Failing In So Many Ways


Liang Nuren – Failing In So Many Ways

Social Contracts and Political Maneuvering in Eve Online

I believe that the recent drama relating to The Mittani is an example of Eve Online’s social contracts and political maneuvering in action.  I think it’s important to explore these before setting it all aside and fortunately there was an extremely interesting follow up [blog] written by almost-Doctor John Carter McKnight, a 4th year PhD student at Arizona State University.  His particular focus is on emergent governance in online communities, so it wasn’t particularly surprising when he talked quite a bit about Eve Online and Second Life.   Amusingly, he appears to hate them both.

In his blog post, he calls Eve Online and Second Life the last of the “magic circles” and refers to them as “fairy lands” where players believe in game rules completely supercede real life rules.  Real life laws just don’t apply when in game.  He makes an interesting analysis of the controversy surrounding The Mittani, but I believe his domain knowledge and underlying analysis were flawed and this lead him to a less than perfect conclusion.  In his blog post, he states the definition of what he calls “circle jerks” (he appears to be ignorant of the term’s actual definition [wikipedia]) and goes on to characterize the community of Eve Online as such:

In short, the elements of the circle jerks’ genetic code are:

  • a belief that when you sit down at a computer (game), you’re entering another country
  • that country’s denizens have sole jurisdiction over what is or isn’t permissible behavior
  • that country’s denizens can perform “extraordinary rendition” on anyone, any time, because their laws and customs are superior

Look back at that bullet list above. This – and this thread is far from unique; it’s one of the core tenets of the whole griefer/ganker realm – isn’t just circle-jerkery. It’s not just saying, “we suspend real-world law and morality here in favor of our own.” It’s “the laws and customs inside our fairy forcefield trump the law and morality of the ‘outside world.’” It goes beyond “destroy your game roleplay character or digital persona in a fit of pique” to “you, specific real-world person with suicidal ideation, should act on it.”

The world turns inside out: the circle jerks would see game rules (primarily emergent social norms rather than Monopoly-like rules) trump real world rules*.

Speaking as a trained anthropologist chock-full of postmodernism and cultural relativism, I can say professionally, that’s fucking nuts.

*I see Anonymous, WikiLeaks and the various Facebook/Twitter revolutions not as cultural imperialism by circle jerks, but folks with real-world ideologies and agendas using digital tools to advance them – which, IMO, is how the tech should be used – no fairy forcefields to be found.

In his rush to lampoon the community of Eve Online as a “circle jerks” in a “magic circle”, he claims that we believe that real world rules do not apply in game and that we believe its perfectly acceptable to do things in game which would result in dire consequences in “real life”.  That is to say that he claims most of us believe that The Mittani’s words were fine and justifies this by pointing at the “plenty of people” who were saying there was nothing to apologize for.  At this point, I believe his analysis fails on two points, despite 4 years in a PhD program studying “emergent governance in online communities”.

My first point is that he doesn’t accurately understand the social contract of Eve Online.  He claims that we believe in game rules trump real life rules to their near total exclusion.  At the risk of falling prey to what almost-Dr. McKnight would call a “magic circle” and becoming a “circle jerk”, I’m going to say I’m in favor of drawing distinctions between what is real vs what is not real.  This seems to be the most realistic and sane response to any situation – from night terrors and fear of the dark to fiction and even to games.  In fact, I’d go so far as to classify his “magic circle”/”circle jerk” characterization as being an almost perfect mirror of the characterizations made by the classic “carebear” that is unable or unwilling to differentiate between what’s real and what’s not.

For those who are unaware, the typical “carebear” argument goes that someone’s avatar is an in game extension of themselves.  As a general rule, people adopting this stance bring their real life morals into the game and expect everyone else to play by what they perceive the rules of the game to be.  They tend work within the rules of the monopoly-sandbox to create and to build.  To them, I’m unable to hide behind the name “Liang Nuren” when I suicide gank their hulk in high sec.  To them, I become a morally bankrupt terrorist with no purpose in life save to destroy years of someone else’s hard work.  To them, I was simply fulfilling my deepest, darkest, most twisted fantasies of achieving power and ultimate control over my fellow human.  They fully believe that I would do depraved and unspeakable things in person to real people if given the opportunity and a reasonable guarantee of a lack of personal consequence.

However, I do not believe this to be the case.  Its simply that one of the most basic skills of Eve Online is discerning what is real vs what is not real.  People who are not capable of this distinction are frequently at extreme odds with the community as a whole and are frequently encouraged to leave the community.  They tend not to stay long – both because of self selection and constant encouragement.  Really, I think this is for the best all around because I don’t want to be anywhere near someone who isn’t able to personally distinguish between what is real and what isn’t.  Just because I blew up your 80 billion ISK / $4,000 USD Titan doesn’t mean that you should make it your real life’s work to destroy mine – by virtue of destroying my professional career or killing me/my family/my dog.  Its just that us building things and blowing up each other’s ships is part of the game and not any more interesting to the real life law than me stealing your hotel in our game of monopoly – even if you paid for it with real life dollars (bad you).

