Saturday, March 15, 2014

Rambling: An Expanded Response

[TL;DR: In which Sugar responds to a morality question presented by Ripard Teg and breaks down the topic into pieces]
"And yet I am not convinced of it," I answered. "The cases which come to light in the papers are, as a rule, bald enough, and vulgar enough. We have in our police reports realism pushed to its extreme limits, and yet the result is, it must be confessed, nether fascinating nor artistic."
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - A Case of Identity, Page 1, Paragraph 2
About two months ago my mother looked up from a news article she was reading and commented about how terrible the news has become. I picked up my kindle and read that passage to her. One hundred years ago, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote that paragraph as Watson spoke to Holmes at the start of a short story. Sensationalism is something that people bring along with them. We are, in general willing spectators to terrible things as long as those terrible things are not happening to us. People are voyeurs.

Ripard Teg presented a series of questions in my CSM thread based off of a of blog post that introduces a series he is writing about the Eve community. That particular series is not yet complete and already it has caused a stir among people. Rarely do I wish to comment on a topic where the writer has not yet completed his thoughts. There is too much room for confusion and assumption. However, the topic was brought to my doorstep so to speak and I decided to expand from my thread response.


The start of Ripard’s series is a killmail. That killmail is a high sec gank of an expensive mission running boat. When that gank happened the killmail passed through the channels and I did not raise an eyebrow. It was another expensive mission ship in a string of expensive mission ship losses. I don’t ask “What were they thinking?” It isn’t hard to see what they were thinking. It is a concept of ‘best’ gear. It just happens not to work quite the way people are used to it working in Eve.

But, Ripard commented on the second half of the event. After the gank, the pilot was scammed out of another ship. This is where it went from ‘just another overpriced mission gank’ to a situation that has rapidly reached an emotional, critical mass. People cheered on the scam and booed the victim, requesting that he leave the game. And that mentality sounds horrible and negative. But how it sounds and what it is are two different things.

Between the two events was a conversation. In that conversation the subject of the gank decided to make some nasty words and say some vicious things. I’ve heard many people say that he deserved what he got and that they lost their sympathy for him at that point. When he made IRL threats he violated societal boundaries and the reactions of the watchers changed as well. What some might have disliked became a cheered on ‘comeuppence’. And when that happened the potential negative social consequences of the action vanished for many people. The victim became the villain.

In my forum post Ripard asks:
I'm in the midst of writing a series of blog posts about the changes I've seen over the last few years to EVE's culture. I feel we've become much quicker to embarrass and humiliate each other, much less likely to treat each other with respect, more inclined to see how far we can push another player... see if we can break him... see if we can drive him out of the game or make him snap.
And if successful, we crow "Go back to WoW, you *****!" and we celebrate our "victory."
1) Do you agree?
2) If so, why do you think it's happening? If you disagree, why?
3) What, if anything, do you feel CCP should do about it?
And I respond:
1) There is a section of the player base who is quickly disenchanted with players that enter the game with seemingly little desire to learn.  I do not believe that they are the entire player base or that the entire player base deserves the absolute “we” in the introduction. 
2) I think a lot of it comes from frustration. Many people have been playing this game for ten years. Some become tired of answering the same question over and over again. Not everyone has the temperament to help new players into the game. When the information they do give is rejected or never sought they do not feel pity when the new player stumbles.
However, the simplicity of this question ignores the other segment of the population. The people who go out and actively help new players. The ones who write guides, make videos, do talks, run fleets, run corporations based on teaching, bring in new players to their groups, troubleshoot rookie chat, answer the New Citizens area, sit in help chat, answer on reddit, correct misassumptions on news stories and in general promote and share Eve online as a game.
I believe that this topic is about the vocal minority. The vocal minority, being vocal, cover up the quiet majority. I would think that anyone that has spent time in the community can take a moment to look at all of the positive, healthy aspects of social behavior around them to measure the vocal minority listed in the original question. I refuse to look at one without the other.
3) CCP already has rules in place. Continued enforcement of those rules will go far. I’d like CCP to put some constant energy into improving the methods that a player can acquire a better knowledge about Eve. I believe in combating ignorance with education. It is not reserved for new players. There are older players who have never looked at patch notes after four years of playing. 
There is a very loud vocal minority in Eve. The discrepancy between how many people play and how many people make noise is quite large. Noise does not have to be bad. I’m defining the noisy as those who take their Eve and sound out about it across the internet. Forums, blogs, reddit, youtube, soundcloud, new articles, all are noises about Eve. But, there is a vocal minority that Ripard brings forward as an ugly culture of Eve. A destructive, vicious culture that consumes and destroys as it passes.

