Villains

2015-09-23

As humans, we naturally divide the world by dichotomies.  Good and evil.  Right and wrong.  Left and right.  True and false.  More often than not, these end up being laughably simplistic and utterly wrong, but we keep doing it anyways.

These generalities allow us to make conclusions about the world… there’s simply too much information to assess each piece independently.  Dichotomies are shortcuts.  And they allow us to cast ourselves in the mold of The Standard… the measure by which the world is gauged.  Is this person more or less moral than me?  We position ourselves at the center of the universe.  And that kind of makes sense… no one else’s perspective and experience matters as much to us as our own does; we’re stuck with it… it had better matter.

So, naturally, we always cast ourselves in the role of The Hero.  We are righteous.  We are just.  Our actions are the norm everyone else should seek to emulate.  Pair that tendency with the deceptive believe in universal truths (for instance, morality, justice, etc.), and you get a dangerous combination.

But this isn’t an article about The Hero.  This is an article about the importance of The Villain, and specifically the essential role villains play in Eve.

Villains Provide Us With Focus

“We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against.”

– Samuel P. Huntington

The simple truth about human beings is that we’re easily distracted.  Our attention falters, we lose sight of what matters.  We allow ourselves to focus on what is nearby, not what is important.  We rationalize this by saying, “That’s not going to affect me,” or “That’s in the future; I need to deal with the now.”

We need an Other to drive us forward, someone who threatens our happiness to spur us into action.  While we refer to humans as a Species of Action, we’re really a Species of Reaction.   History teaches us the cost of victory… too often, the winner of a great conflict collapses on its own because it simply has nothing to focus its efforts any longer.  It’s no surprise that the Roman Republic finally crushed Carthage around 150 B.C. and began its process of decay with Gaius Gracchus in 133 B.C.  Civilizations swing toward their ends after their greatest triumphs.

Villains present an existential threat that gives us a clear example of what we do NOT want to be, do, or believe.  They guide us to their opposite.  In many ways, villains have mastery over us simply by their existence… we cannot help but define ourselves by reacting to them.

I will give you a very personal, Eve example.  Many times, I’ve argued that Eve is a PvP game, that PvP is the central hub of the wheel around which all other elements of the game lay.  This is a polarizing opinion, and it generates rage among those who disagree with me.

But as much as some people may hate me for writing these opinions, I’m also sure that, after reading what I write, in their reaction to me, they understand their feelings much, much better.  Position defenses naturally make us think more about where we stand on an issue, and through the types of and content of arguments raise, we cannot help but think about our position and the reasons that led us to it.

Consider Walking In Stations… the Summer of Rage was one of the most intense outpourings of emotion Eve has ever experienced.  Players lashed out with fury at what they believed to be a misguided expenditure of time and resources.  Yet before WiS launched, none of that passion was there.  It was a reaction to a feature launch that they viewed as a betrayal of their trust.  CCP became The Villain, a lightning rod for rage.  And through the process, players that were upset defined the reasons for their frustration to such an extent that CCP was able to identify a remedy so successful that such an experience hasn’t happened since.  And the anger roused in players reminded them why they loved Eve in the first place.  Without becoming The Villain, CCP would not be the company that so skillfully handled adjustments to the null-sec sov changes.

The two most powerful urges among players are belief IN a thing and belief AGAINST a thing.  One stems from heroes, the other from villains.  Which leads us to…

A Hero is Only as Great as His Villain

When a Roman general would defeat another tribe, he wouldn’t kill the enemy leader immediately.  Instead, he would keep the leader alive, along with his finest warriors and the most splendid spoils, to walk in his Triumph, a victory parade through Rome.  Rarely (at least until the Civil Wars) was a triumph given.  The defeated enemy wouldn’t be dragged in chains, though.  Instead, he would be given his finest clothing, bathed scrupulously, and adorned with the finest jewels and armor he owned.  He would be dressed in all his splendor.  Then, at the end of the triumph, the defeated leader was strangled quite unceremoniously.

The point, of course, was to show the glory of the defeated tribe/people/country, with the implication that the triumphing general was even more glorious for having overcome such a powerful foe.  The Romans understood this simple fact: great villains define great heroes.

And, in the modern age, we realize that the very finest villains are, in reality, heroes from the perspective of the other side.  Temujin was a villain to Eastern Europe and China, but a hero to Mongolia.  Vlad the Impaler was deemed a monster to Western Europe and the Turks, but a savior to his people.  Hannibal Barca was a villain to Rome – so much so that the Romans pursued him mercilessly for years – but a hero to Carthage.

Understanding this, we have to be careful when we wish an end to our villains.  The Mittani, Pandemic Legion, CODE, The Marmite Collective, MiniLuv Gevlon… folks tend to call for them to leave the game or “stop ruining Eve.”  But we have to stop and ask ourselves… If we slay all of villains, what will we fight against?  What will motive us?  What will trigger our rage and vigor?  And most importantly, what will prevent us from losing our focus and becoming aimless?