With that out of the way, I feel safe in saying that the social contract in Eve Online fully specifies that what is real takes absolute precedence over that which is not real.  If you look carefully, you can see it in the above paragraph too.  Truly, the social contract in Eve Online requires the ability to simultaneously follow both real life and in game laws.  From there we see that actions which break real life laws can, should be, and will be prosecuted to the full extent of applicable real life laws.  Where applicable, there will be additional in game consequences in the form of bans and public mocking for forgetting the difference between what is real and what is not.

While it can be difficult to see from a distance, one of the core tenets of the Eve Online community is that attacking someone’s real life is out of bounds.  Briefly poking back to the subject of The Mittani: the core truth behind the threadnaughts wasn’t that he broke the TOS or the EULA (though there were certainly allegations of that and CCP themselves seems to have taken that stance), but that what he did was morally wrong both in and out of game.  And that’s why he issued his apologies and fell on his own sword.

Moving on: I said that there were two critical failings in almost-Dr. McKnight’s analysis.  The second is that he doesn’t fully understand the politics or government of the emergent community in Eve Online.  This is obvious because he didn’t even passingly mention the political maneuvering and “get out the vote” efforts that took place in the “threadnaughts” mentioned, despite it being highlighted by both bloggers he cited as sources (me being one).

To those who are unaware, the controversy was not solely fanned on by moral outrage.  In fact, a huge part of it was fanned on by feigned moral outrage on the part of The Mittani’s many political enemies.  In the real world, we are utterly unsurprised when politicians see a political enemy stumble and incite the mob to frothing at the mouth riots.  Its simply expected behavior in the real world… and sadly in game too.  In game we tend to call this meta gaming, “The Great Game”, or even just “gaming the game”  And most people have similar opinions about it as they do conerning real world political maneuvering.

In a very real sense, a large part off the controversy was fanned on by the fact that Goonswarm is a hugely successful alliance and has at one point or another alienated almost the entire politically active player base.  They’ve done this in a variety of ways, from virtual force to political maneuvering.  This is important because the easiest and cheapest way to take space is to convince your enemy to give it to you, while the nature of the game makes it such that the only way to really “kill” an alliance is to make the people just give up.  Thus just as in real life, propaganda and misdirection plays a central role in large scale warfare in Eve Online.  It follows that all major player run political organizations (known as alliances or coalitions) have highly effective political propaganda machines… and these machines were out in force to attack Goonswarm (not just The Mittani).

Now we get to one of the central tenants of his argument: the people who said there was nothing to apologize for in the first place.  These people were almost universally Goons, and frankly I doubt many of them really believed what they said – just as many of the people they were arguing with didn’t really believe what they said.  This was CAOD level political “ship toasting” brought to General Discussion by everyone with an ax to grind… or just for fun.  Because that’s just how The Great Game is played.  In my personal opinion, this wasn’t an appropriate time for the metagaming we saw, because The Mittani’s real name was at stake.  In effect, we all broke our social contract over this.

In conclusion, I contend that almost-Dr. John McKnight did not fully understand the social contracts involved with the Eve Online community, and nor did he fully appreciate the political maneuvering taking place.  One might argue that his “magic circle” argument is in fact utterly fallacious, and I question the good almost-Doctor’s ability to pass judgment on CCP and the players of Eve Online as fucking nuts.


Filed under: Eve, Gaming, , , , , ,

23 Responses

  1. Nursultan says:

    I think circlejerk is what is happening in the comments to that blog entry.

  2. You need to rename your blog “making sense in so many ways” plox

  3. John Carter McKnight says:

    Thanks for taking the time to think about my post in detail. You err in mistaking *critique* for *hate* – which doesn’t surprise me, as it’s evidence of exactly my argument, that some online communities generate extreme tribalism (to the point that members cannot abide a critical word).

    I disagree with your concept of reality in two ways. One, fundamentally, I don’t see online communities as *unreal* in any respect. I think the distinction you mark is wrong, both in the sense of being incorrect and in the sense of being immoral.

    Second, from what I’ve seen, attacking someone’s real life is *not* out of bounds, but is the whole point of non-consensual PvP – to generate real emotions in real people (as opposed to the computer-generated emotions of characters in The Sims, say).

    I think your response is “it’s only a game, and it’s not real – ” and that’s why I quote the “circle jerk” term (and yes, I assume everyone over five years old knows what it means, so I see no reason to belabor the point). Unless you’re playing against NPC’s, it’s real.

    The strange thing about EVE is that there *isn’t* a social contract. Much if not most of the player base explicitly rejects a social contract that goes along with *consensual* PvP.

    That’s exactly the problem I talk about: EVE is a place where people who believe that they don’t stop being people, and money doesn’t stop being money, just because they’re sitting at their computer, and people who think that the computer somehow makes money, emotion, and an *actual, universally agreed* social contract “not real.”

    • Milton says:

      Let’s leave aside the irony of berating EVE players (or the members of any online community) for applying their social standards to the actions of their members when taken outside of their community, and then asserting the supremacy of an alleged universal principle of moral propriety derived from “real life”.