I will not deny that there is ugliness in the game or that there are behaviors that socially, outside of the game would be unacceptable. However, inside of the game these behaviors are acceptable. That does not make them less ugly to me but it does make them less ugly to some. Yet, these ugly behaviors and unacceptable social aspects are only one part of the game. They are one vocal minority that is very very loud.

Even as Ripard discusses this topic and how toxic the culture of Eve is, Eve University celebrates its tenth anniversary. Ten years of a video game corporation that teaches random strangers how to fly internet spaceships in a learning environment. I cannot look at the ugly without looking at the good. They are both there. No matter how ugly the behaviors of some are, I stare at the four hundred people in Eve Uni chat and I see positive qualities that equal the ugly in volume and strength if not in general noise.

In the quote at the start of this post, Watson is reading a newspaper and lamenting the world. That is the same world where we today would say, “Things were better then.” No. Things were the same. Good and bad happened and bad was publicized more than good because negatives gather attention. In a second post Ripard responds to a commenter about, “What has changed?” and he responds, “The intensity level.” I disagree. The intensity level is the same as it has always been. We have simply developed the exact same methods to condense and deliver it to a fevered pitch as we, as humans, have for over a hundred years.

But wouldn’t the world be a better place if we didn’t allow the ugly and instead forced the good? Of course it would. It is also unrealistic. Polite words may temper an argument but they do not end or solve it. Society is a tool that we have developed to get along with each other. Eve is formed of micro societies. Those micro societies all clash with each other and give us a video game. When those micro societies don’t clash we have everyone getting along. In Eve, we complain about that endlessly and tell CCP the game is broken because Sov has turned blue.

Eve’s culture is carved in conflict. It is video game conflict but it is still conflict and conflict does not tend to bring forward the soft and nice. The question becomes how do we stop people from blindly being swept up in the creature that Eve currently is? For me, the solution is a lot about education and creating methods for people to learn if they choose to do so. Education cannot be forced but it must be an attainable option.

Flipping back to the Raven pilot. He made a decision that made sense to him because he has not taken the time to learn about Eve. As a new player, that is understandable. Eve as a game, with its rules for fitting, flying, and power, is abnormal. It has to be learned. When someone picks up a new game they often just start playing it and they will figure it out. Eve happens to kick you in the gut when you do that. I equate the first aspect of the gank with ignorance. Ignorance that could have been solved but ignorance of a new player nonetheless. Many need to lose before they learn and some lose much, much more than others. The Raven pilot then rejected the education. That rejection, in my opinion, is what inflames the attitude. In a game where knowledge must be embraced it was rejected.

The second part of the situation, the scam, is where the moral complexity enters. I, personally, dislike the scam. It does not sit well with me and it is not something that I could personally do. However, as morally against it as I may personally be I would not condemn someone for doing it. It doesn’t mean I have to like it. And, many who cheered, cheered not for the actual scam but for the comeuppance that the player recieved for his tirade of IRL threats and his rejection of knowledge..

“But you can’t change it,” I was told. I disagree a bit. You cannot snap your fingers and make people behave as you want them to behave. Instead, you have to get behind your cause. I have a cause in Eve. I’ve named it the Cult of Reasonable Prices and in it I attempt to convince people to reach their personal achievements through a mutually beneficial system. If Ripard wishes to champion a change in Eve’s culture he will have to get behind his cause as he seems to be doing.
"Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward."  
--Vernon Law 
As for scams, my method to avoid them is to educate against them. I receive a lot of search hits to my blog about scams. People are out there learning about them. People are out there becoming educated about them. Eve’s scam culture is obvious to the initiated but it is a perilous minefield to the uninformed. It is not an intuitive process and sadly, most will only learn that once they have fallen for it.

