Sunday, July 15, 2012

Trichotomous: BB37

"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?"

When I first read this month's Blog Banter I thought it would  be a fairly straightforward question to answer. "Bah, I'll whip up a response when I get home from work tonight," I naively thought to myself. But when I sat down and really began to consider this question I was amazed at the vast complexity that unfolded before me. The more that I thought about it, the more complex the issue became. Down the rabbit hole I tumbled furiously grasping after a solution that seemed ever further out of reach until finally, I had it. Now I'd like to share it with you, because this is truly an issue that affects all of us.

You'd be forgiven for thinking this can't be that important. After all, EVE is only a game, right? 

It's true; EVE is only a game. But if you feel this way, please do me a favor. Please take a moment and go read the White Rose Conventicle blog. 

Yeah. You can't. 

The events leading up to and including the demise of WRC are really what this question is all about. Where does the game end and real life begin? When do we stop being capsuleers and start being humans? 

EVE is one of the few games, and may in fact be the only game (I really don't know) in which the trichotomy of game, meta-game and exo-game interact quite so frequently and so directly with one another. Thousands of pilots are locking horns in systems all over New Eden trying to explode each other's spaceships. The conflict in Delve is predictably spilling over to the meta-game in the forms of innumerable propaganda Photoshop jobs and even a song by Sindel Pellion of #tweetfleet fame. An EVE-blogger found her website the victim of a DDOS attack. How are these related? How should they be related?

To understand where the line truly is, that is to say where the sandbox ends and real life begins, it might help to define the game, meta-game and exo-game a little more clearly. Fair warning: it's about to get philosophical up in here.

The 'game' occurs in or rather occupies the space we as human participants enter as soon as we log in and assume the identities of our characters. For instance, I'm not technically Firstly until I enter my password into the client and hit 'Connect.' 

Until I do that, I'm Rick. No half-quotation marks necessary. That is who I am. I will never be forced to define the terms of my physical reality to the game or even the meta-game, as Rick exists and is able to exist independently of the game. Rick exists in the exo-game.

That's not true of Firstly, who does not exist and is not able to exist independently of the game. Firstly's existence is dependent on the game. No EVE, no Firstly. Pretty simple. How Rick and Firstly are related is more complicated.
The transition from Rick to Firstly begins when Rick begins to ponder Firstly's existence as Firstly. That is to say, as soon as I change my frame of reference from Rick's frame of reference to Firstly's I leave the sphere of the exo-game and enter the meta-game. I still may not have logged in, but I'm contemplating life ON the inside from the perspective of someone IN the inside. This blog, and all other EVE blogs, exist squarely in the meta-game. Flying Silent is an activity undertaken by an exo-game entity using an in-game frame of reference, the potential consequences of which occur in either the game or the meta-game. 

In this way each piece of the puzzle is defined by three characteristics: relative identity, theater of operation, and theater of consequence. Add intent into the mix and not only do you now have the line, you have everything you need to determine whether or not someone has crossed that line. Allow me to elaborate. Or don't. I'm elaborating anyway...

The Mittani and the FanFest 2012 Alliance Panel fiasco is a truly illustrative example of how these concepts work together. Here you have a guy named Alex suggesting other pilots engage in game and meta-game activities to effect an exo-game consequnce. And this is why such an example is so instructive; it was an exo-game entity acting on behalf of his in-game entity in a meta-game environment encouraging in-game actions to effect an exo-game consequence. Whether or not he was serious is irrelevant. The line was crossed when the consequence being hinted at would transpire in the exo-game. Had the consequence being encouraged been something inherently bound to the game, such as getting a pilot to vacate a system, or something intrinsically bound to the meta-game such as encouraging said victim to stop posting to the CAOD forums, The Mittani would likely have received a 'pass.' As the consequence explicitly expressed as the desirable end result of in-game pilot actions was to transpire in the exo-game, this was a blatant and irrefutable crossing of the "line" we bloggers are openly contemplating the direction and velocity of. 

It really wasn't my intention to impose quantum mechanics on metaphysical interactions, but sometimes you just have to play the cards you're dealt.

The point of all of this is clear, even if my effusive prose is not. Actions that have consequences within the game are on the 'right' side of the line. Actions that have consequences within the meta-game are on the right side of the line. Actions that have consequences within the exo-game, that realm that exists and is capable of existing independently of the game, are not. So where does intent fit into that mix?

Attempting to determine whether or not a particular action was intended to have only in-game or metagame consequences can be a difficult task, but not impossible. Any actions we take, either as humans or capsuleers automatically undergo a test of "reasonable expectation." That is to say, can our actions be reasonably expected to have consequences in the game, the meta-game, the exo-game, or some combination of these elements? And that's really what helps define the boundary of the sandbox.

Those actions that can be reasonably expected to have consequences in only the game, meta-game or both can and must be allowed to occur. Those actions that fail such a test must be condemned swiftly and decisively. I'm certainly not suggesting that this is an easy standard to apply. But in the absence of a more concrete one, it is a framework that allows for a definition, and more importantly an enforcement of the lines that define the game, the meta-game, and the exo-game. 

EVE is a beautiful game. You might even go so far as to call it a virtual reality. Flying in space can be a breathtaking escape from the rigors of our day-to-day lives. But in the end, it must remain a game. Its reality must remain virtual. Because eventually, escapes that become too 'real' become something else entirely: distant memories.  



  1. Wow, great article. Now my brain hurts. Gonna have to read that through a couple more times for it all to sink in.

    I'm loving the "exo-game" phrase, it fits nicely into the in-game - meta-game - exo-game spectrum.

    That line between acceptable "meta-game" and unacceptable "exo-game" still eludes us though.

    1. I know! It's like you're unraveling a big cable-knit sweater, but somebody keeps on knitting, and knitting, and knitting....