      EVE is not real (despite marketing slogans to the contrary). It is unreal, not because it is mediated through a computer. It is unreal because it is a /game/. There are rules established at the outset for what actions are allowed and what behaviors are permitted. The fact that someone cannot make the necessary detachment to avoid being made miserable by the prospect losing in a competitive game is a problem with the player: either there is a mismatch between their expectations and the actual nature of the game, or they are simply unsuited for it.

      Online communities, on the other hand, are real. They are not, however, ‘real life’. The demands of propriety are entirely different. Preventing physical conflict, for example, is a minimal concern for an online community. Trolling, bad faith arguing, and spamming are. This is why you can find no shortage of online communities where vitriol such exhorting someone to kill themself is unremarkable, but actual trolling will get you banned. Moreover, online communities are entirely voluntary associations. If you find some habit of the community offensive, you can live with virtually no cost. On the flip side, undesirables may be gotten rid of in a similar manner.

      I’m not a particular fan of the invective-laden style that emerges from a community like that, nor am I particularly fond of griefing. I also don’t presume to declare them immoral.

      P.S. Don’t be surprised that people conclude you hate

    • Liang Nuren says:

      Hey John,

      You claim that you “critique” Eve Online yet you claim that CCP and the players of Eve Online are fucking nuts. You then say that Eve Online is one of the last “magic circles” and that there’s a reason “die magic circle die” is a tag line in your blog. You even go so far as to say here in your comment that the entire concept behind Eve and the Eve Online community is immoral.

      I believe that you are clearly and unambiguously telling the world that you not only hate CCP and Eve Online, but also its community and player base. I am a little bit sad that you don’t seem to have done sufficient introspection to see this in yourself.

      As to your comment that I am simply blind by virtue of tribalism: I disagree. There is a large contingent of people in Eve Online that are known as “bitter vets”. Despite all sane reasoning, these people stay on the periphery of the Eve Online community and jump on every possible reason why they can attack Eve Online or CCP. I would say that many of my friends fall in this category, and I’ve wandered in and out of it over time. I even have pretty good reasons for being bitter about Eve, should I choose to exercise them – after all, I was one of the front running revolutionaries when Monaclegate broke.

      Moving on: you say that you don’t see online communities as unreal in any respect, and I believe that to be true. The bonds of community online are very nearly as real as those in person – though how closely they follow is up for some amount of debate. However, I want to draw the distinction that I didn’t say the community wasn’t real or even that the community interactions weren’t real.

      No, the thing that is not real is the game itself. I want to be clear (again) that the interactions themselves happen. When someone blows up my internet spaceship “Orca” token, its very much the same as them physically reaching across the board and taking my “Queen” token in chess. Further abstracting, when someone is punched in Boxing, they really did get punched, but both participants agreed to that by virtue of the social contract they mutually signed by voluntarily stepping into the ring.

      Ultimately, I should no more get upset about someone blowing up my space ship game token Orca than I should about them forcing me to sell them Boardwalk in our game of Monopoly. In a very real sense, harboring real life personal enmity for losses in game is almost directly equivalent to what is generally known as poor sportsmanship.

      You go on to say that the distinction I draw is wrong and immoral but decline to provide any reasoning behind this. I’m not sure how to take this because providing the reasoning behind this distinction was one of the central themes of my blog post and you effectively shrugged it off with “No U”. Truly fine argumentation.

      At least you didn’t end the post there – you went on to provide exactly the kind of comment that I predicted you would make:

      Second, from what I’ve seen, attacking someone’s real life is *not* out of bounds, but is the whole point of non-consensual PvP – to generate real emotions in real people (as opposed to the computer-generated emotions of characters in The Sims, say).

      I contend that you approached Eve Online with a specific set of biases and saw what you wanted to see. In effect, you came to the game with preconceptions of what you perceived the rules to be and became horrified when it turned out that nobody was interested in playing by the rules as you envisioned them. You say that we reject non-consensual PVP, but it would be more accurate to say that you signaled your implicit acceptance of all in game PVP by simply joining the community.

      Your confusion on the matter quite dramatically illustrates that you’ve effectively fallen prey to exactly the pitfall I pointed out in the text of the blog post: because the social contract isn’t determined solely by you, it just doesn’t exist. Therefore the players who didn’t accept your version of the social contract are morally bankrupt sociopaths.

      I’ve already laid out some evidence supporting my assertion that there is a social contract in Eve Online – and overwhelmingly people that play agree with me. But let me take it one step further and provide incontrovertible proof [Eve-O] out that it has always existed:

      GM Homonoia writes…
      DISCLAIMER: I will not comment in any way, shape or form on the recent events and decisions made in relation to those events. I will only clarify how customer support enforces our policies to provide clarity on the day to day application of those policies.

      I am going to explain this only once; and this really should have been clear to anyone bothering to apply some common sense to the EULA/ToS.

      What happens inside the The Magic Circle is allowed as long as it abides by the rules of The Magic Circle (this is why you are allowed to hit someone in a boxing match, but not outside the ring). However, as soon as any action steps outside The Magic Circle and threatens harm to anyone in real life in any way shape or form, or when you incite others to do so (or when your in game actions are specifically geared towards that, joke or no joke), you break the EULA/ToS; even if you are only stating intent.

      Any GM will always take immediate action when this is done.

