Tuesday 27 January 2015

Morality in EVE

A recent post on reddit about a corp theft got me thinking about morality in EVE. EVE is a game where you can play the villain and take part in actions that would be considered bad or evil in real life, such as betraying a corporation by stealing their assets. However, many consider these activities to be a reflection of the real person behind the keyboard. I'm not so sure about that.

I treat EVE as a game. It can be a highly immersive experience and can be an emotional roller coaster, from the adrenaline high of a close victory to the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach after a crushing defeat. Without the lows the highs become meaningless. The emotional response is very real. However, at the end of the day EVE is still just a video game and it is important to separate this from reality. From that perspective, I believe that any action solely involving game mechanics does not reflect on the personality/nature of the person taking part in them regardless of how those actions would be viewed in real life. If I were to believe otherwise then I would have to believe that shooting people in an FPS means I wan't to shoot them in real life too. Maybe a simplistic example but I believe the logic still stands. Playing a game by the mechanics provided does not make you a bad person.

However, things start to get grey when social interaction is involved. EVE by classification is an MMORPG. The RP element of that is important. Many people like to escape into a fantasy world and role play a character that they could not in real life. I don't feel that playing the villain in an RP context automatically makes you a villain in real life. Being able to explore an evil career path in a videogame can be an interesting experience, even if it is not a career path you would be comfortable with in reality. However, not everyone puts on a persona when they play EVE. Many players are genuine, looking for friendships and are all too willing to misplace their trust in someone else. If I were to put on a persona and gain the genuine trust of someone only to break that trust through corp theft then I very likely will inflict a very real emotional sense of loss in that person. Though, I may still feel justified in my actions I would personally find it hard not to be empathetic towards that person even if the actions are allowed within the context of the game. The question is, would it make me a bad person for breaking their trust anyway when it is allowed within the context of the game?

I'm not sure. My gut feeling is no, it doesn't. The key variable here is that my goal would have been to advance myself in the game in wealth and/or specific assets. My goal was never to hurt my target emotionally, though that would be an end result. Befriending people within the context of the game with the intent of robbing them blind is a legal move. Just as bluffing is a legal move in poker. I don't feel that I should be responsible for their own poor decision making and misplaced trust leading to their own emotional feeling of loss. Simply put, I don't think it would make me a bad person to have beaten them at the game they chose to play where the rules are stated up front when you install the game. I don't think it should be my responsibility to tiptoe around someone who can't separate the game from reality. However, I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't make me feel guilty. At the end of the day I would have still chosen to be the villain and made someone else feel bad as an indirect consequence. That is why I don't think I could carry out a theft or action in game that is based on trust at a social level even if logically I think that it is simply part of the game.

Finally, I think intent in these situations is extremely important. If the goal of an activity is focused on the game, then I believe that it is more acceptable than if the goal is an emotional response from the target. My feeling is at that point it is no longer within the spirit of the game and is moving into harassment territory. I think there is a distinct difference in intent between gaining trust and friendship within the context of the game in order to steal someones stuff in comparison to trying to emotionally cripple them, even if the result is still the same. It is important to distinguish between fantasy and reality and EVE at the end of the day is very much fantasy. It is still my view that real friendships can be made in EVE and for that reason I don't think I could break someones trust to steal their stuff. Although I view it as a "legal move" I accept that they may not and it isn't worth ruining a friendship over. In EVE, the best ship is friendship after all.


  1. In a perfect game I would agree with you. But the corporate management in Eve needs you to have a Ph.D. in Business Administration to understand its inns and outs.
    I don't know how many hours I have put into that complicated system but it is pretty hard to regulate access in a way to allow good group play and also protect your most valueable items (mostly well researched BPOs with a lot of time put into them).

    In general it is a viable game mechanik and something i think is ok within the harsh world of eve. But combined with the fact that you get robbed and the character who did it will simply cease to exist as everything was traded to an unkown "main" ...
    well at this point it breaks the game immersion of RP as there is no character left to blame for. So no vengence to carry out.

    If CCP would add tools of research into the game like watermarks on a BPO that it was researched by character XY there would be interesting gameplay to find stolen goods and ways to identify those. Some would never buy those ill gotten goods but you can't tell them apart.

    (and with 64bit item ID this level of detail gets possible... hopefully)

    1. I've heard that the corp management interface is pretty miserable though I don't have much experience with it. Definitely something I think CCP needs to work on. I generally don't like obtuse ui/game mechanics leading to thefts. My post was really from the perspective of trusting the wrong people rather than checking the wrong boxes in corp management by accident.

      You raised an interesting point about the consequences of being a villain. I think there should be more repercussions to being the bad guy than just a messy employment history though I'm not sure how that could be implemented. Maybe tie some sort of "known aliases" to a character on an account if any other characters on the account are biomassed or something. I like the idea that choices you make in the game should follow your character and would like to see that developed further. The idea of a "stolen goods" identifier is a cool idea too.

