Personas, Propagandists, and Backstabbers

2020-12-14

Header art by Quendan Comari

This is the second article in a series that details EVE’s past history, seeking analogous situations to things happening now in New Eden. The first article dealt with the Seige of C-J6MT. This one focuses on the war between Evolution and the Venal Alliance back in 2003, the earliest days of EVE. A number of interesting aspects of warfare came to light then that are still present today.

For my understanding of EVE history, I use Andrew Groen’s fine book Empires of EVE: A History of the Great Wars of EVE Online, Lightburn Industries, 2015, particularly chapters 3-5. I recognize that Groen’s work is not the final authority on events in EVE Online. Some of you reading this article may recollect things differently than they are presented here and in Groen’s book. 

One of the problems the historian faces is that people remember things differently. Even our memories may “spin” actual events. So, if my presentation of events differs from your understanding and your memory of these same events, feel free to make comments and include evidence that demonstrates where this article misses the mark.

Personas

Evolution was an alliance before the game even officially launched. A group of players came from the game Homeworld into the Alpha version of EVE Online. They stayed together, formed an alliance and continued playing through the Beta version of the game. The dominant personality during the early formation of Evolution was SirMolle, a repair service representative by day, but a space czar at night. SirMolle loved stirring the pot and being the center of attention. He grew into his own gaming persona that he had created for himself: the powerful warlord whose word was law. His visions of the future reached over all New Eden. Even during the Beta he became a controversial figure, as he once got banned for viciously upbraiding a game designer and calling for him to resign – either a courageous act or the ravings of a lunatic, depending on your point of view.

When the game was actually released, Evolution disbanded and re-formed: they had evolved, having cast off less useful members they considered detritus. While Evolution was a small corp, they had excellent organization and this stunningly powerful leader in SirMolle. He dreamed large dreams of total space domination.

Propagandists

Another group that formed very early after the game’s release was composed of various ragtag pirate groups that had been operating out of Venal, but which were pulled together by Jade Constantine, of Jericho Fraction, a corp primarily interested in trading. They were later joined by Taggart Transdimensional, a powerful bunch of miners and industrialists, who were brought together by their love of Ayn Rand’s theories. Together, they created the Venal Alliance, which dominated their area of space. The most powerful and dominant person in that organization, at least in the early days, was Constantine, a master propagandist (Jade Constantine was the persona of a male player. For continuity purposes, I’ll refer to her with the pronouns “her” and “she,” following Groen’s lead). Constantine believed that the ability to shape a narrative during war played as important a role as combat skills and understanding fits. She frequently contributed to the EVE forums and published weekly essays thundering her point. She believed that Venal should remain a freeport system and that northern nullsec should be open to all, a kind of haven where new players, neutrals, even enemies were welcomed to come and trade, with everyone becoming wealthy in a kind of capitalistic free-market Utopia.

SirMolle had a problem with that vision, in that it conflicted with his own desire to stir the pot. Evolution was looking for trouble and decided to come after Taggart Transdimensional, a corp with which they had conflicted in the past. SirMolle tried to provoke a war, by bribing groups to say they were attacked unfairly by Transdimensional (a blatant lie), but he couldn’t get these groups to bite. Eventually, he just declared a kind of holy war. In his casus belli he declared the crimes of Taggart Transdimensional. SirMolle said they were guilty of:

Paying known pirates ISK for hits on Evolution. 

Supplying same pirates with Ships/Equipment. 

Withholding information and blatantly lying.

Groen, A. Empires of EVE: A History of the Great Wars of EVE Online. Kindle Version

None of these charges were true, but that didn’t matter to SirMolle, who was able to convince, or strongarm, the pilots in his corp to believe that they were now engaged in a righteous war of “annihilation.” Evolution moved north and began attacking Venal Alliance, and they intially rolled up almost everything in their path.  

But Jade Constantine continued publishing and posting; her propaganda made a difference: come help create a free north, she said. We are besieged by power-hungry warlords and all we want is peace and prosperity. Her message lit many fires, and soon Venal Alliance was being given aid in the form of money, materials, and ships, much like the U.S. giving the UK war materiel with the Lend-Lease Act. But just as importantly, entire corps began to join what they perceived as a righteous cause. Venal Alliance’s early losses became fewer and less costly and eventually, the war became a bit of a stalemate.

SirMolle, not wanting to admit defeat, sought another solution. He parlayed with Constantine and suggested that if she were just to cut Taggart Transdimensional loose from Venal Alliance, so that he could destroy them, he would leave all other entities in Venal in peace. They could go about their business. The question, then, became: would Constantine backstab Taggart. She brought together the other CEOs of participating corps and called for a vote.

