The story of EVE Online is the story of New Eden, a star cluster untold light years away, and tens of thousands of years into the future. There are novels about New Eden, three so far, and news stories published and archived. There is an entire body of short fiction chronicles. News videos are released on YouTube, and a vast wiki exists to detail history and life in the New Eden cluster. It is a space opera in a classic sense.
Unlike books or movies, we players are not passive observers of the story. The story is instead experienced in the game by tens of thousands of players across the world all contributing to and participating in a singular event. Such a method of storytelling and art on such a scale and over a huge time, more than a decade now, is only made possible by the advances of the information age. The art and the experiences that we all share are real.
When EVE is done as a game, it will never be repeated; the story that we experienced will be finished and we will be left with nothing but memories.
For years, the fictional world of New Eden has been an escape for me as I laughed, cried, and loved in various role play personas. In the vein of idle escapism I went to the fictional solar system of Safizon in late August with the hope of being a part of something interesting and maybe fun. Instead, I was presented with an introspective of myself.
For weeks, the story had been building up a conflict between the Amarr Empire and the mysterious Drifters. There had been several battles, both between players and the Drifters, and between Amarr Navy ships and the Drifters. So, when the news stated that Empress Jamyl I was going to be unveiling the new Imperial Flagship on August 21st, the Imperial loyalist and Amarr-friendly role players took note. All of us, both in our in game personas and the players behind the screens, recognized that something big was going to happen.
The Amarr roleplaying bloc, along with plenty of others, had extensively planned and prepared for what was assumed to be an epic battle. Hundreds of Coercers were fitted and moved to the station in Safizon to respond in the event of a Drifter attack. The Amarr bloc’s out-of-character channel was at its fullest ever, over fifty players, with even seldom seen veterans returning to fly in an escort fleet. We had a number of logistics ships all chatting in the channel ‘All Reps on Jamyl’ and an impressive array of combat ships to back the logistics up. We thought that we would be ready for whatever happened.
Our best guess from reading the news articles lead us to believe that Jamyl would be undocking from the Safizon station in the new battleship, so that is where the fleet was set up. Logistics ships were in rep range from the station undock, and combat ships were scattered about in covering positions. So, there was considerable surprise in fleet TeamSpeak when Jamyl arrived over a hundred kilometers away in her Avatar. Even then, it was surprise, not worry. I even made the comment on coms “oh, no worries, she’s in her Avatar” and advised the FC, Aldrith Shutaq of PIE, to hold the fleet near the station to await the undocking of the battleship. I was overridden rightly, but as we would find out, irrelevantly. The fleet warped to her titan and we landed moments before the Drifters did.
One hundred Drifter battleships warped on the field. They all simultaneously fired their doomsday weapons at the EF Seraph. It died. The Drifters locked the pod. Jamyl Sarum died. There was a brief panic as more calm and rational people than I gave orders to try and scoop Jamyl’s corpse as the Drifters warped away to safety. To my knowledge not a single one of the fleet was able to even get a shot off. The hundreds of players that had gathered for an epic battle were ignored and left helpless to do anything.
I sat stunned behind my computer screen. I refused to believe what I had just seen. I think that I managed to murmur a “no” in meek protest to my screen in a helpless attempt to change the outcome. Twenty minutes later, I finally sorted out my emotions and realized that I had felt this way before. Empress Jamyl I had been killed in EVE’s version of an improvised explosive device (IED) attack. I did not really have to think hard about it; the memory is seared into my mind.
On a warm winter’s day south of Fallujah, Iraq, my section was out patrolling the roads and small towns while we shuttled around the commander of the infantry company we were attached to. Like most of my time in Iraq, it was dominated by monotonous routine. This was after the Battle of Fallujah and before the surge in 2007. Most of the recklessly brave insurgents had been killed at the Battle of Fallujah; the cunning ones mostly were laying low. Mostly, I said. Their preferred method of attack was roadside bombs, random mortar and rocket attacks, and the shoot-and-scoot ambush.
One minute, I was looking at a perfectly good M1A1 Abrams tank. The M1A1 was much better armored than my vehicle, with more tonnage in armor than my vehicle weighed in total. It was sleeker, more dangerous, and better protected than anything else in Iraq. Whenever we had tanks with us, I felt really, really safe. As one of my instructors in training had pointed out, tanks are the champions of the battlefield, a modern day mechanized Achilles or Leonidas. Truth be told, I was a little jealous of the tankers.
One explosion later that perfectly good M1A1 tank was a wreck. The tracks were horizontal, turret slewed, packs and other gear blown all around, hatches torn open. There is nothing to do in that case. The standard operating procedure is to provide security in case the IED is followed up with an ambush, but no one ever did. None of the insurgents left would dare to attack US Marines in an open fight. The only other thing to do was to get the dead and wounded out of the tank and call the CASEVAC (casualty evacuation) helo. Word was passed from person to person asking for a poncho to wrap the young Marine’s body in. I felt helpless, unable to do anything while Marines died around me. I did not even have enemies to fight.
This would be the start of a lifelong battle with depression and PTSD. It would be fair to say that this is what drives my escapism and my escapism had just brought me back full circle with myself. For a moment I was back in the desert, a young Marine desperate to do something, anything, to turn back the clock just a few minutes and change what just happened. I was also a fictional Amarr bishop far away and thousands of years in the future, desperate to do something, anything, to change what had just happened.
