Thursday 5 July 2012

BB37: Lines in the Sand

“EVE Online sits on the frontier of social gaming, providing an entertainment environment like no other. The vibrant society of interacting and conflicting communities, both within the EVE client and without, is the driving force behind EVE's success. However, the anonymity of Internet culture combined with a competitive gaming environment encourages in-game behaviour to spread beyond the confines of the sandbox. Where is the line?”
 — Blog Banter 37

One of the problems with drawing lines in the sand is that such lines only provide another arena for some people to play a new game. When you draw a line and say, “this far, no further,” these people are going to stick their toe over the line and see what consequences will arise. How far can they push the boundaries before invoking some consequence from a “higher authority”? For boundary-pushers there is no “cheating”: if the rules of the game don't expressly forbid some behaviour, obviously that behaviour is allowed. Thus they will engage in verbal and physical harassment during social chess matches, goading their opponent into making a brash move quickly. For these people, name-calling and telling people to kill themselves is just part of the game. “The line in the sand” is clearly at that point where you get in trouble from the government of your realm, and that's the only line that counts. These people are sometimes misconstrued as “sociopaths” when they are merely “ultra competitive.”

Aside from boundary-pushers there are people who play EVE Online as a casual pursuit. They're not particularly interested in alarm-clock ops where they wake up at 4am to join a caravan that may or may not do something interesting during the four- to five-hour operation (and many people would suggest that arriving at work late and sleep-deprived means you're taking your game far too seriously). For these people (let's call them “polite gamers” to contrast them with “boundary pushers”), the purpose of a game is to share an activity with other people. If there are competitive elements in the game, the competition is between the skills of each player with respect to the objectives of the game: thus a game of chess between polite gamers would more likely involve fireside chats and social drinks rather than name calling and goading. The polite gamer who feels they are not winning might actually compliment their competition on a game well played.

At what point does aggressive behaviour or board-flipping cease to be “part of the game” and become “a manace to society” or a threat to the wellbeing of others? There are very obvious limits involved where game-induced behaviour turns into crime: stalking, harassment, theft, robbery or assault and battery to name a few. The boundary-pushers will insist that these are the only boundaries that count: “it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.” The polite gamer will suggest that the boundary exists in that nebulous area where the game ceases to fill some criteria of fun, entertainment, challenge or compelling play. Thus to a polite gamer, there is no “line in the sand” to be drawn: there is simply, “you have done something which makes me not want to play with you at this time.”

CCP has, through the words of CCP Soundwave, indicated that they would prefer to keep the boundary-pushers rather than the polite gamers. They would prefer that people quit playing EVE because they don't like it, rather than alter EVE Online to cater to a larger market. Taking this preference of CCP's into account, the only suitable conclusion to make about where to draw this “line in the sand” is the one the boundary-pushers will agree to: it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Unless you're risking legal entanglement, anything goes. There is no separation between “game world” and “real world”, and it is just as fair to harass the player as it is to harass their in-game persona.

CCP has, however, drawn a line in the sand of their own. Even though CCP had to be pushed by a wave of negative publicity to do so, they wrist-slapped Alex Gianturco with a 30 day ban for his drunken, boastful suggestion that other players should harass a particular player into committing suicide. So at least we know that there is a line in the sand where goading turns into public, Internet-broadcasted incitements to harass others. The polite gamers will be thinking, “that was shameful behaviour, I'm glad I don't have to interact with that uncouth churl,” while the boundary-pushers will be thinking to themselves, “would it have been okay if he wasn't caught on camera?”.

My opinion is that polite gamers and boundary-pushers can coexist in EVE Online, at least up to the point where polite gamers can no longer escape boundary-pushers by changing corporations, moving to a different star system, or logging out of the game. The polite gamers are quite happy to make decisions for themselves (because they have brains) while the boundary-pushers are quite happy to make decisions for others (because they have no compassion). In the middle will be the squeaky wheels of people who aren't bullies themselves, can't make decisions about their own fate, and may have been given some horrible advice (such as “talk to them”) on how to handle bullies, complaining that CCP accommodates and encourages antisocial behaviour.

