Virtual Realities: Memoirs of an internet spaceship politician
by Sugar Kyle CSM9, CSMX
What is Eve Famous?
EVE Online is a video game that has a world that is known as a sandbox. A sandbox, in its most basic form, is a game where the player creates their own paths. The game play is not handed out in a neat, linear progression. Instead the world is built and players get tools to interact with the world. EVE expanded upon this by focusing on player to created their own game play. The game itself became a tool for the player interaction and instead of relying on their features to push the game forward they allowed the players to generate content. It makes EVE both endlessly fascinating and horridly frustrating.
CCP Games had one more trick up their sleeve. It perhaps its most fantastic and the reason this story can be written. Eve Online has a single game world. There are technical pros and cons to this method. The limitations mean it is not the most common path. But it creates a series of advantages. There are many doors and they all open into one room. It is a vast room and most of us will never meet each other or even make eye contact as we pass each other. Yet, every player has the potential to interact with every other player. There is only one you. While you may make multiple avatars, the time sink of the game leads people to pour their energy into one character. That character becomes them and that character, due to the flexible nature of the game play becomes how the rest of the game world sees you.
One of the side effects of this is that players and player groups make names for themselves. History is created. Loyalty develops. Who you are and what you will define you in the world. It is a heady mixture of potential success and failure. There are groups that people dream of entry into and other groups who association with may haunt your character's social opportunities. There is diplomacy and aggression. A decision may follow you forever. A casual word may start a war. The individual behind the screen may be anonymous but the character created may become so well known that they become discussed in casual, conversation among strangers.
It is a bridge between the game and the players. It is a bridge that I had to cross.
When it came to the elections because in this virtual world there were two common paths to becoming elected. The first was to win the heart and choice of the voters. The second, more common and with a higher chance of success, is to be part of a large, organized group with enough involved membership to have in built support for an elected seat. We call these bloc votes. The blocs are composed of corporations and alliances that have allied themselves together in support of an individual that supports their organization and ideas. Sound familiar? Some candidates will be well enough known and universally respected enough that they can achieve both. They are few and far between. Most will ask the public to support their bid for an elected seat and the ear of CCP. Some will attempt to obtain candidacy as a bid for notoriety. Other’s will have a passionate belief in what they do.
Welcome to becoming Eve Famous.
It is not something that I ever wanted. Not in Eve. Not in my daily life. If anything, I had worked long and hard to not be noticed. I'd been at my job for ten years and people would look at me and ask me how long I'd worked there. When I said ten years, they'd blink in surprise. When I went to Eve events, I slipped along at the edge of the crowd. It was comfortable there. It was easy.
I had never sought leadership roles at school. I had no desire to supervise at work. I did not have a personal interest in politics. I did not even understand them. The closest I had done was write to support one of the people running for the CSM the previous year. That person had pulled out of the race early. It had been disappointing. But the world had not ended. After all, this was a virtual world and the heaviest cost would be that I was not elected. It would sting, but I could survive it. That is what I told myself.
People casually discuss running for the CSM but not many do it. I had put out feelers to a few acquaintances. “I think you’d do a good job but I don’t want to waste my vote with someone who can’t win.” Polite honesty can deliver as much of a punch as blunt honesty. I was not famous enough to have a chance at becoming elected. I was a young player with two years of game time in a game that was celebrating its first decade. There was an unending pool of players that had played the game since its first launch. I was a nobody from a backwater system. My corporation was a moderately successful group of no true game echoing name. While I might write an entertaining blog that was reasonably well read, I was no one in a game where people strove to become someone. These were ugly realities. When it came to odds, mine were poor. I was a minor agent of a small group. The play style was niche with a small focus and reach.
But there are fourteen seats on the council.
Fourteen sounds like a lot until you start to do the political math. Because like or believe in politics or not, they exist in a game about people interacting with people. And it is about the game that the interactions happen. A game based in a fictional world of advance science and space travel. Where spaceships are part of the every day and stargates move us from one virtual system to another. Where alliances of players have grown up to over thirty thousand strong.
The general structure of the world is that there is Empire space. This is controlled by the four in game races. It makes up the core of the story our beloved spaceship game is set in. That area is patrolled by a local NPC (Non-Player Characters) police force who enforce a small subset of rules. We call that area High Sec which is short for high security. On the fringes of the Empire there is semi-lawless space where the police do not come but automated defenses try to establish some rules around stations and stargates. This is called low sec and it is a land of Pirates and violence. It is where I live. The fourth area of space is found only through wormholes. Unlike the other three areas it is not connected by stargates but instead by roving wormholes a player must scan down and work their way through and around from system to system.
These four areas make up the major areas of game play. Most players will identify themselves closely or loosely with one or more areas of space. It is not a cut and dry deal. While there may be identification with a major area the actual gameplay will probably reflect a broader taste in possibilities.
The major power blocs normally absorb half of the ballot between themselves. These blocs where almost full composed of players who spent their time in what is called sovereign space. Sovereign space is shortened to sov null. The null stands for its security status. There, anything goes and the few penalties the game has against player on player aggression do not exist. is an area of space that players can place a claim and come as close to ownership as CCP can allow. They can put their name on the map, defend their areas and get bonuses for living there. It is a place of massive wars and enormous empires. Coalitions of alliances had come together with the largest being composed of forty thousand players under a single banner all tied together with diplomacy, tactics, and logistics.
