The Medium is the Message


Header art by GuyonthecoucH.

Analyzing the rhetoric connected with EVE Online helps us place the major voices into perspective. Since EVE’s universe often mirrors the world outside of gaming, such an analysis can help us understand how people in general try to express themselves and how, in turn, we can best relate to them.  

Marshal McLuhan, a communication theorist, suggested that the “medium is the message.” He meant that the mode of communication–film, TV, print, speech–affects the content of the message in such significant ways that it actually becomes the message.  He later modified and expanded that idea with a pun:  “the medium is the massage.”  Here he meant that the medium massaged the message, transforming it. In today’s world we would refer to this as “spin,” as long as we realize that the medium IS the spin. In other words, every piece of communication gets spun – by the medium itself.

To exemplify this idea briefly, I note that you are reading this message on the website INN.

You expect a certain kind of message delivered on websites, as distinct from the messages conveyed in books or academic journals or radio talk shows or Twitch streams. Further, you must read these words, which means, in turn, you cannot interpret my tone of voice or see my facial features or body language. My “content” is limited in many ways because of the medium we have both decided to use in this transaction. This medium limits and shapes my message, it massages it, and “spins” it.  No matter what I may write, this content is on INN and you don’t come here without expectations, which in turn affects what you think you are reading, whether that expectation is met or not. In fact, over the past 20 years many consumers of news have lost the ability to distinguish news from opinion because of how some media present news. INN does present news, and it does present opinion, and it makes an effort to keep them separate, but your expectations coming to INN may not recognize that distinction.

Let’s now turn to some recent messages from EVE Online and see how the medium affects the message.

CCP Uses Two Media for Distribution Plan

First, look at the redistribution plan announced by CCP. We note that the actual announcement of the resource distribution came in an update on the EVE website. But, very shortly after releasing the update, the website information was supplemented with an Ecosystem Report livestream. Clearly, CCP thought the update release would leave capsuleers with many questions. Therefore, we saw two media being used to convey information, leaving us with competing messages. Again, note that the medium IS the message, so in this case we had two messages, not one. Just scheduling a livestream Q and A undercuts the initial publication of the update: we wouldn’t need a livestream if the update did what it was meant to do. 

When I first read the transcript of the livestream, I wondered what the ramifications were of redistribution and what CCP’s overall “plan” was beyond just this latest iteration in the “shortage” phase.  I read with interest the comments and “clarification” of Rattati and Psych, saying virtually nothing, being obtuse or even smarmy, in a livestream meant to clarify.

Let’s look at an extended example of how this medium fails to provide clarity. This passage comes from the transcript:

Caleb: “This might inspire me to add a question that is related to that, and that I didn’t write down but that a lot of the player base has responded with. They all mention that this is gonna hurt the little guy. It’s just that, as far as I can tell, that’s really not a valid argument, because when you see the way this whole thing landed when it comes to the mining price index, that really doesn’t fit with the little guy getting hurt, right? He’s actually getting sped up in terms of how he catches up. Could you comment on [whether] the redistribution will potentially either make that better, or make it even easier to acknowledge and feel as a new player?”

Psych: “So, this is one of the most difficult questions to answer, the little guy, and I’m not – I won’t agree nor disagree with your statement . . .

Let’s pause a moment. What has Psych said so far? Virtually nothing, but we wonder why he can neither agree nor disagree. The answer he’s providing doesn’t clarify, it muddies.  Continuing:

Psych: . . .but what I’ve said in the past is that what we’re messing with is macro scale, the goal we’re trying to achieve is macro scale, which means we have to look at everything with a bird’s eye view, which means the higher level of what is happening across the universe. 

Here, in a single sentence, Psych takes three tries at answering the question. The phrases “which means” shows him trying to clarify the  statement he just made. He does that twice. I contend that kind of response doesn’t clarify anything. Let’s finish his response:

Psych: That does have the pitfall that we might miss what has happened to the little guy, so I hear that, it’s not something that we shouldn’t be concerned about. As for the fact, if we’ve actually hurt them or not, we don’t really have any data that says yes, the little guy is hurt. And as you said, with the MER and with the indexes, it feels that no, actually everybody – the time spent mining, at least the last six months has increased the value for the income of the miner, of the single miner.”