      And for those who think they can force an in game situation out of The Magic Circle to avoid in game consequences by threatening with suicide; the GM department has a strict policy of informing local and international law enforcement agencies of any suicide threats issued NO MATTER THE CONTEXT. In other words, do NOT joke about that. When a RL life is threatened we do not take any risks, ever.

      The fact that you aren’t able to recognize all this is slightly distressing.

      • thanehand says:


        As you said, this is the exact carebear mindset that disgusts those who accept the game for what it is.

    • mark726 says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for your thoughtful blogpost and comment here. I’ve very much enjoyed watching the debates (and participating in some of my own on this very topic), though I find that I have to agree with Liang here. I just wanted to tack on something to his response on this. You stated:

      “The strange thing about EVE is that there *isn’t* a social contract. Much if not most of the player base explicitly rejects a social contract that goes along with *consensual* PvP.”

      And on this, I’m going to have to explicitly disagree with you. As far as I understand the term, a social contract is one that sets the absolute bounds of what is considered socially acceptable behavior in any particular grouping of people. It also, to an extent, defines the underlying principles of that group, to show what the group is trying to accomplish (I realize this is a layman’s definition, but forgive me, it’s been a few years since I’ve taken proper political sciences classes). The U.S. has, at its core, a number of things in its social contract, such as the ideal of class mobility (the ever popular rags-to-riches stories, and the thought that anyone can make it if they try hard enough), along with a set of freedoms that we enjoy (freedom of speech and freedom of religion perhaps being the most notable, though certainly not all of them). The social contract shouldn’t be confused with laws, which are much more nitty gritty and policy based (no one really argues that the US shouldn’t have freedom of religion, yet the current fight over the healthcare bill shows that skepticism over laws is perfectly fine).

      You seem to imply above that just because EVE accepts (and even encourages) non-consensual PvP, that somehow translates into a wholesale rejection of any and all social contracts. I reject that implication wholeheartedly. The EVE social contract may not be anything you’d see in real life in any society. To be honest, it’s not something I’d want to see in any real life society. But there are certainly underlying principles that we adhere to. One of those principles is that we believe in allowing PvP where you may not be always prepared. It’s inherent to EVE’s basic design. Another is that we draw a line between what happens in the game and what happens in real life. You’re absolutely right that some people (though certainly not me, I’m probably about as carebear as people come) play EVE with the intent to generate real life emotions. They want to see people’s “tears,” for better or for worse. But that’s also inherent in the social contract of the game, that it’s considered ok to push for that emotional response.

      Where the social contract draws the line, however, is translating those actions and those emotions into real life consequences. Because there’s an inherent difference between emotional harm to a person and physical harm to that same person (if you don’t believe me on that, try looking at how difficult it is in the US to sue for purely emotional distress, compared to even minor physical injury). EVE players and CCP have said that hurt emotions are an acceptable response. Hurting someone’s feelings doesn’t break the contract. But what we don’t want to see are those actions and those emotions translated into real life actions outside of the game. That, I think, is one of the core tenets of the EVE social contract. We don’t want to see EVE players retaliate for in game actions out in the real world. Most of the non-aligned (either pro or anti goons) agree that what Alex did in the Fanfest panel warranted repercussions. He crossed over the line. He violated the social contract. He called for griefing with the intent of not just causing emotional distress, but in the hopes that it would cause physical harm. He himself has admitted that he crossed the line. But the fact that there even was an uproar (again, while ignoring those who are aligned either for against the goons) proves that there WAS a social contract because that was a clear violation of it here, and it demanded some kind of repercussion to remedy the breach.

      I’m not sure I could define the EVE social contract. For that matter I’m not sure I could entirely define the US social contract. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Merely because EVE players have rejected your views of what constitutes acceptable behavior in game does not in any way mean that we reject any attempts to place limits on our behavior. Look around at the EVE blogosphere. While there’s been a wide variety of ideas of what should be done, everyone seems to agree that this breach of the contract warranted some kind of actions, and I think the broad majority of the game would agree. That, to me, is one of the clearest examples of the existence of a social contract that I can think of. We’re more civilized than you may think.

      • John Carter McKnight says:

        Hi Mark: I think your social contract analysis is spot on. I should’ve been more specific – I definitely think there are social contracts *within* each of the two broad groups of EVE players, carebears and PvPers – and your summary of violations of PvP norms is excellent.

        To be accurate, I think there isn’t *one* overarching social contract in EVE, one that E-UNI and Goonfleet alike would agree to, and I think it breaks down over non-consensual PvP.

        This interests me, because I’ve seen a lot of carefully crafted arguments on each side, both going pretty deeply into moral and political philosophy to justify their positions. They *seem* – and I may be failing to read performative cues when I take statements literally – to represent fundamentally conflicting views of human nature and society. That’s amazing stuff.

        I’d love to do a deep study of players’ worldviews and politics, and see how much of a correlation there is with their playstyles. I’ve got assumptions, but having real data would be, not just interesting in itself, but useful for game/sandbox designers. Maybe next year.

        I absolutely don’t think that each group doesn’t have very strong internal norms and a social contract, and pretty effective policing of violators.

      • Alex Satrapa says:

        I wonder if the statement “you consent to PvP when you click the Undock button” forms a social contract, or is more one of the “rules of the game”?

