—so the argument goes, war and dictatorial governments are obviously just fun. I’m not entirely sure about this. While small gangs and roams are always excellent fun, the huge ti-di slugfests which typify bloc war are not particularly enjoyable. Neither is structure shooting. Moreover, while some people enjoy playing Paperwork Online (I am one of them), I would wager that the majority, if given a choice, would not be part of empires which enforce policies and regulate operations.
Second, there is the concept of plasticity in human behavior—that is, if given a blank slate, a modern human would tend to recreate something like the society they come from. Therefore, a utopian might contend that the reason EVE is full of dictatorial empires and conflict is because that is what players are used to. But I do not believe this to be true – as of 2008, 77.6% of EVE players came from Western democracies. If this plasticity theory held true in EVE, we would be seeing constitutions, parliaments and presidents; we would not see Dear Leader Mittani.
Lastly, a utopian might claim that EVE 0.0 isn’t a perfect state of nature, and so I can’t actually prove anything at all. I’m not seeking to end this debate, and so I don’t mind that much about the fact that EVE is not a perfect simulation of a state of nature. However, it does provide substantial proof, at least in my eyes, that Hobbes was ultimately correct—that in a state of nature, or at least an environment like a state of nature, humans will tend to break out into violence and discord.
So, the next time you kill a freighter in Jita and are met with accusations of being a horrible person, you can answer – ‘no, suicide ganking is inherent to human nature. Hobbes said so.’