So, in answer to Caleb’s rather simple question, Psych gives such an extended response, during which he clarifies multiple times, that I find it difficult to parse the answer. I think the answer is “No, this won’t hurt the little guy.” But if that IS the answer, why does Psych say at the beginning of his response that he can neither agree or disagree? I’m lost here. And I think that’s what the medium was designed to do: make redistribution and the future plans so convoluted that no one can even question what CCP is doing, because no one can understand it. The livestream served its purpose: take the “update” and complicate it beyond our ability to question CCP’s motives. You think this redistribution plan will be bad for the game? Well, you just don’t understand it. 

Mittani’s Use of Rhetoric

From the redistribution update we move to the rhetoric of several key figures in the current war. The Mittani’s rhetoric is filled with memorable and quotable phrases. His state of the Goonion was another example of rhetorical flourishes, with phrases like:

  • “An enemy so annoying that their every shitpost inspires us to put Hell March on repeat and reach for our Baltecs”
  • “that chapter of the Book of Grudges”
  • “Call it the Madness of Montolio:
  • “Midnight is nigh, and TEST is next”

Here we have a communicator very self-aware of his rhetorical choices, some of which are so over-the-top, like the last example, it takes on the overtones of what you might hear coming from the WWE rather than from WWB. It mixes both old-fashioned, archaic phrases like “Midnight is nigh” with street slang, “their every shitpost inspires us.” Shakespeare meets Snoopdog. The very contrast in rhetorical stances is highly amusing and entertaining. Perhaps, more than anything else, the medium allows for these flourishes, a bit like a guitar solo by Steve Vai – wow, that’s impressive, but what is the music saying here?

Vily’s Use of Rhetoric

I’m also entertained in a very different way by Vily’s rhetoric.  His approach to a speech is completely different from the Mittani’s approach; it loses almost everything by being transcribed or written out and posted on Reddit. Laced with four-letter words and delivered in a raucous and at times out-of-control style, his verbal delivery reminds me of present-day politicians or talk-show hosts like Alex Jones who deliver pronouncements with a lot of flash, using repetition and dramatic changes in pace and pitch.  While this rhetoric is entertaining, I find these techniques a bit disturbing, like watching a comedy bit by Andy Kaufman, who may well be a comic genius, but some of his comedy is hard to endure. Obviously, this is personal preference and says nothing about the quality of the communication Vily presents. 

Gobbins’ Use of Rhetoric

Of the recent pronouncements by leaders, I was most impressed with Gobbins’ Town Hall presentation.  Delivered in a matter-of-fact style, Gobbins opted for neither rhetorical flourish nor bombast. He used no memorable phrases, but worked very systematically through his speech, certainly working from notes, covering all the material, like a good teacher.  The presentation had no spark, but at the end you understood exactly where Horde leadership stood on the war effort and future plans. The very lack of flash was an interesting rhetorical choice, I thought.  The antithesis of cult-of-personality. Agree or disagree with Gobbin’s points, you at least clearly understood them and that delivery style, according to McLuhan, we can’t separate that from the content itself.

WWB as Rhetoric

Finally, the war itself is a kind of rhetoric. All the accumulated events of the war are another kind of medium. We have precedent for this. Heroes in movies will sometimes drawl, “I’ll let my guns do the talkin’.” Or in a martial arts film, instead of bragging to his opponent, Bruce Lee just motions forward slightly with his fingers.  Come on, he is saying, I’ll let my fists communicate with your face. So the war is another form of communication. 

The war is dragging out, a bit like The Return of the King, extended version no less. But along the way we’ve had moments of real tension and drama:  complete dunks and smashes, heroic timer defenses, tidi-laced slugfests, gate camps, Keepstars destroyed, Keepstars deployed. As of this writing, PAPI’s strategy, which has been called the Anaconda, has been more like playing a zombie game. PAPI moves very slowly, like zombies, but they just . . . keep . . . coming! Every week the blue bulge in Querious gets incrementally bigger.  The slow pace adds to the drama, like the difference between reading a short story by Stephen King and his mammoth novel The Stand. What we really need is a dramatic atomic bomb ending that makes B-R5RB look like a gate camp. We almost had it at FWST-8. Almost, but not quite.

So, In EVE these days we are hearing a lot of talking—not all of it verbal. CCP has their message in their media. Perhaps some brave soul on a certain wavelength can decipher it. The leaders of the factions have their messages: one proud, one loud, and the softest one you might want to give special attention. But perhaps the war itself speaks the clearest. We’ve all understood it: This isn’t over: not by a long shot.