      • mark726 says:

        John: Perhaps this is mere quibbling over terms at this point, but I think the more precise way is that there is disagreement over what the social contract should be. I would disagree that there are two social contracts: rather, there are two visions of what the social contract should strive for. But the fact remains that E-Uni and Goonfleet all inhabit the same game universe. They all use the same mechanics. They all can interact with each other. And it’s that last point that really, I think, shows that there is one unifying social contract in EVE. We don’t have shards, I can go out and PvP against anyone without having to switch servers. We’re all part of one larger community.

        I certainly won’t deny that there are sects/groups/cliques/whatever you want to call it. And each of those groups may have their own sets of norms and contracts to warrant higher levels of interaction with each other. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an overarching, EVE-encompassing contract out there. An evangelical conservative probably would disagree with the vast majority of my political beliefs, and I with theirs, but I certainly wouldn’t deny that they’re American, that we share the basic tenets of the American contract that I discussed earlier. Arguably the only time that the social contract completely broke down was in the Civil War, as we had two vastly different ideas of what the social contract encompassed. I don’t QUITE think we’re at that level of disagreement in EVE.

        Perhaps the most definitive proof of a unifying social contract is the fact that we all continue playing the same game. As much as I hate the general “HTFU” philosophy, if you TRULY disagree with underlying social contract, you have to choose between accepting it and leaving. You don’t need to agree with it. You don’t need to be happy with it. But you do ultimately need to accept it or leave. Just as someone who, say, wanted to see a theocratic state imposed on the US. They have two options: they can try to change one of the fundamental precepts of our social contract, or they can choose to leave. Because that’d be a gross violation of the social contract, the rest of society wouldn’t stand for it.

        And just like in EVE, if you have a truly STRONG objection to the concept of non-consensual PvP (which, as you say, is probably the most fundamental area of disagreement amongst players), you ultimately do have a choice: you can try to change the contract within the bounds of discourse in EVE (ultimately resulting in CCP changing the underlying principles of the game, I suppose) or you can choose to take your time and money elsewhere. There’s no underlying principle that says you HAVE to play EVE, just like there’s no underlying principle (on a strictly theoretical level, ignoring realistic practicalities which I don’t think really apply in EVE) that you HAVE to live in the US if you want to see a theocratic state. Just like any social contract: you ultimately have to accept it (warts and all, perhaps with a hope to ultimately change it) or move on.

        And I similarly would LOVE to see a formal study on EVE’s social/political dynamics, and actual data on that kind of thing. My limited experience with some of the more well-known griefers in game (Liang (no offense :-p), Helicity Boson, even Mittani most of the time) says that they are upstanding citizens in their own ways.

    • Alex Satrapa says:

      Which actual, universally agreed social contract are you suggesting EVE players are abandoning once they pass into the Magic Circle?

      You are correct on one point: the “problem” with EVE is when people enter the Magic Circle not being aware of the social contract that you consent to PvP when you click the “undock” button. Consenting to PvP the moment you undock is not even a social contract, it’s a built in rule of the game: it’s part of the fabric of the Magic Circle of EVE. Thus what is “wrong” about EVE is people who cling desperately to social contracts that the rules of the game explicitly state have no place inside the Magic Circle. Go read the EULA and TOS for EVE Online: they specifically state that you will be harassed, and that this kind of behaviour isn’t just “normal”, it’s expected, but there are limits that will be enforced by the invisible judges.

      In EVE you expect to be teased and cajoled in an attempt by a sparring partner to get you to strike first and thus, place yourself in a position of weakness. This happens in Judo and Poker too. Once you enter the Magic Circle (which in Judo, Sumo wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling is a literal construct), you agree that it’s all fun and games until someone “loses an eye” (i.e.: breaks one of the rules of the game). That statement about the Magic Circle and suspension of “universally” agreed social contracts dates back to ancient history.

      Your assumption that Liang Nuren believes “it’s only a game and it’s not real” is trivially falsified by Liang’s statement “In his rush to lampoon the community of Eve Online as a “circle jerks” in a “magic circle”, he claims that we believe that real world rules do not apply in game and that we believe its perfectly acceptable to do things in game which would result in dire consequences in “real life”” — right there in the body of the text that you are commenting on.

      The problem you are aware of, but don’t seem to be able to name, is the presence of Conservatives. These are the people who enter the Magic Circle without the ability to let go of the social contracts of everyday life such as “don’t steal”. These people have a hard enough time coping with others who think differently to them, to the point that they get upset about having to talk to people with a different skin colour or native language. People complain that Rue from the Hunger Games was “too black”. They state that they didn’t feel as much loss when she was murdered in the movie as they did when they read the book and assumed that “dark-skinned” meant “Italian” or “Spanish”. These people have entered the weakest possible magic circle (reading a book or watching a movie: you must suspend your disbelief), and they have issues with the morality of a story when it is depicted in a different manner to their interpretation. Heaven forbid that two Conservatives with slightly different perceptions of Right vs Wrong have to work together, e.g.: both believe in the Baptist version of God, but one believes in big Government while the other believes in small Government. When we let these people into the world of EVE Online, what else can be the outcome other than recoiling from this game world in horror due to sheer number of assumed social contracts that every other player has left at the door?