  2. For me, where things cross the line into reflecting on the player's character is when real life, non-game interactions such as voice comms are used to build up the trust required to allow for the said awoxing/corp theft. It's one thing to present oneself as a super-helpful corp member in chat or on forums and then steal, but to use voice comms to gain someone's trust and friendship to then stab them in the back is beyond the pale. That takes it out of the realm of "it's just a game".

    If EVE wasn't a universe in which loss is real, then there'd be no problem. If death meant a re-spawn with no loss of gear (only gear damage), oh well, move on. But, like EVE, when game progress represents hours of real work, using voice comms to worm one's way into position is just not on.

    1. Where to draw the line is an interesting discussion. For example, why should third party voice comms be treated differently to in game text chat? They are both simply forms of communication. I don't think there is a perfect answer to that myself. I generally treat it as part of the game if it is being used in the context of gameplay. I think it is healthier to separate "game time" from real life in that way.

      As for loss in EVE. I disagree. I don't treat those hours of "real work" any differently to hours spent watching a film. The time spent is entertainment time. None of the assets gained are legally owned by the player. They are owned by CCP. I can't deny that there may be an emotional attachment to those assets but in reality they hold no real value.

    2. Using terms like 'legal' in this discussion has no real value. It's not a question of legality. You, yourself brought up the issue or morality and that has little to do with legal and illegal.

      Why does voice comms matter and text chat doesn't? Go back and read my comment again. Voice comms allows for real personal connections to be made that text doesn't. Or at the very least, much deeper connections.

      Pretend EVE is a table top game for a moment and the difference becomes clear. Or, better yet, Diplomacy. Diplomacy is all about betrayal and shifting alliances. Players backstab each other all the time. But if a player cultivates a friendship over time and then uses that friendship to backstab me in the game, that's the last time I game with that person.

      That, to me, is what using voice comms to allow betrayal equates to.

      As for loss, again, I don't know why you went down the legal road. Your last sentence explains exactly why the loss factor comes in to play. Emotional attachment does have a currency with many, if not most, people. I still have t-shirts that either no longer fit me, or are so ratty I dare not wear them, but if they were to be tossed out or lost, I'd count the loss of these 'worthless' items far greater than the newest $20 t-shirt I'd purchased.

      At the end of the day, this discussion has no end nor answer. What I believe offends morality might not be what you believe. Moreover, the goal posts shift and move depending on the situation.

      A lightning rod example is griefing. I hold that griefing crosses a moral line, with griefing in this context being defined as ruining someone's game play with the express intent of collecting tears and/or driving them from the game. I know that others have no problem with griefing. I will never be convinced that griefing is okay and those that support it are similarly convinced of their rightness.

      I suppose it really does come down to the issue of using friendship to betray people. For me, I don't really consider text-only interaction rising to the level of friendship. Interacting via voice does, though. For others, it doesn't.

      For the record, though, I don't think I could ever do a corp theft. I'm not sure if it's because I think it's wrong or because I just don't see fun in it. I suspect it's more because I think it's wrong; I'll happily kill a ship I come across in low, or null, or w-space, be it shuttle or miner, and I'll do it solo or in a fleet, but I draw the line at stealing.

    3. I brought up legality of ownership as I feel it makes it irrational to place value over in game assets. I think that plays a role when discussing the morality of stealing those assets. The point being that it is irrational to have an emotional tie to them and therefore it isn't immoral to steal them. That being said, I understand that my view isn't held by everyone which makes it tricky. I don't think I could be the villain in that instance because I would have upset the target, even if I think that emotion comes from an irrational belief.

      I don't disagree with the voice versus text argument by the way. I really just brought it up as a point of discussion. The pendulum can easily swing the other way and many people may view text communication as equal to voice. For example, a mute or deaf person cannot communicate through voice chat. That is why I would differentiate "game time" versus reality, though it is a very difficult line to draw.

      I agree with your perspective in griefing and I touched on it in the main post. I think intent is important. If the goal is emotional "damage" to the opponent then it is no longer an objective within the game and is essentially targeting real life.

      Even if the discussion has no end/answer it is still interesting to explore with someone who has a different perspective on it. Thanks for the replies.

    4. It's also an ever-shifting stage, too.

      Just last night, we had a corp morality dilemma. We came across a guy mining gas in a wormhole. We contacted him and asked him if he would pop the gas sites for us (and allow him to get some gas in the process). We'd come back and kill the sleepers, grab the loot, and let him carry on mining.

      There were quite a few corpies who wanted to kill him even if it meant violating the agreement outright, some who were desperately looking for loopholes to violate the agreement, a very few who thought the guy was on the up-and-up, and a large chunk who were sure it was bait and even if it wasn't, we were teaching the miner wrong by allowing him to live as that would teach him to trust other players.

      We eventually honoured our agreement, with varying degrees of acceptance. But it was an interesting morality play.

      I also agree that just because the issue of what is and isn't moral may not have an end point, that's no reason not to discuss it.