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  • Simon Chui

    On Psych’s non-answer, I think it means CCP just hadn’t thought about how the mineral changes will impact actual players. They want the macroeconomics to be a certain way, they haven’t thought about whether it’ll be fun for the players. And maybe they’re right to do that, they often misjudge what players will do anyway. Might as well just see what happens.

    October 17, 2020 at 12:29 PM
    • Monasucks Simon Chui

      The only reason to do so for CCP would be if they want to sell mineral heavy ships for money. As they already sell the skills I think that comes next.

      October 17, 2020 at 12:58 PM
  • Caleb Ayrania

    Insert old MTV meme “Mailman” popping up screaming: “MESSAGE” 🙂 Great write up GreyDoc. I do wonder if you are subtly implying that the sanest and most factual voice mentioned in the above is actually Gobbins? Insert another 80/90ies meme, things that makes you go hmmm!?

    October 17, 2020 at 12:52 PM
    • Gray Doc Caleb Ayrania

      Well, my own medium is my message and I choose my words with care. I think you’ve read carefully too.

      October 17, 2020 at 11:05 PM
  • Moomin Amatin

    Phew what an article.

    Anyone who tells you that they can accurately predict the outcome of a complex system is likely misguided at best. Emergence is a thing. So I would like to think that CCP are hedging their bets and have mechanisms in place to make quick corrections as needed.

    For some reason people hate a singular truth. “Earth is flat”, “no it’s not”. “Water is wet”, “no it isn’t”. We all know the type I am sure. So no matter what there will always be more than “one truth”. This is not even getting into the stuff that people make up to support their special views on things.

    As for the alliance leaders. I tend to look at each one of those as a kind of product. Each group offering an identity and framework. More charasmatic leaders are likely to have more fun with the role.

    I would also say that the audience of the media are open to interpret it in different ways. For instance Mittens said “Fortress Fountain” once on an internal coalition weekly chat and it became gospel. But Vily gets to say “extermintation” very publicly and repeatedly and yet now that is being walked back.

    October 17, 2020 at 4:00 PM
    • Guilford Australis Moomin Amatin

      Everyone knows Earth isn’t flat. Asher once told me on a fleet that it’s either a hollow cylinder or taco-shaped, and I couldn’t see any reasonable counter-argument to that.

      October 17, 2020 at 4:58 PM
      • Moomin Amatin Guilford Australis

        Was this before he whispered sweet nothings into your ear whilst putting a jacket on you and telling you to pose a certain way before taking drugs?

        October 18, 2020 at 1:12 PM
  • Guilford Australis

    CCP also has a tendency to communicate significant information through informal channels like Reddit comments and Talking in Stations appearances rather than devblogs and official statements.

    In particular, I think of Matterall’s interview with Hilmar and Falcon in which they shared major, previously undisclosed details about their plans for the “Chaos Era,” including Hilmar’s statement that the intent was to bewilder players with frequent changes “some of which will be wildly unpopular.” Falcon stated, “If it was up to me, [EVE] would be a horrible, harsh, dark, dystopian nasty place where bad things happen… if it was up to me, EVE would be an absolute hellscape of terror and horribleness.” (The interview was controversial, and a massive decline in daily concurrent logins followed shortly afterward – leading to the entire “Chaos Era” being cancelled).

    To paraphrase the article, if podcasts and Reddit are the medium for CCP’s messaging, players aren’t going to take those messages very seriously because those are fundamentally unserious media. If CCP’s policy is to release information officially through devblogs, then that needs to be a consistent standard.

    October 17, 2020 at 4:55 PM
  • George Ewing

    Ever since I first saw this in draft form I’ve tried to find some way of agreeing with your premise that the medium used to transmit the message is, in fact, the message. I can’t. I disagree. Many mediums express disparate views even though they may be known for one view.

    Take a real world example. Fox News is known to be supportive of Trump, but interviews his detractors as well. So the pro-Trump medium is what message in that case?

    INN is operated by the Imperium, and has an enormous reputation as spin city, but employs writers from competing blocs who disparage the Imperium company line in their articles. The medium there is what message?

    October 18, 2020 at 1:55 AM
    • Moomin Amatin George Ewing

      I looked at it as being more of a “the medium used will be interpreted differently by different people”. This would mean that the medium does form an important part of the message. I hope that all made sense.

      October 18, 2020 at 11:39 AM