      Again, I challenge your assumption that there are any universally agreed social contracts. Even the International Charter of Human Rights is not adhered to by all signatories. e.g.: United States of America with their laws regarding “extraordinary rendition” which is just a euphemism for kidnapping people from foreign soil, and “enhanced interrogation” which is a euphemism for torture.

      Perhaps you are a Conservative too, and you believe that everyone shares the same morality as you?

      • Serpentine Logic says:

        I like this point. A lot of issues players have with Eve is assuming the social contract the game is played under is substantially similar to previous games they have played.

        It’s ironic that, in many respects, life in Eve is closer to the real world than most other games, causing such players to resort to imperfect and often flawed comparisons with it.

  4. Towsend Harris says:

    I know we sparred on the eve-o forums about something..maybe the anom nerf? That was a nuts and botls thing but you got the heart and soul of this horrible game laid out for everyone to see. Nice work

  5. Liang Nuren says:

    John, your observation relating to different social contracts for E-Uni and Goonswarm are interesting, but only as subsets of the whole. And yes, there is a social contract governing the entirety of Eve Online. That social contract is the one we’ve been discussing in this blog – not the “one for PVPers” or the “one for PVEers”.

    One of the really amazing things about Eve Online, as you note, is the ability for people to form subcommunities with other people who share similar interests both in and out of game. However these subcommunities don’t form social contracts so much as social subcontracts.

    However, as with any subcommunity, its social subcontract must almost by definition conform to the overarching social contract of the society in question. The difference between Goonswarm and E-Uni is very much the difference between a grade school and a gym. The members of both must consent to the overarching social contract, regardless of if they spend literally all of their time at the school or gym.

    Furthermore, CCP itself has certain things to say about the social contract of Eve Online that would violate the particulars of the E-Uni social subcontract (or even the Goonswarm social subcontract). That’s not because E-Uni’s is contrary to the basic one derived from applicable real life laws and the TOS/EULA but because E-Uni applies additional regulation to its members.

  6. Alex Satrapa says:

    Oh, and obligatory link to Akita T’s “Golden Rules” for EVE Online:

    Some of these are oft-forgotten rules of the game, others are “social contracts”. Others are just rules of thumb.

  7. Liang Nuren says:

    It turns out that the same blog post started a conversation on Eve-O. I’m going to bring most of the thread here, just to provide a consolidated place to discuss and reference.

    Trinketsfriend writes…
    I read the “Mittens and the Magic Cirle” blog, and it got me thinking ( ).

    This is the confusion between whether EVE as a game is played exclusively when you are logged in, or whether the game goes on outside of the magic cirle, 24/7, in real-world time and space. This is abundantly clear, because we have events like Fanfest, we have vegas meetups, I have beers with corpmates and alliance mates, and randoms who see me in an EVE shirt at the mall will talk to me for 30 minutes, and then I’ll gank him in game and we’ll have a laugh.

    TheMittani, himself, has blogged that he plays the metagame of EVE more than the online game of EVE. As an Alliance head, exclusive of the CSM metagaming (eg, titan nerfs?), his responsibility and role in the organisation, and how he actually plays the game, is not to orbit and press F1, but to organise, socially engineer, politic and deal. The difference between Mittens and, eg, my Alliance heads on this matter is incredibly stark, and why I believe Mittens plays the higher-level game in a Machiavellian way….and why my Alliance has real problems its leaders will never overcome.

    Perhaps this is why so many people despise Mittens; he wins without logging in.

    It is clear that, especially as CCP broadens the accessibility of EVE, spreads Dust514 to consoles, and supports widgets and improved forum functionality on all manner of devices, people use Skype SMS alerting services, gmail SMS services and the like to send automated alerts to cellphones of POS attacks; the game get played as much when you are offline as online. The magic cirle is spreading, and it isn’t so easy to pick when you are in-game or out

    That said, part of what I find so great about EVE is that you can do whatever you want, act in whatever morally ambiguous way you want in game and walk away and be an honest, law-abiding citizen who doesn’t cross the road against the lights. EVE has a very, very strong boundary to the magic cirle, which allows the most callous, even genocidal and murderous of acts to occur inside, and normal life to go outside, mostly unaffected

    But exceptions happen, and we must be prepared to deal with these exceptions in an appropriate manner. There are several ways the in-game actions can spill over into out-of-game consequences which are negative;

    For instance, Sudden Buggery ran an infiltration and AWOXing campaign against Greywolves corporaion. I was online with a guy on teamspeak who was playing EVE while long-haul trucking via IPhone connectivity. He wasn’t just texting while driving, he was gorram mining in a hulk while driving. And so as I sat there, talking with this redneck about *******, ready to lock his hulk up in my “mining execquror” I thought to myself….what the crap happens if I AWOX his hulk and he crashes?

    Secondly, there are limits to what I feel is an acceptable scam. We had a member who did, and still attempts, to scam people via getting hisec carebears to join corps, contract over expensive faction battleships or T3’s for “transort to nullsec” then steals them. One way he does this is to get “suicide ganked”. One guy, he fleeced for 1.5B ISK, and then the guy says “It’s OK, I’ll just go borrow my dad’s credit card and buy another couple of PLEX and buy a new Tengu”.

