Art by Major Sniper
For much of my gaming career I played a game called “Warhawk.” In the game you could fly and battle in a plane, and there was this item pickup that allowed you to cloak your plane if you wanted to sneak up on someone, or if you wanted to escape a terrible situation and avoid certain death. The cloak was super easy to use: click one button. Many people said it was “cheap” and “took no skill.” It was a way to avoid fighting “like a man” instead of “running away scared.” In sum, it wasn’t honorable.
In my early days of playing Warhawk I bought into the dishonor of using the cloak and tried never to use it. I was actually embarrassed when I did, even if it meant saving my skin. But later on I shifted my position. Ultimately I started caring less what other people thought. “Why die when I don’t have to?” I asked myself. After a long while I just cloaked my plane whenever I thought it necessary. I died less, I had more fun, and my name was popping farther up on the endgame summary screens; no regrets. I suppose my sense of honor had died. I decided that I’d rather live and win.
Honor and EVE
It is always fascinating to me the way gaming culture situates itself in relation to unwritten rules of combat conduct. EVE is no different than any other game in this way. There are certain words that highlight those places where our actions as an EVE community conflict with what many people consider dishonorable: backstabbing; scamming; renting, blue-balling and hell dunking. The fact that these words elicit feelings and attitudes in EVE players, though these attitudes may be different for different players, points to the interesting social values of the EVE community that go beyond simply “what can be done” in EVE. Indeed, they point to the question of “what should be done (or not done)” in EVE.
EVE has traditionally had a sort of dark reputation for being a sandbox where anything goes. If you can get away with it, whatever “it” might be, more power to you. Space is a cold place so don’t expect warm treatment. But the truth is that EVE isn’t that simple. There are things that parts of the community, though not all of it, thinks should be done and shouldn’t be done in EVE. Such are social rules, something all societies have as their cultures develop and evolve, and EVE is a very social game.
I want to look at some of the ways the EVE community both promote and resist concepts of honor, as well as look at some of the practices that put honor center stage.
Three Cheers for Honor
“All is fair in love and war” but not all is honorable. EVE historian Andrew Groen recounts how in the early days of EVE the corporation Evolution “became equal parts famous and reviled for its ‘hit and fad’ attacks. An Evolution fleet would show up, inflict as much damage as it could, and then disappear before the enemy fleet had time to gather. Evolution’s enemies mocked its perceived cowardice and unwillingness to commit to a full fight. Evolution mocked them right back for expecting warfare to be conducted like renaissance-era musketeers exchanging volleys in turn.” Who was right? I don’t know but there certainly is a case to be made for honor.
The Imperium has been making a case for honor during this war. One such case is by using the term “backstabbers” to describe TEST. Behind the name calling is a kind of ethic: battle and politics should be conducted a certain way. Treaties and alliances should be honored (no pun intended). Those who have helped you deserve to be helped in return. Those who have done you no harm deserve no harm. In essence, however chaotic EVE may be on the battle field, when corporations enter into contracts, alliances, and warfare it should be done in a certain way; corporations should follow a certain set of social rules.
Many PAPI members during the war have pointed at a history of Goon-sanctioned scamming practices to bolster their rhetoric that The Imperium is “bad” and must be eliminated. This also reveals a kind of ethic held by much of the EVE community: not all forms of making income are acceptable. Along these lines, Goons for a long time pointed a disapproving finger at groups like PL for their renting practices, though that finger mostly lowered when Goons later rented space themselves. You will still hear comments disproving of renting coming from a variety of places.
One INN author in an article highlighted the attitudes some people have for certain battlefield tactics used by in the current war: “For the Imperium, FCs and line members get to truly test their skills: punching up, out-manned and outgunned. Those who can win in these circumstances will have bragging rights. The alternative, of course, is to ‘hell dunk or blue balls,’ which is the current tactic from PAPI. For the more excitable types making a dash for the comments, this is not meant to be a slur, but rather a statement of fact.”