Antisocial behaviour is pretty much par for the course in a player-versus-player combat oriented game. To suggest that a virtual world modelled as a dystopian future filled with intrigue and betrayal should somehow cater to people whose idea of “antisocial” is “uses rude words in public,” is heresy. Most of us learned how to deal with bullies or other unpleasant people at school: there is the Invisible Man's approach of ignoring them and staying out of their way, or Ender's solution of inflicting such violence upon them that they cannot strike back. These are viable strategies in EVE Online. Getting mouthy and complaining to “higher authority” are not viable strategies for dealing with unpleasant people in EVE Online.

If you feel that there should be some agreed “line in the sand” in terms of the entire gamut of acceptable behaviour, with meaningful consequences from some “higher authority” for stepping over that line, CCP has some words for you: Harden The Fuck Up.


  1. What about the line they drew by banning Helicity for (albeit temporarily) for verbally attacking a dev? We are allowed to berate, belittle and demean other paying customers but not those that supply us with the universe and tools to do so? I may not be of the HTFU coalition, but it seems that perhaps CCP should at least play by the rules they want us to play by or at the least expect some flack when the do mess up. Maybe it's time for CCP to HTFU or STFU.

  2. Remember that there are three sides to every story.

  3. There are usually more than that, but no matter how many sides there actually are does not excuse hypocrisy or double standards. I may not know the whole narrative from either parties perspective, but I did follow the situation as best as I could through the public channels.

    If we want the same stale targets, then by all means, they should stay the course they have set out. If Hilmar really wants EVE to be the ultimate sci-fi simulator, attracting only sociopaths who are not afraid to "play" outside the confines of the game is not the best business model to do so. If a person wants to play a psychopathic character, that's fine and should be allowed, but it needs to stay in the game. We have enough murders, rapists, and molesters in the real world as it is.

    On a side note, what happens when these same people that are prone to DDoS attacks on comm servers start going after the PSN when Dust is live? CCP may not have the legal reach to do anything about it, but Sony does.

    Will they still promote a no holds barred approach to WoD? While that may seem to be irrelevant, I think the BB question goes beyond EVE and is a question of CCP's responsibility to their customers. The goth/vampire culture kids are known to go beyond pretending.

  4. Actually, anyone that was surprised by Helicity's ban deserves a very modest tap on the back of the head. One does not piss on the feet of them what provides one's sustenance and expect no consequence. It may not be just, but it's no different than what goes on at any place of work today.

    1. I wasn't surprised when it happened, just as I am not surprised at much that does happen in this game or on the forum. I was simply making the argument that expected behavior goes all ways, not just customer to customer. It's easy for the debs to tell us to HTFU but when a paying customer tries to say it back it's a horrible faux pa that results in being removed from the community.

      I personally believe Mittani's error at fan feat was a much more grievous incident than Helicity's. Telling a dev to DIAF is about as harmful as my kids telling each other they are going to kill one another over the last soda in the fridge. It's rhetoric, actually urging others to push someone past the point of breaking while knowing said person was suffering a psych problem at the time is just uncouth and uncaring. Drunk or high on internet stardom is no excuse. While I do not know the actual terms of Helicity's ban, I do know Helicity was out of the game for much longer.

      I did not weigh in on either subject when they respectively happened, but they both fit into the BB question so I will use them as case points now.

    2. It's pretty well accepted that pugilists punch each other, not the referee, umpire or janitor. By the same token, it's unacceptable for boxers to punch each other outside the ring: that's assault, which is an infraction against the laws of the land.

      I see EVE Online as the same situation: we are participants in a game which pits us against all the other participants. CCP and associated GMs & ISD members are the umpires and referees. Even in courts and parliaments, the people running the show are accorded more respect than the other participants.

    3. Unless I completely misread your meaning, you stated in the last paragraph that "CCP has some words for you: Harden the Fuck Up." I read that as a defense of CCP not doing anything for zealous behavior spilling out from the game, yet it's unacceptable for pugilists to fight out of the ring. You even stated that would be a crime.

      If a ref or umpire were to get hit during a match there would be nothing they can really do about it, they stepped into the ring knowing they were stepping into the middle of a fight.

