Today’s topic comes Diaries of a Space Noob blog and other sources:
“Quick post. I was listening to a song and a question occurred to me. Where are the EVE heroes? Against a dark background surely all we have are anti-heroes? A lot of mockery is aimed at any who attempt to be white knights. EVE is a dark place and yet pretty much all other MMO’s try to place the player in the role of some form of hero, boosting the ego and taking the player out of the humdrum 1 in 7 billion that is RL. Why have I fitted into EVE? Did I never want to be that? So I guess my question is:
“Do classic heroes exist in EVE? Is such heroism even possible in EVE? How would you go about being one without opening yourself wide open to scams? Is the nature of the game so dark that heroes can’t exist? How do you deal with that irony? What effect does this have on us and the psyche of new players coming in from other MMOs? Is it something special that we don’t have classic heroes, or should we? Are our non classic heroes more genuine?”
And I would add to this, who have we elevated to the level of larger than life heroes ourselves in the game, and do they actually deserve it?
One man’s hero is another man’s villain.
This statement defines Eve. But let us take a step back. Most games put the player in the shoes of a protagonist that if not heroic, is at least anti-heroic. MMOs tend to do this by making each character an empty slate for whatever hero’s journey the writers crafted. This journey may take the form of a singular bildungsroman, especially in single player games, or paint the player as part a team of heroes, as is often the case in MMOs where some concession is made to the fact that you want or need other heroic and powerful players to help.
Taking this further, the term “avatar”, generally used to refer to player characters, derives from the Sanskrit term for a deity descending into human form, often to accomplish some task. So our very term for player characters derives from heroic vedas of the Hindu faith. After all, if you are going to play a character, why not play one of the really important ones?
Eve gives you this illusion then rips it away. We all play as capsuleers, semi-immortal pilots that have been gifted the boon of free access to clones and pods that, upon receiving the signal that our life is imminently to end, snaps a photo of our brain, jacks some poison into the system, and wakes us up in a fresh new body. Our price for death is minimal, requiring only some accounting work to ensure that all those skills and implants are safeguarded or replaced. There are no stakes that matter for our characters. We do not have skin in the game, pun intended.
While we are told by marketing material that we are a powerful force, in reality it is our ships that provide the power. Our characters have no innate abilities or powers. Unlike most MMOs, we do not fight for or against one of the great fictional entities in the lore. The closest we can get is joining a militia to fight other players, or run missions for the agents on behalf of the four empires. Even those empires are complicated. There is no clear good or bad empire faction.
The Gallente and Caldari both represent shades of western values that many players will find easy to identify, but both are bogged down in the murky realities of politics where each has committed atrocities and moral slights against the other, for good and evil reasons.
The Amarr and Minmatar seem easier to identify, with the Amarr as religious slavers bent on domination and the Minmatar as slaves throwing off the yoke of the oppressors. But the Amarr are in large part responsible for the stargates across much of New Eden, and the Minmatar are ruthless and secretive. Again, both have shown acts of courage and caring and acts of brutality and betrayal.
All four empires are woven together in a patchwork of intrigue and backstabbing underlined by the shifting of balance sheets and political power. What if we look beyond empire space? There are no Reapers or Reavers, no Borg or Cylons. Some of the pirate factions have complicated back-stories that belie a simple black and white reading of who is the good guy. Perhaps we can all agree the Serpentis are just… awful at everything?
There is no big bad to strive against. There are only opportunities and liabilities. Enter the players. If we take a very simple view of Eve, there are four main playing fields. First, High sec, where nothing players do really matters more than increasing balance sheets. Second, Low sec, where players can nominally fight for one of four factions to gain nerd points, or fight anything that moves for the joy of blood (Perhaps these players are the reavers?). Third, Null sec, where players fight each other, with no pretense in-game as to why this would matter at all. Fourth, Wormholes, home of Sleepers who we do not truly understand, and who only attack when we encrouch on their space. Well, we understand that those nano-ribbons and hulls sell for a pretty penny, so we’ll blow up the ships that stand in our way.
Against this backdrop, there is no place for heroes. If anything, we are often playing the villains or shock troops, committing violence in the name of Empire, Militia or Alliance. There is no moralizing about our actions. There is no obvious right or wrong to guide us. There is only space for personalities that can channel the missiles, beams, and plots of others. And this is where Eve shines, and why despite admittedly middling mechanics and systems, the game rolls forward and ships explode.
Freed of a moral imperative to do the correct thing, we can choose to do anything. Absent is the impending doom or oppressive threat of most other games. We are simply given a universe, step into it as jobbers, and make our way. The connections we form, when they happen, are with other players and groups, not a fictional band of brothers intent on defeating a lich king or the power of chaos. Our victories in these self-made conflicts, while not permanent, are at least meaningful because we set the goal, we make the rules and conditions for victory, and we succeed or fail.
This very absence of a shared nemesis and self-driven goal setting are qualities that make Eve unique. These attributes keep players coming back for more, long after skills are trained, ships are bought, or defeat is suffered. There is no end-game to conquer, no best in slot gear setup that can be used as a proxy for winning. When a player accomplishes one goal, a new goal is often already in place. I know in my time in Eve I have never had one overarching goal, be it for my skill queue, my wallet, or the area of the game I want to engage in. I have had multiple goals, each of which strives for my attention. Some are completed, some are abandoned, but the game offers so many venues for participation that I am never lacking a reason to log in.
Can someone be a hero in Eve? To some players you could be a hero. You could hunt gankers. You could lead a coalition. You could be a great blogger. But all of these are relative, and you will never be a hero to everyone. But you do not need to be a hero for everyone. Look at The Mittani. I am sure many consider him a hero. But many more consider him the villain of Eve. In a game where social status is relative speaking of heroes and villains misses the point.
What effect does this have on new players? INew players that have a future in Eve grasp the relative nature of social standings in the game rather quickly. Many players come to the game from other communities, so the narrative is already written for them. Most players who stick with the game probably decide what they want to accomplish and follow other players as long as it is useful or convenient to do so.
The concept of genuine “heroes” is a wonderful idea in Eve. If we agree that a hero is a relative thing in Eve, I propose a different question. Are the personalities in Eve more genuine? In that light, I think the answer is a wholehearted yes. When relationships are relative, personalities and shared history are all we have to judge each other. Even the most sordid betrayals weave an indelible thread into the cloth of Eve’s shared story.
When you think of what defines Eve, do you think of the lore, or do you think of the Great War? Do you think of the great corporations of the Caldari, or of the Guiding Hand Social Club? Do you think of Outer Ring Excavations, or of Hulkageddon? All of those events were created by the personalities in Eve. Those events, the people who brought them about, and the fact that we are freed of playing heroes are far more memorable than any raid you have conquered in another game.