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Fiddler’s Edge: Spreadsheets in Space

February 9, 2014

In real life I do an excellent impersonation of a responsible adult.

While I don’t hide the fact that I play EVE Online, it’s not something I wear on my sleeve.  As a (ahem) mature player I am of the ‘analog’ generations. This is to say, I am old enough recall when vacuum tubes were the primary technology underpinning consumer electronics. 

‘Analogs’ tend to find MMPORGs (and social media in general) somewhat suspect and off-putting; life sinks that gobble up time and money that could be better spent on worthwhile real-life pursuits and persons.  Real adults, in the minds of many Analogs, don’t play in online worlds, particularity adults who wish to be trusted with responsibility. Online amusements involving spaceships, vampires or wizards are ‘kid-stuff’ and, even in that context, are suspect.

Mrs. Mord takes a fiendish delight in ‘outing’ me as an online gamer.

This usually occurs at social events during which some combination of economists,
lawyers, corporate execs or academics are chatting over drinks, and discussion
turns to the role of online worlds in the dissolution of our youth and the
overall decline of civilization.  Now, Mrs. Mord’s intent in such cases is not to embarrass me, but to challenge the established Analog orthodoxy regarding adults who play MMPORGs.  She, in effect, is presenting me as the exemplar of the responsible grown-up; as mature, accomplished and charming as anyone else in the room.  It’s really quite a lavish complement.

That, and she enjoys seeing me squirm.

However, it’s usually done in a good cause.  Most recently she outed me in order to engage the two youngest people at a New Year lunch; the sixteen and twenty one year-old son and daughter of a multinational VP.   The mother of these youngsters was lamenting the fact that her children were wasting so much of their lives online when they could be developing ‘real’ friendships, meeting the right kind of people, planning their futures, and in general shaking the dust of their digital childhoods from their shoes.

There may have been something said about the importance of fresh air and exercise too. I’m not sure. She went on for a bit and I sort of checked out.

The sixteen year-old had drifted into the thousand yard stare as well.  He managed to look attentive and well behaved while he did, which speaks to the rigor of his upbringing.  However he was present in the room only to degree minimally required by the parental rule of law.  His elder sister, being the principle target of her mother’s fears, was executing an impressive slow smoulder during the conversation.  Seems being disapproved of in the third person to a room full of boring old people was not a winning argument in favor of the ‘real’ world.

Suddenly Mrs. Mord found an opening.  “He plays EVE Online,” she said, nodding toward me.

The room went suddenly quiet.  Everyone looked a bit confused – most because they had no idea what EVE Online was.  But suddenly the conversation had moved onto to familiar terrain for the kids and they engaged with a will, explaining to the room what EVE Online was, what the ‘sandbox’ was, and doing a rather good executive summary of how EVE compared and contrasted with other MMPORG offerings.  The sister sat down next to her mother and launched into a fairly sophisticated and well informed explanation of EVE’s in game economy.

It lasted thirty minutes. Her mother looked daggers at me the whole time. 

In my responsible adult disguise I’m usually safely invisible to anyone under thirty. However, before they left, the sibs pulled me aside to talk a bit of MMPORGs in general and EVE Online in particular. They had both played it, the sister apparently on and off for a while. So I asked them why they didn’t keep with it.

“Spreadsheets in space,” said the sister.

“Those guys are assholes,” said the brother.

Which brings me to my point. 

The sister is graduating with a natural science degree. Math and stats is in her wheelhouse. The brother is a JV lineman on his high school football team. I’d call him six foot six and two hundred twenty plus pounds of solid muscle, and he faces off against equally big guys for fun.  She’s not afraid of running numbers and he’s not afraid of conflict. Neither are put off by the game’s complexity.

Yet, despite their obvious fascination with EVE Online, despite their being in the sweet spot of the gaming industry’s target demographic, they don’t want to play CCP’s game.

It’s nice that EVE Online is seeing a spike in player interest after all the publicity over recent
events in nullsec.  However, if past precedent holds, not many will be
engaged by the game and most will depart before too long.  CCP knows this occurs, but doesn’t seem to know why it occurs. 

CCP knows a lot about the people who self select into the EVE Online community.  However the answer to why players leave will not be found among the the players who stay. CCP needs to go outside the EVE bubble if they’re to find out why, beyond a relatively small and self-reinforcing subset of the gaming community, EVE is more interesting to read about than it is to play. 

– Mord Fiddle

About the Author: Mord Fiddle’s writings are an invitation to high tea in a world of rave parties. His readers gather at fiddlersedge.blogspot.com for thoughtful analysis, daring prose, deep insights, and Mord’s tendency to use words not writ nor spoken conversationally since Middle English went out of fashion.

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