It was a complicated question, because Taggart had not been showing up for fights: they were miners and industrialists primarily, not interested in combat. Some other corps in the alliance already thought Taggart weren’t pulling their weight, so cutting them loose made sense politically, if not ethically. The vote was close, 6 in favor of continuing to defend Taggart, and 5 dissenters. It looked as if Taggart had dodged a bullet, due in large part to Constantine not accepting the offer to backstab them.

Then, the almost unthinkable happened.

Backstabbers

As soon as the vote was finished, up stood a spokesperson for Ragnar, the leader of Taggart, who declared that Taggart was placing a 100 million ISK bounty on Jade Constantine and declared war on the five corporations that had just voted against them. Civil War ensued. Venal Alliance was DOA and reformed from the nine remaining corps into the New Venal Alliance. Taggart declared all of Venal to be theirs, and, since they weren’t much for fighting, joined forces with a couple pirate groups that would supply the meat shield. They gave themselves a new name: Northern Alliance.

Evolution sided with New Venal Alliance and supplied them with materiel. Jade Constantine worked overtime, writing about her righteous cause and the untrustworthiness of Northern Alliance, a group composed of backstabbers and hated pirates. Pilots flocked to her cause, but it was difficult to land a knockout blow, because Northern Alliance was rich and could easily replace lost ships with their mining and industry. But one new corporation stood out in the New Venal Alliance – Reikoku. They began unconventional warfare, and started suicide ganking Northern Alliance trade routes and miners. They became expert at it. As the days went by, Northern Alliance found it more and more difficult to replace lost ships and continue the war effort. Eventually, Ragnar, the CEO of Taggart, stepped down and his successor declared all hostilities at an end. In effect, they quit and unhooked themselves from their pirate pets. So ended this long EVE war, wherein we saw the rise of personas, propagandists, and backstabbers.

But what lessons might we learn from this EVE history? It’s a fascinating story with some interesting characters, but what does it tell us about the game now?

While the mechanics of the game have changed a great deal from 2003, human nature has not changed. Human motivations remain the same.  People still have the same fundamental needs and desires. So, we won’t look to this history for information about ship fits or battle plans. Let’s look to understand human nature.

First, personas: Now, as then, we have some larger-than-life people in the game and these characters often bubble up to the surface during times of war. They will be the loudest voices: our versions of SirMolle, Jade Constantine, and Ragnar. I don’t think we have far to look before the “usual suspects” come to mind, but I leave this to you to fill in for yourselves. The point is not the who, but the why. Some people create a game persona and then find they grow into it. Perhaps this persona is but an aspect of their actual personality that, for one reason or another – such as international laws and moral codes – doesn’t get opportunity offline to be expressed.  But online is another matter. As Oscar Wilde puts it, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” In contrast to his offline life, SirMolle online wanted power and control and in-game he could assert it. People followed SirMolle and Ragnar. They led their followers to their own undoing, but they had no trouble getting people to aim their ships at the enemy, like lemmings headed for the cliff. Obviously, one thing we can take away from this is that dynamic personalities need followers and some people want to be controlled so they don’t have to think much for themselves.

Next, propagandists: We should never underestimate the importance of the narrative in wars. Jade Constantine mastered the art of persuasion. She had people joining her cause, both before the Taggart backstab and after, because she could frame her narrative. Today we would call in “spin,” but it’s not spin exactly. That doesn’t fully catch the nuance, for “spin” has the implication of fabrication, of making up facts, of obfuscating to throw sand in the eyes of the reader. “Narrative” doesn’t imply any of that. It’s the art of clearly stating a point so that people can decide for themselves. It’s rhetoric, in the classical sense of that word. In WWB we have people spinning like mad and people calling out the spin-meisters. We have very few people who are practicing rhetoric. Telling the truth is not the same as spinning and we should never confuse the two, no matter how many pundits scream it from our TVs. Read the stories and read the spin and think for yourselves. This war is about something. Is it content only? Is it extermination, or not? Is it just for laughs? Don’t wake up in four months, with the war now over, and the map realigned, and say, “Did we really go to war to do that?” Read the motivations of the CEOs. Analyze the SOTAs and the talk show dribblets.

Finally, backstabbers: Ragnar, what a guy. His corp, Taggart Transdimensional in some ways brought war down upon the heads of everyone in Venal Alliance. Yet, the Taggart pilots draft-dodged the battles. They let others do the fighting for them and when they backstabbed the rest of their alliance, they were actually the strongest corp remaining, in part because they were fresh. Everyone else was worn down from the long previous struggle, but not Taggart Transdimensional. They timed the backstab perfectly, too. It caught everyone in Venal Alliance by complete surprise. And they almost got away with it.

In World War Bee we’ve seen a few backstabs so far. I won’t name them. Do your homework. Treasuries have been looted; corporations have flipped.  But none of these minor affairs compares to the Taggart backstab. We’ve yet to see that. Because war . . . war never changes. What motivates the backstabber? That’s hard to say. Why did Ragnar choose to backstab the organization that had just voted to continue fighting for his corp rather than kicking it to the hungry dogs? Perhaps he didn’t like that a vote was taken at all. Perhaps the ultimate insult was that he found himself in a vulnerable position and his ego couldn’t stand the hurt.

