Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Serious Business of Internet Spaceships



An article about the CSM was published in The Atlantic on March 10th, 2015 titled "The Real Politics of a Virtual Society". It is an interesting read with four members of the CSM quoted. This blog post is about my part in that particular article.

Back in June I got an e-mail from Nicholas O'Brien saying that he wanted to write about the CSM. I'd been in office for a whole month at the time and I was both excited and suspicious. Was he a real person? If he was, an article about the CSM would be cool. I was happy to talk to anyone about it but I also wanted to do things the right way. After all, I had this new relationship with CCP and then there was the rest of the CSM.

Nothing that Mr. O'Brien asked in his e-mail was NDA. At no point did I feel that I could not answer him freely or that I needed CCP's permission. I figured that he would want to contact CCP. My understanding of writing and journalism is about information gathering. I also checked with the rest of the CSM to see if they had received e-mails. I then wrapped up my response to Mr. O'Brian to include a forward to CCP Leeloo and contact with the rest of the CSM. I did not know if I was doing the right thing but I was doing what felt right to me.

We did spend a minute looking Mr. O'Brien up and we decided to roll with the program. CCP Leeloo was also on board. At that point, I sat down and wrote out my long response to Mr. O'Brien. He also had a voice session on Skype with other members of the CSM. I was not able to attend that because it was held on a work day. He gathered information and said he needed to find a publisher.

Then we didn't hear from him again for a while. That was okay. Things were busy in the land of the CSM after the summer. In December, I received another e-mail from him with some follow up questions. I answered these as well and shared my responses with CCP Leeloo. Again, this was not because I wrote anything that I would not freely say or write. It was simply what I felt to be a professional heads up considering we were dealing with a potential news article of some type. Some other members of the CSM also spoke to Mr. O'Brien. Some by voice, some by mail.

December was busy. With the campaign season starting and the Winter Summit happening and the chances brought in Phoebe and Rhea rippling across the game my time on the CSM became consumptive and I didn't think about the article. That led me to being surprised when it surfaced as published.

I don't think I've been quoted in something like this before. It is odd to see my words in print. The interviews I have done for various people in Eve always fascinate me in the same way. I remember saying those things. Yet, there is something that makes me want to reach out and touch the things I say when I see them in print.

Both of the conversations I had with Mr. O'Brian are linked below. The first one was in June of 2014 and the second in December 2014. I think that the change of tone during the six month separation is interesting. Experience had started to change me although not alter my beliefs. But who and what I am is not the same and I do not believe that it could not change.

I did ask Mr. O'Brian if he minded my linking the full interview for those interested in the extended version of the discussion and my responses. He agreed.

