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Published August 5, 2012

There is a jagged fissure of insanity which runs through the heart of the EVE playerbase, a kind of feverish bad crazy which you simply don't find in other online games. Oh, sure, everyone knows a tale or two about the Starcraft player who stayed awake for 50 hours and died from exhaustion because he wouldn't stop gaming, or the legions of relatively mundane overweight basement-dwelling nerds that populate the other MMOs that have a lack of perspective that comes from playing in virtual worlds too much. Some people like to point to South Korea's Starcraft tournaments a sign of abnormality, but sporting leagues are a 'healthy' expression of hobby activity by most standards. No, if you want utter madness, you have to look to EVE.

Humans, for all our pretensions, are monkeys, and monkeys are funny creatures. One or two of them might seem normal enough, but in isolation or small groups social animals aren't really their true selves. With their overdeveloped adrenal glands, numerous cognitive biases and a supreme faith in the rightness of that same flawed cognition, when you get them in groupings over a certain number hilarious things occur. What differentiates EVE from the other MMOs - and what creates the level of frothing madness - is the number of monkeys it manages to pack into one barrel.

In World of Warcraft, while there may be something obscene like 11 million people running about as elves and orcs hitting monsters with swords and spells, those people are broken up into small groups of ten to twenty thousand per server. If you don't like your server, you can leave to another server, start anew, find a different social milieu. The game is also infamously newbie friendly, which is partly why it has gained such mainstream success; almost anyone can pick it up and play. The basic group unit in WoW is a guild between 20 and 100 people; the odd megaguild nonwithstanding, it's a grouping intimate enough that every monkey can get to know every other monkey, and the primary social activity involves groups of between five and 25. Even at this level, though, there's a blurring of perspective in the minds of people; sick days are called in from work to raid, personal hygiene is neglected, obsession with purple loot and intensely personal dramas around said loot occur.

By contrast, EVE takes a much smaller player base - perhaps 450,000 - but jams all these monkeys into one barrel, a barrel which from there is no escape - no 'other server' to flee to and begin anew. The learning curve in EVE might as well be vertical, despite all the efforts to make the game more newbie-friendly over the years; any sort of mistake usually results in you dying horribly and losing substantial assets, which are very limited when first playing the game. Additionally, more than any other MMO, EVE relies heavily on mathematics and spreadsheets in the player-run logistics and production aspects of the game. Given the violence, loss, and (horror of horrors) math, it is only a certain sort of of monkey who not only ascends the nightmarish and Darwinian learning curve, but finds the process entertaining enough to stick around and play for more than a week. So this is EVE, a galaxy filled with socially inept spreadsheet nerds on the one hand and obsessive, ambitious griefers on the other. Resources are limited and must be fought over, and the only way out is to quit entirely.

Unique in EVE, the number of people on one server puts the players far beyond the threshold of intimate friendship; your average social unit, the corporation, involves hundreds of people, while alliances made up of these corporations include thousands of people. Thus, instead of micro-level 'guild drama' over who gets what epic item, EVE suffers from 'alliance politics' which in many ways have come to mirror real world politics; the threshold of 'enough monkeys in one place' is crossed, and you find yourself contending with alliances based on ethnic and nationalistic identities, many of which carry their cultural quirks and baggage into the realm of internet spaceships. EVE has French alliances, Russian alliances, Polish alliances, German alliances, you name it.

If the idea of social units comprising of thousands of people allied by nationality or shared culture doesn't add enough monkey madness for you, consider that the game has both legal and illegal channels for real world income to bleed into the game. You can spend your hard-earned money on an in-game item called a 'PLEX' which can be used to add two months of in-game subscription time to a character, and then sell these PLEXes on the in-game market for in-game currency (isk). If you're rich in-game and poor in reality, you can play EVE for free by simply purchasing PLEXes; if you're rich in reality and don't have time to make spaceship money, you can sell some PLEXes and buy as many spaceships as you feel like. Of course, many players go outside of the established CCP-sanctioned system and buy and sell both currency and characters on the black market of eBay; a substantial sum of hard currency can be earned by a diligent eBayer, and it is an accepted belief among many eve players that some people are making a day-to-day living off selling isk.

One galaxy, limited resources, 450,000 players who are all a little odd to begin with, nationalistic alliances, and a porous system of currency trading. Welcome to the asylum, let's take a tour!

Our first patient is SirLordex, an aluminium magnate of Russian extraction. His existence was only a rumor among the English-speaking population of EVE for many months; he was alleged to have bankrolled his own alliance, RED.OVERLORD, in a quest to seize the region of Feythabolis from its previous owner Goonswarm; it was hinted that he was spending thousands of dollars to purchase isk in bulk from eBay, and that with this money he had purchased five Titans, a number of motherships, and innumerable control towers. The money was eventually traced by CCP those Titans and characters vanished in a mass banning, but evidence of the true extent of SirLordex's habit of spending money on EVE only recently came to light- apparently he's started pumping money into the PLEX system and has singlehandedly crashed the market, driving the in-game price down steeply. You too can watch the madness here, keeping in mind that one PLEX is worth $34.99. How games do you know of where someone spends over $100,000 on spaceships and brags about it? In SerLordex's own words:

