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CAGEO: Pirates, Carebears, and Emergent Gameplay

One of the most intriguing things about EVE Online is that CCP, the developer, does not make any attempt to use their ability to manipulate the rules of the EVE universe to artificially impose the acceptance of the title to property. Pirates are not ruled out of existence; they are incorporated into the rules. There are computer-controlled NPC enemies referred to by the game as “pirates” which players call “rats” in EVE slang. And then there are the actual pirates, the other players who shoot at poorly armed ships for fun and profit. In what is called “high sec” space (sec being short for security), there is a police force called CONCORD that will come in and exact retribution upon those who illegally shoot another player’s ship. I know that we’re going through a log of jargon here, but this is so you don’t have to play the game for a few months to have any idea what I am talking about. That’s the idea behind this series.

In other MMO games, there would be a no-PvP zone, but even the developers say that there are no safe places outside of stations. So while it may be illegal, and punishable by the invincible CONCORD, nothing stops players from shooting another player’s unarmed mining ship. But what prompts the developers to remind us of the face that nobody is safe in the most secure of high sec space? This is where I have to start talking about CODE. It’s the bogeyman supposedly hiding in every asteroid belt. I mentioned in the private chat channel for the corporation I joined that I had flown out and set up a mining frigate to work away while I wrote Skills, the previous post in this series. I was warned that this kind of mining was going to get me killed by CODE. Who is this monster hiding under every capsuleer’s bed?

CODE. is the alliance of players and player-corporations founded by a player named James 315 which enforces the New Halaima Code of Conduct. James also publishes a daily blog chronicling the exploits of the alliance. If you choose to browse the website, please be aware that it’s a beautifully Orwellian work of propaganda. If it feels a bit icky and cultish then you are just reacting like any normal human being should. But once I accepted the premise, I became hooked on the entertainment value.

CODE. as a group is basically a space mafia centred around a personality cult. They shoot pacifists and run a licensing scheme that amounts to an extortion racket. And you know what? I love them for it. Consider the following groups of players in EVE: so-called “carebears” who don’t shoot other players and just want to shoot rats, mine minerals, and build stuff; griefers looking to shoot down unarmed player ships, enforce a player-created code of conduct with religious zeal, and run an extortion racket; and toxic players who spew obscenities and abusive language. You’d think that the last two groups would have the most overlap, but if James’ blog is a reasonable sample then I am inclined to believe there are more carebears who are engaging in verbal abuse than there are CODE. agents doing that. They get into the roleplay and have fun with it. They play the game. They’re the space mafia, but they’re a damn good space mafia. I even agree with some of their points about bot-aspirancy. Of course, not all carebears are abusive jerks and/or bot-aspirant. I’ve met some in the field (strangers, not even corporation-mates) who went out of their way to ensure I knew how to avoid getting killed. But there does seem to be a steady stream of very salty carebears who really do need to take the agents’ advice and calm down.

What do I find so interesting about this conflict between peaceful miners and zealous pirates? It’s that all this isn’t the brainchild of some writer working for the developer. It’s all created by players. All of the drama, all of the anti-CODE. resistance, it’s all content that emerges from players playing the game. Incidents like the death of Lord British or the Corrupted Blood Incident are rare exceptions in other games, but in EVE Online it’s entirely by design that content emerges from unexpected events. The developers never intended for CODE. to exist, some guy named James invented it and now it’s part of the folklore. I think that’s really neat. I only wish more carebears who got blown up sought in-game solutions to their in-game problems instead of spewing abusive language and threatening to file spurious reports to the moderators. Groups like the High Sec Militia might not be able to hold a candle to CODE.’s blogging game, but they exist in the game and their chat channels are active. There are options for players who wish to resist without being toxic. As for me, I choose to use the in-game tools available to avoid CODE. and other player-pirates altogether while going about my business.

Fans of the 2003 television series Firefly fondly remember this scene where the pilot of Serenity is playing with his toy dinosaurs while Serenity is cruising along, but at no point does he completely abandon his console. He’s got to be vigilant in case there are hostile Alliance ships in the area. Sound familiar? It’s the end of his little vignette that I am reminded of whenever I see a threat to my ship.

Curse your sudden, but inevitable betrayal! (source)

So, that’s me when I’m mining in high sec: perhaps blogging rather than playing dinosaurs and watching the in-game chat channels Gank-Intel and Anti-ganking rather than a radar with an audible alarm, but with the same idea. I can mine while writing, but getting careless with it would see my ship blown up by those who claim ownership over all the rocks in all the space. Isn’t that better than sending hatemail to other players and getting made fun of for it?

And, at the end of the day, I won’t be upset if I get ganked by a CODE. agent. First, because they would have to be quite good at what they do to ever find me to begin with. If they can catch me I’m dead, but I will respect the skill and talent of any agent who is capable of catching me. Second, even if I lose my stuff, I am centred in the knowledge that I am playing internet spaceships in a PvP universe. It’s not to be taken seriously. If I don’t take it too seriously, there is no reason to have a tantrum and say horrible things. If it ever gets to be too much, I can just move on to another game.

Now, does using internet spaceships to mine internet asteroids sound like a life for me? Not really. But is it way more fun doing so for a little while with an element of danger and feeling like I have in some small way flouted the space mafia by mining without a licence? Absolutely. I don’t know how long I will continue to play this game or what I will move on to doing within it if I do. The only thing I know for certain is that I am not in the market for a a mining permit. Not now, not ever.

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