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Published May 26, 2013

Player generated information is one of the most interesting aspects of EVE. Podcasts, battle reports, videos, blogs, and posts innumerable all serve to give shape to the narrative of New Eden. In EVE, information and narrative is as much a tool of power and success as fleets and warlords. It has very real impacts on space empires, CSM politics, and even in how CCP communicates to its player base. However, despite the importance of this emergent gameplay aspect of EVE, very few have spent time exploring and mastering information propagation. Instead, most broadly and blithely dismiss what they do not understand. They simply call it propaganda.

Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion by Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson will help neophyte capsuleers and veteran word warriors alike understand the craft of propaganda and persuasion. For those unfamiliar with the use and application of propaganda, the authors lay out the history, underlying psychology, and real world examples in language that isn't overly technical or verbose. Old hands will find the structure concise and useful, and the book covers propaganda stretching from the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, to the Creel Commission, to Goebbels, and all the way to modern advertising.

The purpose of the book is not, as you might expect, to inform EVE's pencil pushing space bureaucratic class in how they might better exert space hegemony. Instead, it is a critique of modern information dissemination, and seeks to expose the ways in which an ignorant populace is manipulated by professional wordsmiths. The aim of the text is to attempt to educate and inoculate the populace so that democracy might flourish in spite of such subversive messaging. Noble, certainly, but the examples and techniques outlined can definitely be put to more interesting ends in EVE.

One of the core principles outlined in this work is that people tend to fall into a sort of mindlessness when making decisions. The brain is wired to follow pathways that are cognitively easy, and clever application of words can activate this peripheral mode of thinking with only the barest illusions of conscious choice. In one example, experimenters asked “Excuse me, can I use the Xerox machine?” of those in the line at a busy university office. In this instance, roughly half of the people approached acquiesced. A fifty percent chance of weaseling your way to the front of the line isn't bad, but if you want better results, all that is required is a reason. Interestingly enough, nearly any reason will do, even the outrageously self evident: “Excuse me, can I use the Xerox machine? I need to make copies.” That's all it took to activate the mindless mode of decision making of those waiting in line and assure near total compliance rates.

Another common example reflected in EVE's information warfare game is the factoid. Factoids are not, counterintuitively, related to fact at all. Instead, factoids are an “assertion of fact that is not backed up by evidence, usually because the fact is false or evidence doesn't exist." Goebbels called it “the big lie,” and they are stubbornly difficult to counter and easy to concoct. In context of EVE, a factoid might look something like “Your friends aren't really your friends, they're plotting to kill you. No really, right now. Yeah, of course they say they aren't, what do you expect?” Factoids play on existing beliefs, insecurities, and fears, so it is convenient that all of these exist in abundance within EVE's political landscape.

Persuasion is also a function of credibility. In a community like EVE's where your reputation and actions follow you, it can be difficult to convince people of your point of view in light of past atrocities which you may or may not have committed. How do you persuade anyone when everyone knows you are untrustworthy, unbelievable, and disliked? The authors suggest one way would be to appear to act against your self interest. Note the word appear, since “when in comes to persuasion, appearances can be deceiving.” The authors offer the following example, as told by Chinese rhetorician Han Fei-Tzu:

The Duke of Wu wished to invade the country of Hu. The Duke pulled aside one of his most trusted counselors and asked him to argue in public that the Duke should attack Hu, which the counselor then did. The duke immediately put the counselor to death as a dramatic way of reassuring the ruler of Hu that he had no intention of attacking. Assured that the Duke was a trustworthy leader--after all, he just put one of his most trusted advisors to death-- Hu disarmed. The duke of Wu immediately launched a surprise attack and the country of Hu was captured.

Age of Propaganda covers far more than these brief examples. In addition to the above, it covers question framing, decoys, self sells, fear appeals, granfalloons, phantoms, and methods to counteract and resist propaganda. Perhaps most importantly for an EVE CEO or propagandist, there is a bit at the end which ties the principles the book has laid out into one handy chapter entitled “How to Become a Cult Leader.” The authors' intent was to remove the mystery of cults, but more usefully it serves as a effective guide to running your own corporation or alliance with an iron fist. And that's really more fun in the end, isn't it?

Sion Kumitomo
Chief of Staff and Lead Diplomat for Goonswarm Federation. Member of CSM 9. I enjoy tea, banana pancakes, and chatting with people. I can be reached in EVE or on twitter @siggonK.
Author: Anthony Pratkanis
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
Price: $16.21