Feel free to write comments and provide your own theories. You can also write entire stories if you prefer. We welcome contributions and dissenting voices.

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Comments

  • Simon Chui

    Wow, those sure sounded like more innocent times, and more naïve. Freeports, lol. And having an open vote on whether to completely screw an ally? Such unfounded faith in democracy and human nature. Libertarianism is a romantic dream that never survives for long in reality; humans are too flawed to live up to the ideal. At least use secret ballots so nobody knows who is screwing who.

    Did SirMolle really need to make up bullshit reasons to start a war? You go to war because you’re bored and you want to blow stuff up, that’s all it is. If you need to convince yourself that your enemies are bad people, and that you’re better than them, then you’re already making a mistake. Actual good people turn the other cheek and die on a cross.

    December 14, 2020 at 12:36 PM
    • George Ewing Simon Chui

      There are many who play this game (such as myself) who need a reason to go to war. We take on the role playing aspect of an MMORPG and immerse ourselves in the sandbox. From that point of view, the notion that we are ‘bored and … want to blow stuff up’ is ridiculous, though I recognize that many people treat EVE like that. Doing so, in my opinion, removes the most valuable aspects of the game. It becomes, then, just a mindless place that has no structure or purpose. Not worth playing, in other words.

      December 14, 2020 at 1:08 PM
      • Simon Chui George Ewing

        My position is, if a person needs some justification to go to war, then they should never start a war, because starting wars is never justified. That doesn’t mean you never go to war, because other people, who don’t need justifications, will eventually attack you because they just want to blow stuff up. I can respect good guys who don’t attack others for entertainment, and I can respect bad guys who do. I can’t respect anyone using lies to justify starting a war.

        So, basically, I don’t respect TEST, I do respect PanFam in that they honestly just grr goons, and the Imperium needed no lies to find themselves in the middle of the biggest war ever.

        December 14, 2020 at 9:29 PM
      • J Moravia George Ewing

        I think the vast majority of EVE’s players need a reason to go to war – and some of them will simply *never* go. Even the battle of X47L-Q, one of the largest fights in the history of EVE, involved barely 10% of Goonswarm’s 30,000 pilots. EVE’s playerbase is notorious for skewing older than most games[1] and it’s a proven fact [2] that people lose their taste for competition in gaming as they age. “Let’s just blow stuff up” is less and less compelling to people who have jobs and families and (for many of EVE’s players) grandkids and retirement hobbies.

        [1] https://www.engadget.com/2015/01/07/ccp-shows-historical-player-age-distribution-in-eve/
        [2] https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2019/01/tales-of-an-aging-gamer-why-dont-i-pick-up-a-controller-as-often-as-i-used-to/

        December 15, 2020 at 1:42 AM
    • Gray Doc Simon Chui

      In reading Groen’s book, I was struck by how different the culture of EVE is now as compared to when EVE was new–the first couple years after release. Yeah, I would say most players and almost all alliances had an honor code they lived by and they needed a reason to go to war. SirMolle evidently felt he had to lie about the reasons for going to war so that he would have the support of his troops. He framed it as a holy war of sorts. Even these days, in 2020, I think people are being deceptive about the reasons for the current war. It’s a land-grab for some people and has been from the start. The “framing” that this war was anything else has been to deceive people that Goons are “bad for the game,” etc. So, I think deception still seems either necessary or preferable for some.

      December 14, 2020 at 3:01 PM
      • Simon Chui Gray Doc

        It is human nature to want to be the good guys. Unfortunately, it is also human nature that many people will lie to themselves so they can feel like they’re the good guys, when they’re really not. It’s a cruel thing to find out you’ve become the thing you hate, and even crueller if you never find out.

        December 14, 2020 at 9:37 PM
        • Gray Doc Simon Chui

          Excellent reply and I love the maxim at the end.

          December 14, 2020 at 10:21 PM
    • Noob Simon Chui

      Not for nothing, but it was quite some time ago. Less than five years previous to this story the whole world was shitting itself waiting to see whether computers would be able to function in a society that said it had existed for more than 1,999 years.

      It really was a more innocent time. It wasn’t just true that games like Eve didn’t exist – games like Eve HADN’T existed because they COULDN’T.

      People guided their behavior by the ethics they used in the real world because that was all they knew. And then they adapted and learned to be absolute and utter assholes to each other a little later. Bad currency replaces the good and all that jive.

      December 18, 2020 at 11:15 PM
  • Noob

    There is a subtle beauty to the fury glowing deep within this exquisite butthurt.

    Like an undigested kernel of sweet corn glistening proudly amidst a freshly lain turd.

    December 18, 2020 at 11:03 PM