“But everyone says that Eve is a cruel, vicious, world.” Yes, they do. Take the time to read most game intros for RPGs. They will all announce what a hard world you are entering with only the clothing on your back and a stick to defend yourselves against wolves. In fifteen minutes you’re beating wolves with one foot while eating a taco over tea. That perception is what people enter with and it makes complete sense that they are startled by the fact that those words are actually real.

“The sandbox!” The sandbox has walls. It always has. What most of us want is those walls to just be the edges. I’d prefer CCP to give us tools. While the players forge an incredibly complex support structure outside of the game, the one inside of the game lags behind. New players have to learn that ‘google it’ is actually the correct answer. There is no manmode in Eve where you don’t go for help guides. The simple concept of ‘the best ship’ is one so slippery that it might as well be sold as a replacement for Teflon. But none of that is clear at the start when people are most susceptible.

The best tool is education. The bad of the culture does not outweigh the good of the culture. People are people and will continue to be people.

P.S. I have never played WoW.

14 comments:

  1. I admit I haven't read this post more than superficially, but just today I came across a quote on the same topic:

    "Behind every character is a player. Brutalize the character, but respect the player." (http://targetcaller.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-raven-navy-issue-thing.html)

    I don't agree with all he is saying, but I do agree with the basic sentiment.

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    1. I do not think it is a topic where many of us will agree with everything someone else presentsnin the realm of thought and opinion on the topic.

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  2. I think you nailed it here, Sugar, frankly much better than Ripard's approach to the issue. Balanced and reality-based, rather than moralistic. Excellent post.

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  3. Jester's posts are not written by someone politicking for office, and don't need to be so balanced they fail to take a stand.

    "Train n00bs better" is an old solution to the problem of player churn, and it's not distinct from "but the sandbox" or "use Google" or "HTFU." It's the answer of a veteran who doesn't want the game to change when it comes to scamming and bullying. Unfortunately, it doesn't directly address the problem of the steep learning curve, which is utterly at odds with a game that devs want to grow rapidly; the players willing to study and learn a really complicated gaming environment are mostly already here. Reaching out to new demographics would require some sort of royal road, and I'm not sure that's possible on CCP's, or rather EVE's. budget. Do we want development to shift toward the revamping of tutorials?

    If the player base can grow significantly, the reasons why are probably going to include some sorts of measures against n00b-punching. That's not quite in the spirit of the classic sandbox, but CCP has made it clear that they're not quite satisfied with the current player base, either. Something's gonna give.

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    1. The approach of this topic is no different from past approaches to volatile topics that I do not consider black and white. I tend to be most interested in the why and reason of an action.

      In many ways CCP is approaching this by working on accessibility. Tool tips. Ewar icons. Pinpoint lines from active mod to targeted icon. They are biting into complexity.

      However when you have a person. Who refused to learn how do you teach them? Or do we create an environment where there will never be a reason to learn? At some point personal accountability is going to step in. Even if everything was nice and people where forced to be kind and gentle.

      And the players are their biggest hurdle. Everything done to help new players has to be looked at for its exploitability. There are many ideas that are good ideas for the topic but fail the tests when it comes to exploiting.

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    2. Personal accountability is already the default condition, baked into the game, and is the reason the HTFU mythology has sprung up around it. The question that everyone is dancing around is: how much should CCP do, if anything, to mitigate the economic and social ruin that less-experienced players face? As you might phrase it: how do you retain the players who will not learn, and find it easier to move on to another, friendlier game?

      Any infringement on the rights of the bullies to bully will be seen as an assault on the flavor of the game, and that's not a wrong reaction. I just think that a bit of such infringement is going to be required for the player base to grow significantly.

      I lean toward the creation of perfect-sec space in which PvP is not possible and in which CCP will act to reverse scams. Or just the scams on characters less than six months old. Or something.

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    3. The fact that most answers hit the wall of instancing is a reason many shy away from it. And even then, a new character in Eve is not necessarily a new player. Infringement or not we also have to look at abusability. Protective measures by their nature will create a shelter for those who wish to use it.

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    4. I'm not worried about an old player keeping a new toon in perfect-sec space--that hardly counts as abuse. Old players aren't going to be easily scammed, and even the scammers can simply ply their trade in the rest of New Eden.