    Now, that was where I drew the line. Yes, it’s the victim’s naivete, stupidity and credulity which lost him a Tengu and (I think) Navy Raven. Fair cop of the sausage. But, within the magic cirle, we can at least pretend that he made that ISK in-game and even though the nominal cost of the items at the time was US$120, one can steal them with a fig leaf of decency and log off saying “It’s just a game.

    But, to my mind, when you reasonably know your actions in-game are affecting someone out-of-game, especially when it is financial, physical or emotional costs, then that is where you should draw the line. Steal his ships once, you scammed a dude in a game, and that’s great. But allow him to spend money he doesn’t have so you can steal his ships in a game twice? THat’s douchebaggery, and incidentally, I hound the guy who did this to this day, 6 months later, because he couldn’t see the fine distinction between the two acts. Mostly, because he’s an immature teenager who hasn’t worked a day in his life and doesn’t have a clue what $120 really means

    Anyway, to sum up.

    CCP is obviously going to have to consider the increasingly entangled ‘magic circle’ of EVE in-game and EVE IRL, and have a nuanced and thoughtful approach. EVE has, within its magic circle, a fabulous theatre for real sandbox, emergent gameplay, and a game played out as much on Teamspeak, on Twitter, on forums and in pubs and hotels as it is logged-in. The fact you can murder hulks in game and kiss your wife afterwards is the pinnacle of maintaining a magic cirle. I believe 99% of people would be able to get ganked by someone, scammed or suicided and have a beer with the perpetrator because it is a game. But it is also a game which can be played while logged off, for good or bad, and some people do take it too seriously, or do let if affect their lives and spouses and work

    The recent example, with TheMittani, is not the sum of all these issues as I have shown. But none of this is CCP’s fault, but sadly, it is their responsibility to ensure that YOU, the player, play responsibly – including playing the metagame. To me, when I know that something I have done in-game has affected someone out of game, I redress it, even to the tune of refunding stolen ships, with my own ISK, and sending the guy a mail.


    I responded…
    I would say that this is not an example of your friend not knowing where the line was – it’s an example of the scammed person not knowing where the line was. Consider that the scammed person is likely to exhibit this behavior regardless of whether or not he lost the ISK to a scam, to titan PVP, or to a bad market investment. From a purely cold blooded point of view, even though I feel really bad every time I run across one of these people, its better that they spend that ISK on me than on someone else. Ultimately I don’t view this as much different than someone who’s addicted to any expensive habit – from cigarettes to alcohol to hard drugs. They are responsible for their own health and finances.

    Hopefully the hard lessons that come from spending too much on any particular habit drive home hard enough to curtail such behavior in the future. And frankly, if someone like that is scammed entirely out of Eve it will probably turn out better for them in the future.

    I think I covered this well enough in my blog post that I’m simply going to refer to it. We can discuss it here or there – your choice.

    Trinketsfriend responded…
    And to reply to Liang, on the point of right/wrong of scamming, my point is not that buying PLEX is bad or that I am responsible for policing the IRL actions of someone who is addicted to PLEX, but that my in-game actions were causing real-world actions that I considered would be morally wrong. I’m quite OK with scamming and yoinking digital assets from people, but causing someone to lose IRL money, and knowing this is happening, how is this different from Mittens actions

    Eg, if I found out that the victim was stupid enough to fall for scams repeatedly, and paying for his ISK with cash, and told someone to scam him, it is directly equivalent to telling someone to grief another player until he necks himself. In this case, my objection with the act is that you know, definitively, that he is doing something outside the game and you are stealing his assets; in this case, nonrefundable credit expressed as play money currency, ie ISK. But that’s exactly the same as stealing a movie ticket from a child. In essence it is stealing at a remove

    The key, to me, was not knowing where people’s ISK comes from. Yes, I have scammed, stolen, embezzled and conned people of ISK. Maybe they paid with IRL cash, maybe they earned it running Incursions. Doesn’t matter, unless I actually know they are paying for PLEX.

    The misdemeanour may be different than griefing allegedly suicidal people, but the fact you are acting upon information that exists beyond the magic circle, to effect actions taken by another player outside the game, for advantage in the game…that’s breaking the magic circle AND all moral conduct.

    Killing people’s ships, even AWOXing them, when they’ve paid for them with PLEX? Totally fine. That’s playing the game, in the game. If you get AWOXed and PLEX it up and get AWOXed again, what is the AWOXer doing that is wrong?

    The other interesting part of this story is the guy who was doing the griefing, well, he had a couple of ships left in our WH POS. When they went missing, the tears were piquant and sweet. You see, I had had exactly this discussion with him. He had insisted there was a ‘no harm no foul’ clause in effect because it was just a game. That I was taking it too seriously, and who gives a toss about ingame assets, its just ones and zeroes.

    Then I stole all his stuff and the tears started flying. The “why me” and “what did I do to you?” began pouring out of his limpid eyes. The bottom lip was trembling, the voice was full of anger and incredulity.