Nicholas O'Brien (June 3th, 2013)
In terms of my questions about the CSM, I'm wondering if you might be able to talk to me about the process of being elected, and how your represent your constituency. Is there any kind of direct representation that goes on - for instance are you representing specific interests within New Eden? Or is it more loose affiliation?
I'm also curious about when your meetings with CCP occur, as I've tried to be in touch with them as well about the CSM physical meetings. I'm really fascinated with how the CSM come together physically to represent the virtual world of New Eden, and I'm wondering what that experience is like for you (and other CSM members, of course).
Sugar Kyle (June 5th, 2014)
The Process:
I believe that everyones process for the CSM is very different. This comes from our backgrounds in the game. Members such as Sion and mynnna belong to large, organized groups that have a significant in game and out of game background. Others, such as Corbexx, come from very tight knit groups that may have internal game conflict but tend to lean more towards group focus when it comes to their representation on the CSM.
Others of us are more ‘independents’. We may or may not be names inside of our game social circles. I fall into this area and this meant that a large part of my candidacy was proving my abilities as a representative for the game. This covered both my game background of low security space and the wider Eve Online audience.
This meant lots of questions and answers from groups and individuals. I had six podcast interviews about my candidacy and various topics I have experience in. I wrote blog posts, e-mails, eve-mails, and logged in dozens of hours of conversations in both text and voice. I also attended a local meet and greet of other Eve players (I would have attended it anyway).
The political seasons starts when the players start it. I was the second one to post my candidacy (Steve announced last year after he did not make it onto CSM8) but I ‘launched’ the CSM9 cycle. Then people simple pick up and run with it. Pod Casters decide to do interviews, people ask us questions, we attempt to spread the word of who and what we are and why we want on the CSM. 
CCP will then announce the official rules. The CSM results have been announced during Fanfest for the last few years. There is an application process that involves submitting our passports and answering a few questions. There is a background check by CCP to make sure that we are only villains by the games rules. After that, we enter into the official election process. 
Voting itself lasts for around two weeks and then the announcement is made at Fanfest. We do not know the results until they flash up on the screen. That leaves a few weeks of waiting.
There are no actual requirements for us to do things. Part of why the players select the people they do is to select people that wish to serve on the CSM with action and passion and take the internet spaceship business, serious.
General Representation:
I am considered a representative for low security space. That is the area of Eve that I specialize in. However, I have broader interests than low security space alone. This means that people who voted for me voted for me based off of my specialties and interests as well as my personality and methods for communication.
A lot of the topics that the CSM cover are broader, game related things. CCP includes us in these processes because we do act as a feedback group. 
Direct Representation:
Everyone on the CSM can represent whomever they need to. Having fourteen members allows players to come to whomever they feel comfortable speaking with. Because I am an independent member and known for my more general interest in the game as a whole I am happy to talk to whomever wants to talk to me. I’m interested in Eve being a good game not just my niche of Eve being a good game.
Every member has a different approach to who, how, and what they represent. I’m happy to say that of recent CSMs, the members have been there to do the actual job and not just troll CCP or the playerbase. That has allowed CCP to be more inclusive and work together with the CSM.
Affiliation:
I’m off the belief that the CSM represents the player base as a whole. I don’t care if they voted for me or not. They are Eve players as I am. That opinion may vary from person to person.
Meetings:
I have not yet gone to a summit in Iceland to tell you what it is like. Our current meetings are done over a live video system. They try to schedule them at a time to cover as many time zones as possible. The summit will have both members in person and members connecting in through the video feeds.
The experience:
The CSM position is fascinating. You stand on the border of the game and look on the other side. Because of the NDA we are allowed to see the greater but flexible picture that is not yet hard coded. It is a tremendous responsibility and something I am very humbled to have achieved.
 Nicholas O'Brien (December 20th, 2013)
You said in your last response: "You stand on the border of the game and look on the other side." Could you tell me a bit more what that experience is like. I imagine a lot of politicians in other fields feel the same way, and I'm wondering how you experience the difference between a player and a representative.
Why do you think you were drawn to becoming a member of the CSM? Are you politically active in other parts of your non-Eve life? What is it about the CSM that made you think you wanted to participate and be a representative?
You mentioned that previous CSMs trolled CCP and players, how did they do that? Was there a particular thing that made things change?
Does your experience with the CSM effect how you play? Or else does it effect how others engage with you in-game?
What would you say that your political platform is within the CSM? Do you have particular positions or stakes within your membership? What did you campaign with during interviews and podcasts leading up to elections? Were there any campaign promises or anything like that/ If so, have you been able to commit to them or live up to your campaign?
How do you think your experience on the CSM differs from other or past members? Do you think you have more sense of responsibility than other CSM members? Are there any political allegiances or affinities within the CSM based on non-game factions? 

Sugar Kyle (December 21st, 2014)
------You said in your last response: "You stand on the border of the game and look on the other side." Could you tell me a bit more what that experience is like. I imagine a lot of politicians in other fields feel the same way, and I'm wondering how you experience the difference between a player and a representative.
Before you win a seat and experience the CSM process from an elected position you are guessing what the CSM process is like. You are using your experience and knowledge as a player, questions you may have asked previous representatives, or things they may have said to create your idea. When you arrive and settle into the process and start producing and working with it, it seeps into your understanding of the game. You do not have to guess because you often know. You do not have to wonder because you can ask. But you are not a CCP employee. You are still a player. A player with greater knowledge of the structure of things. Eve is not the same when you understand how its insides work and why things are not always what they look to be on the surface.
The CSM also gives you knowledge that you cannot use. When something is going to change in the game we cannot act upon it. Not to help yourself. Not to help your friends. You are not guessing about the future. You know it. And you can do nothing but try to make sure that future is the best one for the game even if it is not the best one for you.
------Why do you think you were drawn to becoming a member of the CSM? What is it about the CSM that made you think you wanted to participate and be a representative?

