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Published August 17, 2012

Eve Online appears to be a part of the problem. Extensive research has determined that violence in media and interactive video games is a serious contributing factor to violence in society. By inoculating the mind against our own instinctual inhibitions toward killing members of our own species, those who become conditioned to habitual virtual violence become more greatly predisposed to actual violence. Far from a reactionary screed against video game violence, 'On Killing' by Dave Grossman presents an essential and thorough view of the habits, actions and reactions of killing on the battlefield.

Though a virtual environment filled with immortal space clones, Eve Online can be a useful microcosm for the psychological study of death and dying. Conversely, such studies can be useful to the thoughtful Eve player in understanding the patterns of reaction in those on the receiving end of our space lasers and internet missiles. Mr. Grossman creates a model for understanding the complex processes involved in psychological casualties in war, beginning with what it takes to kill another human being and moving methodically toward the effects of rationalizing one’s killing - and also the failure to rationalize.

Players in Eve do not actually kill one another, of course. When someone’s spaceship is blown up and his life pod is destroyed, a clone is activated and the player continues. However, the losses are very real. The material losses are one factor in loss, but certainly not the only one. Failure of strategic objectives and the feelings of letting down one’s fellows can be devastating stressors, and causes of stress disorders well above and beyond the fear of death. “[E]ven in the face of a society and culture that tell the soldiers that selfish fear of death and injury should be their primary concern, it is instead the fear of not being able to meet the terrible obligations of combat that weighs most heavily on the minds of combat soldiers.” Fear of failure is at least as powerful as fear of death in war, and far more so in Eve due to the transitory nature of death.

Mitigating factors to killing inhibitions are explored in great depth. Demands of authority figures, absolution by one’s peers, the predisposition of the killer, and the attractiveness of the victim are explored in great detail. Many of these also factor into rationalizations of killing after the fact. A killer can diffuse responsibility to one’s leaders, one’s peers, and also the victim. Nevertheless, guilt and blame cannot always be effectively deflected elsewhere. With proper mental inoculation, however, mitigation can increase.

“Unlike the victims of aerial bombing, the victims of these [Nazi death] camps had to look their sadistic killers in the face and know that another human being denied their humanity and hated them enough to personally slaughter them, their families, and their race as though they were nothing more than animals.” The power of hate is a both an effective mitigating factor in the aggressor, and an aggravating factor in the victim. In an Eve context, the power of propaganda is not merely to turn public opinion to or against a party, but to provide a tool for action and reaction. One’s own pilots find reason to act: namely, a reason to hate the enemy and kill him. And the enemy finds themselves placed in one of the most uncomfortable places imaginable: despised and ostracized in a societal context.

The most illuminating chapter in On Killing is titled “The Dark Power of Atrocity”. There is empowerment in death in a general sense, as well as killing in a specific sense. Hisec gankers, saboteurs, and local spammers in fleets all tend toward ‘tear harvesting’ as a motivation. Such atrocities can be a tremendous bonding experience for those who participate in congruent activities, and they can also be a source of a tremendous sense of righteousness when perpetrated well. “But once they have accepted the empowering process and firmly believe that their enemy is less than human and is deserving of what has happened to him, then they are stuck in a profound psychological trap.” By burning the bridges of humanity, by denying the humanity of those not of one’s own tribe, a genocidal view becomes ultimately self-defeating. Atrocity not only empowers perpetrators but also the survivors. “[I]n most cases those who attempt to wield atrocity as a systematic national policy have been struck down by this two-edged sword.”

When developing Eve policy, the ways and means of killing are always a consideration. Even hisec PvE corporations make this decision by opting out entirely, engaging the psychology of victims when engaged in battle. Some leaders adopt rules of engagement (sometimes derisively referred to as “e-bushido”) that simultaneously empower acts of aggression and mitigate its effects after the fact. And still others adopt a policy of atrocity, ensuring victory through the mental annihilation of the enemy “other”. 'On Killing' can give a thoughtful Eve leader insight into the relative merits and demerits of these coping mechanisms in states of virtual war.

I am too lazy to make a Bio. Punch me in the dick.
Author: Dave Grossman
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Price: $12.94