    He was totally oblivious to the moral lesson, or his blatant hypocrisy. He, to this day, just cannot grok why I did what I did, because he cannot connect his in-game actions with any form of moral relativity. The only regret I have is that he can’t see my point – but I am sure, with reflection, he’ll come around to it.

    To which I responded…
    I think this is the important part. When you scam someone that’s addicted to PLEX you aren’t acting on information that exists beyond the magic circle… you’re simply taking advantage of their poor performance in the game. Its really not a whole lot different than continuing to sit at a poker table with dozens of people and watching a bad player beggar himself to stay in a losing game. Its just not morally wrong to stay at the table, or to play suboptimally because you know the poor sap is a bad player beggaring himself.

    However, we all have to be able to sleep with actions that night. Your way of accomplishing this is by limiting your in game actions – and that’s fine. I encourage you to so long as you don’t try to enforce that wrinkle on everyone else as a part of the overall social contract of Eve Online. Once you cross that boundary you’re not terribly different than someone that fails to let go of their social baggage relating to consensual PVP.

    Now as I say this, please note that I’ve spent probably a hundred hours talking to a young man on disability who had the biggest addiction to PLEX and microtransactions. It really didn’t matter what I said, or whether we took from him or not. His ability to blunder into disaster after disaster seemed unmatched and he consistently spent his entire check on Eve (or whatever the newest game was). He eventually said some stuff that has me deeply worried to this day, and I haven’t heard from him since.

    But note, I believe that my attempts to dissuade him from rampant PLEX/Microtransaction abuse wasn’t related to the social (sub)contract of Eve Online – but the much larger social contract relating to us living in the same society. He was on vent with me and obviously a few bricks shy of a full load. And really, I guess that’s the basis of my opinion that people like this simply should not be in Eve.

    I’ve even made the argument that people threatening suicide and other self harm should be banned themselves and only allowed back with a letter from a physician.

    I hope so … [that his friend recognizes his hypocrisy]

    Ofbalance actually read my blog post (as opposed to certain others in the thread – not mentioned here) and had this to say:

    As far as the baser arguments went, he is correct in concluding tribalism blinds most of us as players to seeing the social lines as we cross them. Hence most EVE players without a metagaming agenda didn’t bat an eyelash over Mittani’s drunken gaff. On the other hand, you appropriately pointed out he was standing atop a great big pile of assumptions claiming that EVE was real and none of us can distinguish between the ruleset change in either reality.

    Most psychologists are quite frank on the issue of whether or not people get off on the suffering of others and indeed the average person does to some degree or another. The gulf between in-game ganker and full-on sociopath, however is obviously extreme. You can’t deny that there is no schadenfreude involved and no Id-service being done when we log in to massacre the space pixels of some other unfortunate player, especially not when we do it in the hopes of eliciting an authentically angry response. In the end though, the practice is simply an extension of trolling, and the ancient art of practical jokes.

    We are genuinely amused by this game world and it’s lack of a rigid set of rules, but much like the practical joker is an unlikely criminal, we have to accept that for the unfamiliar and uninitiated the practice of putting someone’s hand in a glass of water while they sleep is going to be viewed as cruel and unnecessary by anyone attempting to couch morality in harmonious “societal,” terms. Extrapolating the point, ie. “what if everyone did this?” Will always lend academics like Carter to completely miss the point (cheap amusement) and zero in on a perceived defect in this “tribe.”

    I’m also rather amused that he appears supportive of actual hackers who’s griefing absolutely extends into “real life,” but fears the moral decay brought on by similar activity in a virtual environment. Were there any hypocrisies worth harping on, that would have been the lynch pin for me.

    tl;dr: We really are bastards who want to hurt other people’s feelings, but he really offers nothing to support any of his further extrapolations and ends up making himself look absolutely foolish and not just a little bit mad.

  8. @EVEWhiteRose says:

    My response grew all out of control. Likely to lard on more still, so posted it here:

  9. @EVEWhiteRose says:

    My response grew out of control & there’s a danger I’ll lard on even more, so I posted it here:

  10. […] pursuit of knowledge, and it’s inspired a love of knowledge (and, generally, in geeking out) that continues to this day. One of the ships that has stationed itself near the library […]

  11. CM says:

    Liang, I stopped taking your comments seriously when I noticed that you repeatedly referred to your ‘opponent’ as, almost-Dr. McKnight, This is the sort of childish behavior one expects from the goons to belittle their enemies. Surely you can do better.

    • Liang Nuren says:

      Frankly, that’s your loss. He and I actually are on fairly good terms. 🙂

      • cm says:

        Perhaps you would care to explain your repeated use of the almost-Dr.McKnight.
        That you are on good terms shows him to be a nice relaxed chap who ignored your unworthy attempt to belittle him.

        Read some of the linked articles. Really interesting stuff.

        Keep up the good work.

      • Liang Nuren says:

        Two things:
        – He is almost-Dr. McKnight. He isn’t quite a Dr, at least last time I chatted with him
        – The truth of the matter is that he didn’t have even close to a full understanding of the situation. I’m reasonably sure we all agreed on that by the end of the conversation. Note that this conversation spanned 3-4 blogs and Twitter.

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