I discovered fairly early that being an active and involved player in the greater game discussion could make a difference. CCP’s developers interact with the player base more than any other game I have heard about. When I realized that another player from my area of the game was not going to run I decided to not just complain about the fact that we were not represented but try to do something about it. That meant putting myself out there in the public eye.
I saw that to some extent CCP did listen to and interact with the CSM. By having no one that represented the low security areas of space, or even held intimate knowledge of it we, the residents, were being ignored or inadvertently harmed by change. With an option like the CSM out there to be heard on it seemed that if no one even tried to give us a voice we were saying that we didn’t care about speaking up for ourselves. It is not that simple. There are responsibilities to the CSM that not everyone could take but out of an entire section of the game there seemed like there should be at least one person who could take up the responsibility. I realized that I was looking around for someone to do what I wanted to be done. I believe that if you want things done sometimes you have to do them yourself, or at least try. 
----Are you politically active in other parts of your non-Eve life? 
Not even a little bit. I have never had the desire. I struggled with the fact that I would become a politician because it seemed a negative thing. I had to go do some reading into what a politician actually is and should be instead of the negative image that it has become.
----You mentioned that previous CSMs trolled CCP and players, how did they do that? 
The CSM has not always and is not always taken seriously by the players. There was one particular person who scammed his way into office with promises to pay people in game currency and/or game items for votes. He would then not participate and spent the small amount of active time on the CSM causing public scenes on the games forums.
----Was there a particular thing that made things change?
I don’t think there has been a particular thing. Enough players have taken the process seriously enough that it trickled down. We have interviews done by players, propaganda campaigns, events, debates, and other things that caused the people who were interested in the process to expect a higher standard from their candidate. The game itself as aged as has its player base. I think some more of us grew up along the way.
----Does your experience with the CSM effect how you play? Or else does it effect how others engage with you in-game?
The CSM effects how I play simply because it eats into my time. I spend a lot of time interacting with people, reading things, collecting problems, concerns, ideas, and feedback. I work my schedule around meetings with CCP. I make myself available for discussions and sometimes I come home and spend time researching and writing up problems. I do written and oral interviews. I hold open talks once a month. Myself and another member, Corbexx have been holding soundboards where a small group of players discuss topics in front of a developer to help aid in understanding where the player is. Things like this take time and that time is not taken out of my paying job. That means I have less time to casually goof around and play. The more active I am as a CSM the more CSM work I bring myself. I sometimes spend the first hour of my evening answering questions and cataloging concerns and ideas.
I have a chatroom in game. People come to meet me, ask questions, or just hang out. Interacting with other players is not just a part of the game or a fun social pastime but very important. Sadly, it means being silly can have unexpected consequences. People label me ‘CSM Sugar’. What I say is looked at through the filter of my title now by many. I don’t have to behave. I don’t have to change anything about myself but to me it means there is a responsibility in how I conduct myself and what I say to people. I can accidently send people into a panic and that isn’t what I ran for this position to do.
I only have a limited time to be on the CSM. It gets priority. It means that I miss out on doing stuff with my corporation. In some ways I seem more inactive in game if one looks at my various statistics. But, I’m busier than I have ever been and more deeply involved in the game then I ever imagined I’d become.
The other interesting side is that I have more access to people. They come to me seeking access to a CSM member. Some stay and become acquaintances and friends. The broad range of people that I meet means I gain more knowledge and help other people meet each other. It has turned my chatroom into a pretty solid spot for getting help and knowledge. I’ve become a conduit in many ways.
----What would you say that your political platform is within the CSM? 
If improving the game for as many people as we can regardless of whether they play the way I do counts as a platform, that’d be something close. I’ve turned down politics to the best of my ability since I started this.
----Do you have particular positions or stakes within your membership?
I am neutral to the recognized power blocs in the game. I’m very open minded to people playing the game in a different manner then my own. I don’t hold my own game play on a pedestal. Those around me know that they will receive honesty but my focus is on what is best for the game, not just my play style. It also means I will represent people that they do not like just as ardently as I will represent them.
----What did you campaign with during interviews and podcasts leading up to elections? 
I presented myself. I had a mild reputation due to getting some changes in before. I had developed a small reputation as a blogger. I mostly gave people my beliefs and desires for the game and my energy and passion for what I did. I gave them my interests, my work ethics, and my ability to communicate and interact with others.
----Were there any campaign promises or anything like that/ If so, have you been able to commit to them or live up to your campaign?
I promised to communicate, to listen, to bring things to CCP, and to work. Upholding this has been the core of my time on the CSM. You can’t promise tangible things like having game mechanics changed or forcing CCP’s hand. The CSM doesn’t have that power.
I said that I would keep people updated on what I was doing and I’d make it clear that they knew my activity levels and that they could grade me without having to go, “What has Sugar done.” I have done that.
I promised to be available and I have done that. I answer every email that I get. I spend hours having group and personal discussions. I do monthly open chats on a public communications server run by one of the educational corporations. I do interviews, I have gone to player meetings locally as well as the yearly CCP sponsored gathering in Las Vegas. 
I promised to care and to put time, energy and effort into the things that not only I cared about but that others did. And I’ve done so and documented it the entire way.
-----How do you think your experience on the CSM differs from other or past members? 
I really have no idea. I never closely followed other members. The CSM is what you make of it as an individual CSM member. Not everyone entered into this office for the same reason or with the same goals.
----Do you think you have more sense of responsibility than other CSM members? 
No. I think that I have my own sense of responsibility. I said above that everyone enters this office with a different set of goals and for different reasons. I know why I came here but that is not the reason others have. I’ve never asked them if they are happy with themselves. That is between them and their voters.
I worry about being the representative that I want to be. That takes up enough of my energy without wagging my finger at others. That is for their voters to decide. I voted for myself.

