“EVE-Online is more fun to think about than it is to play,” is what a close friend of mine tells me every time I try to goad him into picking up Crowd Control Productions’ masterpiece. My actions reflect his words. The last time I played EVE with any sort of intensity was when I was a vagabond – or space bum, pejoratively – for three months and saw the sights of the galaxy, sightseeing in EVE being akin to sightseeing in the beautiful but deadly Kashmir Valley, and transcribed my wandering thoughts. I would play for three hours and then write about it for six more. I couldn’t be sure if I was enjoying the game or the writing more, but I think those numbers tell the truth. Either way, that was the most fun I’d ever had with a game; but that was 13 months ago.
Though I hadn’t touched the game in over a year, I could still talk at length about the complexity that enraptured a quarter million devotees. When I espoused the legends of great exploits by the likes of Istvaan Shogaatsu in the land of internet spaceships, by the end friends that had never heard of CCP’s prodigal child would graciously accept two weeks in my digital haven, free of charge. Whether it was the allure of a rich, expansive universe, a relentlessly harsh culture of omnipresent war, or the opportunity for personal hegemony in any number of fields, I was convinced that EVE could seduce anyone. Like an old smack habit, EVE was forevermore a part of anyone that ever once flew an internet spaceship – and every time I took one of my frequent leaves of absence, I knew I would be back.
But a year and spare change passed by, and I began to wonder if I would ever return to EVE, or if real life had taken an irreparable toll on the game’s hold. There was no one issue that dragged me away; schoolwork, a job, relationships, and other pastimes all had their say. There was a life to be had, and for whatever reason there was never enough time to do anything more than check my evemail and change my skill training.
The core of my experience is no different from so many other gamers that have found themselves without the means or motivation to continue dedicating the amount of time that MMOGs demand, but the nature of my game of choice added layers beyond racing to level 70 and waiting for the next expansion. I came to find that a certain measure of self-delusion was necessary to remain blind to these layers.
EVE is an extraordinarily long-term game – there is zero opportunity for instant gratification. Remaining competitive requires that there always be some plan, some greater goal behind every action. In EVE‘s own mock-up of the military-industrial complex, anyone can be a cog in the machine; a miner can just mine veldspar, a manufacturer can just construct the smattering of parts and ships he has the blueprints for, and a reseller can sit in Jita all day and endlessly undercut others. But without ambition, and some kind of ultimate goal – a telos – in mind, all of those faceless, nameless cogs will never be anything more. Unless the miner buys a Hulk and joins an alliance so he can mine rare 0.0 minerals, or the manufacturer makes contacts so he can get more blueprints and sell in the best markets, or the reseller aims to control markets like a puppeteer and annihilate his rivals, they will all make their due and survive – but they will survive in a brutish, Hobbesian way while their efforts are exploited by greater forces. Even if they do seize upon opportunity and claw their way up the galactic hierarchy, they will still find themselves as cogs in the machine – albeit slightly larger cogs. And the tales that I told of master market manipulators betting billions for huge payoffs – even they were just particularly intricate mechanisms that operated at the behest of market forces. If the opportunities weren’t there, their legends wouldn’t exist, and someone had to take advantage of each opportunity.
We played EVE to be someone special; to be pod-pilots, capsuleers, whose mythos rivaled that of an older lawlessness, of cannons now rusted and galleons now sunken. We were an elite cadre among the imperially enslaved masses; we were rich and powerful, and we took life and limb as we pleased. But we each answered to a corporation, that answered to an alliance, that answered to a power bloc, that answered to political forces – and tendencies towards war-greater than itself. If any of us rejected the system and flew solo, we often found ourselves subjugated and marginalized by the strength of numbers.
I so rarely had any sort of plan that my competitive edge had dulled long ago. As the Joker says of himself, I am not a schemer. The overwhelming majority of my career as a fleet grunt had been spent in 0.0 belts shooting at a variety of red crosses for ISK, and while I’d been party to almost all of the Interstellar Alcohol Conglomerate’s history and had strong opinions about galactic politics, I was just a pawn. Why play a game where I’d just be part of someone else’s feint or offensive thrust in a chess game between incomprehensible forces I couldn’t control? I already felt that way in real life. Disillusioned, I left that life behind.
Journaling my experiences – no matter how trivial or pedestrian – became the only thing that set me apart from the anonymous masses. As long as I wrote about it, EVE was a game I wanted to play. But I could not wander forever, and as the curtains closed over my adventure, I saw I could not go back to being another one of the Hoi Polloi. I left again, but this time I departed the game entirely.
Frequently I would realize in an idle moment that I was whiling away my time with things I was sure weren’t as much fun as playing EVE, but those minor epiphanies brought me no closer to the log-in screen. I missed the game, but not so much to bring me back to it. Perhaps with time I will see with the same clarity why I have returned to the game as why I left it, though the reason will probably be less nuanced; it may simply be that I was offered the chance to write about EVE again.
Now a born-again capsuleer, I have housekeeping to address – specifically, what has become of my avatar in the meantime. I am still a member of Mercurialis Incorporated, the oldest corporation on the Tranquility server. After the collapse of the Interstellar Alcohol Conglomerate, Mercurialis Inc. took a brief detour into Factional Warfare, but has since thrown in its lot with Wildly Inappropriate, an alliance wedged in between RAZOR Alliance and the Tau Ceti Federation in the far north. Mercurialis Inc. has a penchant for alliances with oddball names, and their choice has again made me a soldier in the service of yet another alliance. But before I rediscover my identity, I must rectify my outlaw status and strip the flashing red “kill me now” label from the overview.