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  4. While I completely agree with you that there is lots of good in EVE, I have to admit that what you call the 'vocal' majority seems to match if not outnumber the 'silent' in content generation. Even those who are not 'vocal' about their outright harassment of others for personal enjoyment also seem to equal or outnumber those who wish to teach/assist the community. For every Chribba there are at least 100 other players clamoring to scam a titan off someone.

    I run a small new player training corp and without fail *every* time I put up a recruitment ad on the forums we get wardec'd. While these wardec corps aren't necessarily vocal, they are preying on new players intentionally. The culture of EVE, in my opinion, encourages this. Why risk fighting an enemy and getting splashes of red on your killboard when you can target newbies who can barely fly T1 cruisers? Carebears are hardly the only players who evaluate risk/reward ratios and unless there is a convincing reason not to prey on a particularly vulnerable player that player will always be at a disadvantage. All the learning and advice taking in the world won't stop that.

    I don't want EVE to be kind and gentle. That isn't the game I log in to play. I also don't want to be so disgusted by chat in the trade hubs that I log off and don't return for several days because I have to ask myself "why do I put up with _______" (insert your own reason here. for me it's rape culture, women bashing, humiliation, and bragging about winning because you harassed a player so much that they rage quit). In the end I do log back in. Usually it's to check on my newbies to see if they finished training for a T2 tank, or how their brand new battlecruiser is doing in level 3 security missions.

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    1. But that goes back to the vocal minority and silent majority. Most people who spend their time, like you don't run around screaming and posting on the forums about it.

      I am angry when I undock from a rookie station to do tutorial missions and there is someone sitting out in a suspect Vexor trying to get new players to attack them. That type of behavior angers me to no end. Similar to those who war dec your newbie focused corporation. I don't understand the satisfaction drawn from those situations.

      And being disgusted by chat things are petitionable although there is a culture against doing that. It has been deployed to devastating results before and much angry at the curtailment of said behavior. That toxic environment of words that you loathe others love and that is what makes it such a hard thing to change. But, to change it it has to be acted upon even when it feels as if one is throwing pebbles into the Ocean.

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    2. I wasn't aware that you could petition being offended in chat. I knew that posting pornographic images in a public chat was bannable (and I've sent in a petition for just that happening in rookie help). I'd like to think that I'm pretty relaxed as a player and not easily offended. Unfortunately the sheer volume of the type of language that bothers me just makes me disgusted at the game sometimes. Thankfully I have a really great corp and that's the reason I continue to log in. It's a great feeling when you give a new player their very first battlecruiser, or take a flock of newbies out to low sec with T1 frigates to dispel the myth that low sec is a place one should never travel. My corp is what keeps me logging in. Local chat might be offensive to me, but not enough to eschew the game entirely.

      I find myself hesitant to report someone to CCP for smacktalking or using abusive language in general. In my mind there is a very clear line of what is absolutely not acceptable and not many people cross *that* line. As a person who has worked with rape victims I am particularly sensitive to rape culture in gaming. So much so that I have to log off before I start to rage at the offenders. I know that I'm sensitive to it and most people are not. I just can't bring myself to try and ban someone for it. Second to that is all the hate I get for being a woman. I don't see why it's so difficult to imagine that a woman could enjoy a video game and I don't see why everyone should start in with sexist harrasment. I shouldn't even have to dignify requests for naked pictures with a response! Again, that's me being sensitive to my particular issues and I just don't see myself trying to ban someone for it. Yes, it upsets me... but does it really cross a line?

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    3. Thank you for expanding upon it. Being upset is a valid state of being but as you have listed there are various levels of what is uncomfortable or upsetting. The more we define it the better we can look at it.

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  5. This is nothing new, it's being going on for a very long time and it's not just Eve it's online gaming in general.

    The sad fact of the matter is since there are no real personal consequences (like getting punched or going to jail) many players choose to be douchebags online.

    They do things online they wouldn't dare do in real life just because they can get away with it with no consequences.

    And if anyone thinks it's bad here, try a game like WoW with global chat channels.

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    1. Off the wall is always good.

      What do we do about stations?

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