----Are there any political allegiances or affinities within the CSM based on non-game factions?
I’d assume that there are. I am close to a few of my fellows but not all of them. Few of us knew each other before we ran for the CSM. We don’t all like each other and we don’t all get along. We can work together and maintain a professional environment. That is what matters. We didn’t sign up to be friends. We signed up to get work done. 

2 comments:

  1. I generally find articles like this one in The Atlantic fascinating reads. Several things invariably capture my attention.

    1) What do they get wrong?
    In this article the conflation of an in game digital monument to B-R5RB with an out of game real life monument located in Reykjavik is a colossal error. That said, acting as if we would actually erect a real life monument to honor space pixel events isn’t all that far from the truth so . . . details.

    2) What do they get right?
    This article manages a pretty good exploration of the centrality of Eve’s ‘meta-game’. Unusually coherent compared to other articles I’ve read.

    3) What do they do with what they discover?
    Most any ‘travel log/safari’ article, to be interesting, usually ends of making some ‘deep’ observations about the human condition. In this case it’s observations about human politics. When these observations come about I always take great delight in how the author ends up, more or less, arguing that Eve is Real . . . ::giggle::

    4) Special bonus comment
    Quoting Sugar, “. . .there is a responsibility in how I conduct myself and what I say to people. I can accidently send people into a panic and that isn’t what I ran for this position to do.” I keep waiting, hoping, praying for you to send me into panic Sugar and what’s been the result? Nothing. Just ongoing reasonable, considerate behavior from you. ::sigh:: The hands behind the Dire still dream.

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    Replies
    1. Hehe, all you need is the 'Don't Panic!' sticker from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in your channel's motd and everything's fixed :P

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