"Listen, calm down. Everyone here understands that ROL didn't sell a single isk on Ebay. Originally, I put in about 50K cash (buying isk, chars and 5 titans + a ton of motherships) from your ratting me out to the GM's (RA's directors = rats, admit it). All of this got banned under the pretext of an exploit that we never used (GM's couldn't prove that I bought isk for RL cash, but I couldn't prove that the isk was legal, either). After that, I bought a ton of timecards from legitimate dealers and, at the moment, have sold more than 1 trillion isk's worth (GM's have confirmed that they know about this and decided that I'm not breaking any rules), bought another five titans, two [more? this is unclear] are still building, and I'm also financing new corps that are coming in. I'll have no problems with [continuing to fund] any of this. So let's not have any dirt thrown around, because if anyone is selling isk here, it's you, and since I know all the gray market dealers I'm going to sell you to CCP at the first opportunity - the next ban is on you."

Perhaps he should consider a career in rap.

The bad crazy goes beyond dropping 100 large on internet spaceships, though. About two years ago, Goonswarm was aiding our allies, Red Alliance (RA, the aforementioned 'rats' with whom SirLordex is cross) in the invasion of the Scalding Pass region against Lotka Volterra and their coalition. Lotka Volterra had unveiled one of the first Titans against us to catastrophic consequences, and at the time these profoundly silly ships were nearly impossible to kill through legitimate in-game means; they were essentially invulnerable, with the only Titans destroyed through catching the ship while the pilot was disconnected from the game. It was determined that 'The Enslaver' and his Avatar-class Titan had to go. I was approached by one of the leaders of Red Alliance to help make this happen, but almost immediately we were down the rabbit hole. Much to my surprise, the RA director didn't want in-game information from me; he wanted us to use the forensic resources of our intelligence agency to trace down The Enslaver's home address. At a coordinated time, armed with this information, a RA member would apparently cut the power to The Enslaver's house in the real world, and in EVE a RA capital fleet would assault the abruptly pilotless Titan. Yikes.

As one can imagine, I demurred, but the RA director didn't want to take 'no' for an answer and I didn't fancy telling him that I thought he was completely insane. I said that I'd 'look into it', and that's when things began to get really crazy - Kugutsumen got involved.

Kugutsumen is a French national living in Jakarta, Indonesia who was convicted as a teenager in the early 1990s of phreaking the FBI's conference call system and running up $250,000 in international calls. He now runs an extremely successful computer security business, when he's not setting up nightclubs in Jakarta or messing about in the EVE universe. He copped a ban from CCP years ago for breaking the T20 scandal after penetrating the Band of Brothers director forums, but it seems the banning completely removed all restraint on his behavior regarding the game; he set up his own forum to cover the hidden news of EVE by publishing snippets from the forums of other alliances. One might suggest that he is also a little off when it comes to the sanity scale, though I personally adore him.

Why didn't I have to deal with RA trying to cut the power to The Enslaver's house to kill his Titan? Because Kugutsumen, out of either idle curiosity or malice aforethought, traced The Enslaver's ip addresses back to Iceland, confronted him on Lotka Volterra's teamspeak while under an assumed name, recorded the conversation, and then outed him as a GM and CCP employee. This resulted in the immediate removal of the Enslaver character, as GMs cannot have their identity known - since this era of gameplay, CCP has radically revised and tightened the restrictions of where and how their employees can play, but this was the Bad Old Days. While the Titan was eventually given to another pilot - and that pilot was much more cautious with it than The Enslaver - by that point Lotka Volterra had already lost the war.

More recently, 'space madness' came to grip a huge section of EVE itself, particularly those involved in the invasion and conquest of Delve. Because of the time-limited nature of that war, a tremendous effort had to be put forth within 28 days, not merely due to the actual conquest of Delve but also the logistical nightmare that comes from moving an established alliance of 6000 people from one end of the galaxy to the other. Sleep was sacrificed, work was skipped, and as each day passed a greater edge of delirium inserted itself into the normal operations of the alliance. One of our logisticians woke his wife up in the middle of the night shouting that "We've got to pack up everything and move the babies to Delve!" Another Goonswarm director told his wife that she should only use half the detergent in the dishwasher, because the "salad bowls are in reinforced mode." And yours truly (so I am told) once sat bolt-upright in bed and warned his spouse: "Don't touch that! Don't open the refrigerator! The spy is in the refrigerator!" before abruptly passing back out.

CCP often touts this sort of thing with the bland marketing lingo of 'player generated content.' What that actually means is that you get to share a galaxy with Russian aluminum magnates, French-Indonesian nightclub-owning hackers, self-aggranziding 'spymasters,' and people who will cut the power lines to your house to destroy your internet spaceship. There's something deliciously addictive about the sweeping, endemic insanity, one of the ever-present yet rarely remarked upon facets of this most unhinged of MMOs.

Commentary

Both SerLordex and Kugutsumen have lost interest in Eve and wandered off to do other things, but their legacy lives on.

The Mittani
Goonswarm Federation CEO, Space Tyrant. Likes yoga, Alaskan Malamutes, bacon, and delegation.

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