Villains Improve Us

Struggle and hardship are the chief motivators of growth.  Every living creature seeks a personal equilibrium, and when it finds it, it remains at that state for as long as it can.  If it needs to take action, it acts to restore that equilibrium.  People are no different.  And villains provide plenty of hardship for us in Eve.

Just consider some of the comments that reflect this sentiment.  “If you want to start PvP, practice with T1 frigates, because you’ll lose a lot of ships.”  “They ganked my Iteron V with 2 billion of stuff in it.  Next time, I’m going to cut my cargo up into lower-value pieces.”  “I’m not paying CODE for anything.  I’ll just fit a tank on my mining barge.”

How many alliances failed the first time they owned sov?  How many people improved their market trading because of a scam?  How many CEOs failed the first time they tried to start a corporation?  How many corps improved their security after someone made off with a hefty theft?  Eve is filled with stories of people making huge mistakes exactly once, then improving the way they play.  Personally, just the other day I forgot to reposition my carrier’s modules and accidentally lit a cyno instead of a cloak.  I won’t make that mistake again.

Yes, the joke is that a PvPer isn’t killing you, he’s teaching you a lesson.  But the joke contains a kernel of truth.  Failure and disaster teach us more about how to succeed than success does; when we succeed, it’s hard to identify whether luck or skill was responsible.  But in failure, the causes are generally self-evident and brutal after a moment of self-reflection.

Villains are the finest and most valuable teachers we have… if we choose to learn from them.  They are unforgiving, skillful (else they wouldn’t elevate to villain status), and merciless… all of which are prerequisites for education.  And the very act of overcoming them demonstrates the degree of our improvement.  We are better than we would be without the challenge of a villain.

Villains Create Narrative

Think about yourself honestly.  How much would you value an Eve achievement if it was given to you?  Accomplishment and satisfaction require a delay between desire and achievement.  The struggle defines the value.  How many times have you struggled mightily for a thing only to lose interest in it shortly after achieving it?  There’s a reason, beyond the fact that you can’t dock, that supercarriers are called space coffins.  In a large number of cases, achieving a super or titan on a character is an immediate precursor of unsubscribing.

When CCP handed out one of each of the four Titans on the Singularity server, did you have a sense of accomplishment or any satisfaction from receiving them?  Or (more likely) did you simply play with them, watching them blow up out of curiosity and novelty than any sense of ownership.

The hunger for a goal is what drives us.  Villains provide an obstacle in our way, a human force that actively works to destroy all we created.  Yes, it is frustrating, but every time it pushes us down it sweetens our eventual victory.  And the story of our goals and the obstacles to our goals… that’s narrative, and it creates passionate engagement.  Narrative is responsible for long-term interest in Eve.

Any writers out there know that a story requires only a couple of key elements: a protagonist, a goal, and an antagonist that thwarts the protagonist (which doesn’t need to be an individual).  And the very best stories feature villains as antagonists who are the equal of (or superior to!) the protagonist as a worthy challenge.  For your Eve story to have meaning, it needs struggle and an enemy to overcome.  Only then does your accomplishment fill you with pride.

Bringing It All Together

Why is this topic so interesting to me?  I’m deeply interested in what motivates players to log in, particularly when the response to FozzieSov seems to fit into the, “Is that it?” category.  Sure, we have plenty of the road still to travel, but only by understanding what motivates players can CCP and the player base really define the destination that road should reach for.

One thing is certain: without villains, Eve is a lesser place.  I tend to frustrate people with my writing, and as a filthy, dirty pirate, I frustrate some people by my in-game activity.  I certainly view myself as playing the game “the right way”.  I’ll pay for newbies’ losses that I kill, along with giving them some advice.  I offer genuine appreciation for a good fight, regardless of who wins.  I honor 1v1s and ransoms.

But, on the other hand, I’m the antithesis of what high-sec PvErs view as heroes.  I have no interest in being the rising tide that lifts all ships, and I certainly believe players should be guided towards PvP and player interactions over all else.  I want to throw ping pong balls into a room full of mousetraps; to create chain reactions of players bouncing off each other.  I will kill any ship I come across.

But for every person who hates me for what I do, there’s another person who appreciates it.  Folks have commented that they love my blog as I pass through local.  Some mock me.  The people I’ve killed sometimes supply me with sweet, sweet tears, and sometimes thank me for sharing the fit I used in the post-fight convo.

I am a villain.  I am a hero.   I’m honest enough to know I’m both.

In some way, we’re all villains to someone, even the player who spends all his time minding his own business mining or missioning in high-sec.  But as frustrating as your villains may be, without them, Eve wouldn’t be as engaging or enjoyable to you.  So think carefully before you wish for an end to them.

This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Talvorian Dex.

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