This is the first in a series of introspective articles commemorating the upcoming EVE ONLINE’s tenth aniversary on May 6th. Feel free to send yours
In an effort to maintain the principles behind a “sandbox” game, has CCP Games allowed anonymity to create an online society devoid of compassion and other traditionally socially acceptable behavior? In an environment where new players are routinely scammed, blown up, deceived and robbed, how can this sandbox survive the test of time or gain new blood needed to change the stagnate game it’s become. In an age of game play where masses of players resort to organized, risk-averse war gaming, what future is in store for Eve Online players?
The worldwide web has made critics of us all. It’s no different within Eve Online. Players able to hide behind a cloak of anonymity in game chat channels and forums have created an environment for hatred, sexism and bile. Some trolls, a term for forum users who do nothing but post incendiary comments to entice arguments or inflame discussions, have become nearly as famous as the forums to which they attach themselves, in a curious, parasitical kind of relationship. It’s a trick, really – the less players feel they will be identified, the more uninhibited they tend to be. The big problem for Eve Online and new players is that these anonymous players and forum trolls create a kind of pack mentality, and comments quickly become a one-note invective. Potential new players who see this interaction want nothing to do with the community of Eve and many avoid the game altogether.
Psychologists call this behavior “deindividuation.” It’s what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed. Such as those of people posting from behind character names from within a game. In today’s technologically focused world, digital media allows an almost unlimited opportunity for willful deindividuation. Today’s social media almost require it. A great example of this could be found within the community of World of Warcraft.
A few years ago, World of Warcraft made an attempt to curtail this attitude of posting whatever anyone wanted regardless of how it hurt someone else. Blizzard Entertainment attempted to implement a policy which would require people use their real names on message forums. This shift in policy failed in a sulfuric ball of flaming pitch, leading to the personal information of several WOW team members being posted to the general public. One of the reasons they backpedaled on this decision, was due to players feeling they’d be singled out for real life retribution for how they’ve posted in the past. The thought of someone being able to track down real world information, to include where you work and live, instilled a fear the information could and would be used and real violence and criminal activity would result. The idea had the trolls scared and angry.
However, the implications of those liberties given users whose true identities are concealed, provide the perfect storm of what Eve Online’s community has turned into. Anyone can view an example of this by visiting Eve official forums, Reddit, Something Awful, Test Alliance forums, Goon forums, or other major alliance private forums or just about any Eve related social outlet where trolling can be viewed first hand. Or by simply scroll down this page and read the comments. Heck, just create an account and hop into game and watch the local chat channels if you want to experience Eve hate first hand.
One effect of “deindividuation” is a polarization within groups in which like-minded people typically end up in more extreme positions because they gain credibility by exaggerating loosely held prejudices. You can see that in the users trying to outdo one another with pejoratives about rape cages, carebears, the term “Jew” (referred to those who make money in game), or the racist epithets in postings, propaganda graphics and YouTube videos. This has the effect of shifting norms: extremism becomes acceptable. The utopian tendency is to believe social media pluralizes and diversifies opinion; most of the evidence suggests that it is just as likely, when combined with anonymity, to reinforce groupthink and extremism.
Players prefer to hide behind anonymity. People tend to be good, but internet anonymity makes it easier for a person to act like a tool because there are few to no reprisals. Which begs the next question; is the internet poster a good person that acts like a tool because of anonymity, or is the internet person a bad person that only acts good in face-to-face social environments? The internet allows people to operate without a filter. But can deindividuation also be interrelated to what is now commonly referred to as cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying has been defined by The National Crime Prevention Council: “When the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.”. Some readers may remember a case of this during last year’s Fanfest for which CSM Mittens was banned from the game for 30 days. community.eveonline.com/devblog.asp?a=blog&nbid=28575. Now he says he was just making “suicide jokes.”. Not many people found it funny, especially not CCP. And the legal implications of if the guy actually went and did off himself because of in-game harassment? We won’t even tinfoil on that subject, but the potential implications are not pretty. Even before this incident, the The Mittani used the CSM title to help scam people out of their capital ships by posing as a trusted middle man to manage the exchange of ISK and ships. This environment and community was nurtured and fostered from the beginning by CCP and it nearly bit them in the ass when The Mittani let his liquor get the better of him. A prime example of the Something Awful quasi-racist forum-troll culture spilling over into the “serious business” of internet spaceships. With CCP’s reputation on the line and Sony looking on as a future business partner, of course they had to throw The Mittani under the bus! A leader of biggest single unified group of players in Eve Online, advocating on live media, for players-at-large to harass someone in game until that person killed themselves. I don’t know a sane business man that would want to sign that agreement.
In a study by Kean University: Cyber-bullying occurs when a person is bullied, harassed, humiliated, threatened, embarrassed, or targeted in some way by another person. Cyber-bullying is much like traditional playground bullying where there is name calling and someone is getting picked on, except cyber-bullying is done through the use of the internet, cell phones and other forms of digital technology. In order for it to be categorized as cyber-bullying, the intent must be to cause emotional distress (tears?), and the methods of cyber-bullying are limited only by imagination or access to technology. Cyber bullying can be something as simple as continuing to send an e-mail to someone who has said they want no further contact with the sender, but it could also include threats, sexual remarks and hate speech. Not unlike what we see today in chat channels and game forums for Eve Online.
There is no way to tell what the future has in store for Eve Online. However, it could be said that unless something is done about the community CCP has fostered and built in the name of “sandbox” gaming, it is likely just a matter of time before something more serious than threatening someone’s life in the real world occurs. Is this the thing keeping Eve Online from being the power house it could be? The vocal bitter old Vets creating and maintaining a socially unacceptable environment. What will CCP do about it or is this the community they had in mind when they released the game?