The author is quick to point out to say PAPI forces are “hell dunking and blue balling” is not meant to be a slur, but the fact that he has to do so illuminates the honor that is being breached in the minds of some players. One implicit assumption is that if a force wins via “hell dunks or blue balls” they forfeit bragging rights when victorious; victory is only “earned” when fights are even and when both sides commit to a battle they could possibly lose. One cannot miss the similarities of these sentiments to those that Evolution once mocked as “expecting warfare to be conducted like renaissance-era musketeers exchanging volleys in turn.”
An Honor-less Utopia
If all the rules of honor were followed what would EVE look like? Scamming would be socially forbidden and only committed by villains. Those who broke promises and peace treaties would be abhorred by all, prompting swift declarations of war by all neighbors to put down all oathbreakers with the EVE community flocking to protection of victims of deception. Wars would always be started with formal declarations presented early enough to get both sides prepared for the conflict. Once battles started happening on the ground they would only be conducted so that both sides had roughly equal combatant, during time-zones both sides had roughly an equal shot at forming populous fleets. No FC, out of respect, would engage in a fight in which the enemy could not adequately defend themselves: there would be no “hell dunking.” Bragging rights were earned though a trial of skill vs. skill; not handed brazenly to those whom mere circumstances favored at the time of combat. Many strategies of war would be allowed but none at the cost of an enemy’s ability to still have fun: even when defeated, no one’s game is to be ruined. This would be an honorable utopia EVE style.
Obviously, this is not how EVE is really played. Nor do many people believe it should be played according to the Honorable Utopia model. Indeed, there is another model: The Honor-less Utopia model. Grab your copy of any Ayn Rand novel because individual liberty is not to be hindered whatsoever; greed is good, social (or any) regulation is bad, and whatever gets you ahead is what’s to be done! Like me in Warhawk using my cloak, you can be honorable or you can live–you can conquer! “To recognize [an honor-less EVE] as a condition of life–that certainly means resisting accustomed value feelings in a dangerous way; and a philosophy that risks this would by that token alone place itself beyond good and evil.” –Friedrich Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil.
I was prompted to write this article after seeing an opinion which stated that PAPI shouldn’t have let the Imperium know that they were going to break the non-invasion pact. Instead, said this person, PAPI should have attacked with a massive surprise strike doing as much damage as possible and catching the Imperium completely off guard. I don’t think this person’s opinion represents the majority, but it has a certain logic to it. Why tell the enemy you are attacking? Why give them a chance to prepare? They will know they are at war soon enough. After all, its only a couple steps away from giving them your general’s war plans, allowing them to prepare for the whole war. The strong take what they want and the weak cry about it–cry about “honor.”
In my opinion the jury is out on honor in EVE. I find myself somewhat divided. I might be willing to accept without complaint an EVE where wars were not announced, or formerly declared, before combat. In that way I tilt towards the more “honor-less” class of thinking. And yet I find scamming intolerable and could never partake in it, especially when thinking about new players just trying to get their feet wet in a game that is hard enough to learn as it is, a game trying hard enough to retain new members. In that way I tilt towards an “honorable” class of thinking. I don’t think a particular EVE player or corporation is all “honor” or all “honor-less,” but divided up in different ways depending on the issue. And there are far more issues than the ones discussed in this article. The whole meta-game, something EVE prides itself in, has highly prevalent practices that I think are considered “honor-compromised”: propagandizing; spying; fighting another group at a time zone their players cannot populate to defend themselves; etc. Yet these very things make the game as rich as it is. Its all a mixed, muddied bag.
Since EVE is an incredibly social game, one of the most social I can think of, it makes sense that social rules and values will continue to be questioned, defended, upheld, or scoffed at. There is no “right” way to play, per se. But that doesn’t invalidate the social force of collective opinion. It is a little like arguing that the right of “free speech” means you can say whatever you want. You can. But that doesn’t mean people won’t think you’re a terrible person and won’t blow you up as fast as their keyboards and mouse-clicks allow. Or that The Mittani won’t kick you out of Goons during the Cultural Revolution.