EVE is Real - But Not That Real

After my previous article, I found that I rather enjoyed having accusations of "Godwins Law" flung at me by people who don't understand what it means. Try it yourself one day; it's like having a bath in 7-up: delightfully tingly, still legal, and once the froth has subsided you can still see what's important. And on that note, I will lead in this article with a quote from the estimable Eric Blair:

[Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all "progressive" thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security, and avoidance of pain... Whereas Socialism, and even Capitalism in a grudging way, have said to people "I offer you a good time," Hitler has said to them "I offer you struggle, danger and death," and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.

Everyone's heard that famous phrase: "EVE is real". And we know what it really means. It doesn't mean that there's an actual physical reality out there where nanomachine-built spaceships travel at about the speed of a high-end chemically powered atmospheric jet aircraft in a weirdly Aristotelian physics based stellar cluster and shoot explosive-propelled shells at each other.  It means that everything that means anything that anyone cares about the game is made of real humans interacting in real ways; greed, generousity, jealousy, loyalty, betrayal, status, deception, dominance, and all the hundred other delightful primate habits that make life more interesting than a 24-bit colour 3D-rendered game of Solitaire.

EVE is pretty much alone amongst MMOs in bringing this basic interactive reality right to the core of the game, almost to the exclusion of anything that an independent observer would call a "game". Pretty much everything about EVE that isn't a tool for players to interact with each other with is dreadfully implemented in a way that wouldn't have passed muster as a game back in the era of PCs with 486 DX-66s and 2Mb of DRAM running DOS 6.1.

As a game developer, CCP have shown a singular genius in one aspect of MMO design, and it's the facet that really counts - facilitating our urge to get on with creating the game for each other. Unfortunately, they've also demonstrated a singularly cackhanded approach at implementing the aspects of what is collectively known as gameplay. The difference is telling. Compare the durable success of EVE with that of the offering by the acknowledged masters of RPG narrative, Bioware, after being given a couple of hundred million dolllars to create a "Sci Fi" MMO with the most compelling IP possible.

And so we continually hear that "EVE is real". EVE's politics are real, EVE's economy is real (EVE's economy is comprised of multiple free agents substantially stage-managed by an unaccountable cabal of moon-bat theorising economists in the pay of people who have no higher goal than to milk it for their own gain, and if you want a more realistic economic simulation that that, I genuinely don't know where to point you to), EVE's subcultures are real, EVE's warfare is dreadfully, terribly, seriously real, and EVE's metagame is even realler than that. It's all so powerfully real that even people who stopped actually logging in to the game years ago just can't let go and stop reading and posting about it. In fact they're often the most passionately prolix ones when it comes to discussing EVE: EVE is so real we even have our own space-undead who won't stop haunting us long after they should have passed away to the afterlife of Mechwarrior or WoT or even that final crypt: FHC gank nights. That's how real EVE is.

Only it's not.

Whilst EVE supports and encourages many highly realistic player interactions, it's all too easy to lose sight of the fact that this is supposed to be a game. Even if it's not always supposed to be fun, it's always supposed to be entertaining. That sounds like a rather banal observation, but it has some deeper implications which a lot of people unfortunately lose sight of (specifically including CCP). People get lured in by the very immediacy and reality of those interactions and they fool themselves into thinking that because x is like this in "real life" -by which they almost invariably mean "in middle class American/Western European suburbs", which is about as surreal as life gets in my opinion, but let's stay on track here - then it should be like that in EVE too. This game mechanic or that player activity is deprecated as "unrealistic", as though that's any kind of argument about what should or should not happen in a computer game.

And generally they advocate things that I would be delighted to see more of in my real life; less violent crime, a growing economy, lower youth unemployment, less income disparity, eliminating wars of aggression, stronger sanctions versus people who loot companies for short term profit and so on. I would gladly vote for each and every one of those policies to be enacted in my country, and they'd be really hard to argue against in any sincere way. And therein lies the insidious trap. What kind of inhuman sociopath wouldn't like to see violent crime reduced? Who wants more wars? Youth unemployment is social poison in about 10 different ways! What the hell is wrong with you?

Well, the answer is: a computer gamer. Not because gamers are all privileged, sheltered, shut-ins with so little knowledge of the real world that they claim to be Objectivists with a straight face (although a fair few are), but because although lots of things that work in real life need to work the same way in games to make them good game, lots of things that work in real life make for dull, horrible games.

Games, particularly RPGs, most especially MMORPGs, and most quintessentially of all, EVE, are about stories. And stories have different requirements than real life does. Things that are dreadful tragedies in real life are highly desirable in stories. Conflict. Tragedy. Loss. Hubris. Drama. Hate. Jealousy. Struggle. Danger. Fear. Horror. I have family and friends whom I love and I wouldn't want them to experience any of the things on that list. But I also have a stack of books on order at Amazon, and by God, all of them had better have some or most or ideally, all of those things in them. These are the blood and bones of a compelling, engaging narrative. No one wants to read a story about a guy who works at a good job, raises a nice family, retires, and eventually dies without anything really bad even threatening to ever happen to him. But curiously, quite a few people seem to have become seduced into thinking that story would make EVE a better game.