I’ll begin this blog with an ending: My friend Jim Rossignol writes this week (over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, a site he co-founded) about the five-year spree of StateCorp, a player-run “corporation” in the massively multiplayer online space opera known as Eve Online. (Eve’s corporations would be known in most other games as guilds or clans.) Jim helped run StateCorp over the entire course of its life — for much of which time he was arguably its lifeblood, without which it would have broken up. I was a member for a couple of years near the beginning, and on and off throughout. Now, with the corporation “in the process of moth-balling and disbanding,” Jim looks back at what he calls “the lengthiest and most fulfilling gaming experience” of his life. Considering the impact it made on me, I can understand his effusiveness.
I’ve written plenty about Eve in the past, so I won’t go into too much detail here about the game itself. What’s remarkable to me is how the game’s narrative, the “story” of one’s time in Eve, is driven more by the dynamics among players and corporations than by the mechanics of gameplay itself.
I was going to write that the narrative is driven “as much” by personal dynamics as by gameplay, but on reflection, that just isn’t true. In Eve, the game mechanics — the intricate systems of paper beating rock beating scissors beating paper — seem designed to drive people into either conflict or cooperation. You could play the game without ever interacting meaningfully with another player (this would be difficult, in fact), but it would be a boring slog. There is no “solo” game in Eve: even when you’re alone in space, the environment and the economy and almost all the other aspects of the game are affected by what other people are doing, to a much greater extent than in most other MMOs.
That’s one of the reasons that many Eve players become so strongly connected to the people they fly with in the game. The closest analogy that’s occurred to me is to a hardcore but amateur softball or soccer team. The results of your efforts are meaningful only within the confines of the softball league (its own virtual world), and yet are no less meaningful for that. And the relationships that form there are those fed by the experience of striving together for a common goal — just as they are in Eve (and many other contexts). Nearly the only difference is that softball players tend to be in the same physical place much more often than gamers. They may occasionally get more exercise as well…