PTSD is a peculiar thing sometimes. Things that one would think to cause a flashback do not. Then some things, like a ship exploding in a science fiction game that bears no resemblance to actual combat, elicit some of the strongest reactions. In the time since that day south of Fallujah, no event had evoked such a strong reaction as the death of Jamyl. As a result, I was driven to deconstruct and understand what just happened and what made EVE different from other forms of fiction and even other video games.
Fiction is an excellent way to explore the human condition by allowing the author and reader to distance themselves from their own experiences. Science fiction has been at the forefront of this since its inception, exploring themes that would be much too touchy for a present day story. Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played the original Uhura, once famously told Gene Roddenberry that his Star Trek episodes were ‘morality plays.’ Science fiction is also said to hold an element of hope, however bleak, because it promises the reader that, however grim it may become, humanity does indeed have a future.
Isaac Asimov once said, “individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today — but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.” There are plenty of those blinder critics that play EVE. They dismiss the story. They dismiss the few role players left in EVE. In all fairness to them, it is possible to play EVE without actually interacting with the storyline except on a superficial level. However, as science fiction, the collaborative story of New Eden is as important as the classics as we imagine the future, explore ourselves, and our humanity.
EVE explores a number of themes of the human condition from the safe distance of the future and a humanity removed from our own. It explores religion, slavery, racism, corruption, power, abuse, freedom, anarchy and still more in a mostly realistic sense. Some of the official authors are guilty of lèse-majesté with regard to the source material, such as ex-CCP Tonyg. However, the majority of the people that work on the storytelling aspects of the game do take their responsibilities as artists seriously.
I enjoy science fiction; I have read from Asimov to Zahn and as much in between as I could. I also enjoy writing my own stories, so it was natural that I would gravitate to the small role play community in EVE. I had a few missteps at first while I learned the rules of EVE roleplay the hard way, but after shaking myself out, I have found that exploring the fiction and by extension the human condition is just as rewarding to me as the actual gameplay. I enjoy flying in fleets with my alliance, but I enjoy immersing myself into a story just as much. For five years, I have played many roles in EVE, in different factions and ways, but my heart is Amarr.
The Amarr have a rich story-line with fascinating history, motivation, and characters. Theocratic and hierarchical, their culture is a joy to explore and is easily believable. To me, they are the faction with the greatest verisimilitude. I have played the upper levels of nobility, to the slaves that served them, to the devout priestess and enjoyed every second of it. It was in this role that I, as Bishop Alizebeth Amalath took to the stars to defend my Empress. It is in this role that I weep for Jamyl.
It is easy to say on the surface that EVE provoked such a reaction because it is interactive and ‘I was there.’ There is some truth to this, though other video games do not evoke the same reaction from me. I will happily play the latest Call of Duty or Battlefield and kill whichever enemy that the game declares to be bad. On a broader front, I watch war films like American Sniper, which was actually about Iraq, or Generation Kill, or Band of Brothers, or Fury and eat popcorn the whole time. Reading books like “One Bullet Away,” by Cpt. Flick, USMC, or even broader military science fiction like Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” elicit a response, but never as strong as the one I felt in the aftermath of Jamyl’s death.
The deaths of companion characters in other video games have never bothered me terribly much, even in games that are much more similar to the events of my past. EVE is different. EVE is unique. Other video games emulate cinema. In fact, the word ‘cinematic’ is a selling point of some of the big AAA titles. EVE, though, at its core, is a play, though it does draw from other genres of storytelling as well. There are news articles and books to read. There are movies to watch, notably The Scope videos, and there are paintings and pictures to view. All of these tell the story of New Eden in a combined synergistic manner. However, of all the different forms of art, at its most pure, EVE is a stage play and one that will only play out once.
Plays are rather different from other forms of storytelling. Any play is a self-contained singular event. While the script might have been performed hundreds of times in hundreds of places, anyone viewing that particular performance experiences something unique. The actors on stage will never deliver their lines quite the same again, and the audience will never be the same. If EVE is remade a hundred years from now in the year 2115, the players gathered in Safizon for the Empress will not have the same experiences we do. The old metaphor of never being able to step into the same river twice is apt.
Other forms of art are static. One can view the same painting in the same way as anyone else, separated in time and space and then go back and do it again later. Films remain the same. Books can be reread again and again. When did Dizzy Flores die in “Starship Troopers?” Was it in 1959 when the book was published or 1993 when I read it the first time? Perhaps, Dizzy died in 1997 when the film came out, though he looked very shapely and had a much too high voice. Maybe he is not dead, but still alive, waiting for me to dust my copy off and start again at chapter one.
This phenomena is shared amongst all the other forms of art or storytelling that one can care to think of. Captain Miller will still be alive to assault the beaches at Normandy in Saving Private Ryan. The Mona Lisa will always be smiling. Romeo will always fall in love with Juliet. The story that is EVE Online, though, is a singular event, never to be played out again that I experienced and participated in, not observed. The show goes on and Jamyl is dead. I can remember the time that I flew with her, but I will never experience it again. That is why I feel an immense sense of loss. She died on August 21st, 2015, not just on some arbitrary date in the far future. It left an impact that forced me to deal with myself.
It was the choices I made, the role I immersed myself in, the part that I played that lead me to a point in cyberspace called Safizon. EVE is real, even though it is fiction. The emotions, the experiences, the feelings that it evokes are all real. In trying to understand the why of my reactions, of causality of a very unrelated game event to my own experiences and post traumatic stress, I have had a real journey into the human condition, to explore myself through the detachment of my character, and that might just be the most meaningful experience that I have had in EVE Online.