Outside of the four areas of space, players may also identify with other social interests. Direct reflection of play style begins to occur. It makes the search for a perfect candidate hard because people identify themselves as many things and look for candidates that would potentially understand them. I say potentially, because some players have no interest in the election at all and others would love nothing more than seeing the entire process turn into a chaotic mess for their own amusement.
All of this is corrupted by the fact that people tend to run for terms back to back. The previously elected members have a reputation the public can judge. There is power to being an incumbent. They may or may not belong to a bloc. They do, however, take up more seats. Often there are only 2-3 truly open positions by the time the election starts. Those positions are considered wild cards and that was where I would attempt to stake my claim.
It terrified me.
I was frightened of the public eye. My first blog post that every got an audience was a defiant little war cry when my corporation fought its first war against a larger alliance that wanted to drive pirates out of their space. I refused to be stepped on. I shook my fists at their threats to blot out the sun and destroy us every time we undocked. I announced that into the void on my blog and someone picked it up and posted it to reddit. I did not even know that community exited. Overnight, I was hit with a flood of comments from people who had never read my blog or spoken to me. I was ridiculed, mocked, and scorned for not being willing to fight. I was cursed at to the point that the automatic filters on the blog picked up the comments as spam. It went far enough that one person to accuse me of stealing a rape campaign’s slogan for attention.
The flood of vitriol made no sense. Many of the complaints and comments had nothing to do with what was written. The facts of the post vanished under reaction. It was not until much later that I understood some section of the responses came not from a single word on the blog page but from a reaction to the person that had posted it to the community. He was a polarizing figure hated as much as he was found to be amusing.
That was the first time I had ever had large scale attention. It was not helpful that the attention was negative. I had staggered from the public stage charred and burned under the scathing opinions and responses of critiques and condemnations from strangers.
I also suffered a deeper flaw that I had to correct before I could think of running. If the first time I was laid out on a public forum had scared me, the second time was worse. Then, I had live blogged from my first Eve Vegas, something it seems no one else had ever done. Doing it freely and cheerfully, I did not think about how my notes would read to others or double check my spelling and grammar. While many people appreciated my efforts, I received a heavy dose of people who asked if English was my primary language or called my notes incomprehensible. Mixed with the fact that I verbatim quoted the executive producer about players harassing others to the point of some leaving the game and the fallout that caused my second bout with the public was ugly as well
Now, I was opening my arms to it. I would not say that those arms where open in welcome. Welcome was not needed. It would come regardless of my efforts. What I learned from those two unhappy moments was that I needed to find someone to help me edit what I wrote if i was going to write anything in public. I needed to clear out all of the hurdles that I could and one of my biggest hurdles. I am one of the many people out there who is dyslexic. Diagnosed as a child in the late eighties and early nineties my particular flavor of written language disorder revolves around an inability to properly process phonetics. This makes word differentiation very hard for me.
Taking control was my way of protecting myself. I had to be proactive with the demons that haunted me. I was in my mid thirties but ridicule over my spelling and grammar errors could paralyze me still. The internet was not a kind place. No one would care that I had documented issues. They would not care about the years in elementary school as my papers were passed around and laughed at by students that could spell the simple words that I struggled over. The days spent in special education classes because I could not keep up with my classmates would be meaningless. They would see mistakes and sloppy writing. Such things get you branded as lazy and illiterate. I would never be able to explain to someone who processed spelling and grammar of the English language easily what a daily struggle the simplest words could be. And, when I pushed aside the emotional aspect, I felt that it should never come up. My flaws did not matter. While a very real problem it was one I had to solve.
I found an editor in a true friend in game. Real relationships are developed online. I consider him one of my closest friends. He had helped me edit my fiction writing entries for a contest some months before. Unlike many people who offered to proofread and edit both my blog and my various fiction contest entries, he actually meant it. I was always amazed at how quickly people would offer to proofread and edit but when the time came people were too busy or they might be able to get to it in time. For someone like me who needed that proofreading the “I am to busy,” and “Maybe I can get to it,” responses were major let downs.
That is just one reason that I appreciated him. I was not paying him anything but thanks and he still took the time to comb through what I wrote with his professional editor hat on, one that he used to wear to earn his paycheck. Even gentle laughter due to humorous mistakes was like a sharp knife in a festering, unhealed wound that was my ability to properly spell. I had never healed from the experiences during my years of education of having processing problems in a world where everyone else got it. I should have, but i had not. Instead, I adapted and moved beyond it. Having someone who corrected and moved on eventually came to help shore up my self esteem more than almost anything else ever had.
My luck had activated. It turns out that he had also managed more than one political campaign in his life. In one swoop i had an editor and a campaign manager. One who was not interested in making me someone that I was not. He agreed with my determined, if innocent, goal to stay true to who and what I was. He did not tell me that I needed to compromise my morals or goals. When I told him that I wanted to run for the CSM he told me that he believed that I could do it.
He was the first one who had said such a thing to me.
Previous: Part One
Next: Part Three