      If something happens in the game and only has meaning and consequence in the game is one thing. When some thing happens in game and has meaning and consequence of actions happening out of the game is completely different. I have no problem with someone roleplaying a psychopath in game. That is a character, that is their choice. Once they take the aberrant behavior out of the game, that is wrong. That is where I believe CCP has a duty to protect their customers from something that started in their make believe world.

      I took the initial BB question not as people behaving badly in game but more where is the line crossing from game to people's real lives. While I do not consider the forums to be part of the game, or FanFest or any other EvE related website. I strictly believe that the game is between the servers and the clients.

      That may sound like I am negating my entire argument about Helicity because that happened on the forums, but I believe the lack of devs on TQ forced that discussion to happen out of the game. I'm sure they are on there, just not wearing that dev hat where they could field discussions as the masters of New Eden. I don't blame them for that, it would ruin the sandbox feel.

    4. Yes, HTFU is a defence of over-zealous behaviour spilling out of the game. The game we are playing is between the players, it is not limited to the characters in the game. The game of poker is played between the players, not the cards that are dealt. Half the game is about bluffing, which is not covered by the rules of the card game itself.

      Where the line is drawn is that point at which the players break the rules of the real world (aka "The Law") in their expression of aggression or dislike against another player.

      A ref steps into the ring knowing that they're going to cop a loose fist or two in their time. They don't expect the players to direct the punches at the referee. When the players direct their punches at the referee, they are disqualified.

      But we do agree that taking aberrant behaviour outside the game is wrong: the rest of society agrees with you, which is why stealing, libel and slander are illegal in the real world.

    5. Breaking the law is the easy line to see. It is clearly defined with set punishments. There are certain activities which I do not keep up on in the legal world though. DDoS may be a grey area, is it illegal, is it not, I'm not sure on that point. I will venture as far as saying that gaining access to an enemy comm system through subterfuge, which relies on said enemy actually accepting you in through their own action does not cross that line even though in the real world that would be considered illegal.

      I also believe that libel and slander should be upheld in the game. It is not a bluff, it is an intentional act of malice even against a character. I disagreed with those that choose to call Mittani an attempted murder, a nazi, and any of the other over the top epithets that were used. At the onset of the problem, I wanted to see him banned from EvE permanently. That was my gut reaction, then I thought about it. I thought about it for a long time. I came to the conclusion that CCP was wrong to ban him for the thirty days. The catalyst that changed my opinion was that I truly believe he was sorry as a person for what he did. He showed that by resigning the chair and offering amends to the player he outed. As far as I know, no one forced him to do either of those things. That demonstrated great character. I abhorred both the act that he did and those that tried to crucify him for it.

      Now we have been given the reason why Yuki left and the confession of Oseo (if memory serves me) about how some players will take their gaming so far as to force rational people to leave a game they love. If competitiveness is left unchecked it is only a matter of time before we start hearing stories of murder and assault. Should we wait until lives are lost before we make rules to stop it?

      A thought has occurred to me, perhaps EvE is more like alcohol. Hear me out. There are some people that can walk into a bar have a few drinks and then leave with out any incident. There are others who can walk in with the intention of having only one or two and then find themselves waking up in a jail cell because they can not handle their alcohol. It's not a perfect analogy, but I think it has merit. Especially when we fold all the Korean problems in.

  5. I was actually banned less than a month, I just chose not to play until CCP cleaned up their act.

    I stand by my words however, Zinfandel can go DIAF.

    1. hmmmm...will i get banned if i call CCP Soundwave a "douchebag"?

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. "If you feel that there should be some agreed 'line in the sand' in terms of the entire gamut of acceptable behaviour, with meaningful consequences from some 'higher authority' for stepping over that line, CCP has some words for you: Harden The Fuck Up."

    Which illuminates what CCP considers their EULA for: covering their own legal ass and not ours...and it's the only line on CCP's mind that blinds them to the law of unintended consequences - that trolls will take this and run with it until all CCP has left are risk-averse game mechanics because they listened to the asskissing trolls who promote the "HTFU" (and the carebears do it just as much as the griefers in their desire to eliminate risk to themselves)