Eve Online is a lot of things. It’s internet spaceships, a sandbox, and it’s sometimes a swift kick in the teeth. It’s also, and I find this the most interesting, as true of a state of nature as I’ve ever seen. When I say state of nature, I’m talking about Hobbes (the man, not the hallucinatory tiger). Hobbes was a political philosopher from the 17th century who came up with this idea of the state of nature. It basically stated that in the hypothetical time before government existed, people were by and large equal. Yes, there were some that were marginally stronger or smarter, but anyone that wanted to best the stronger or smarter needed only to gang up on them or use a bit of cunning. In this time nothing was provided for you; you had to go out and get it. Since everyone was equal in ability, everyone was willing to fight one another for the things they needed. The end result was a constant state of conflict over just about everything.
If you know anything about Eve, that sounds a lot like it. For one you play as a capsuleer, an immortal space pilot that answers to no one apart from other capsuleers. By and large, all capsuleers are equal in ability and any difference in ability can be mitigated by sheer numbers or a bit of cunning. And yes, there’s always some people fighting somewhere in Eve.
There are places in Eve where the state of nature is reigned in a bit. The prime example is empire space with the threat of Concord, the ever present space police that punishes (some) wrong doers. Concord being the unstoppable force it is, one cannot do anything about them. However, there are places in New Eden where Concord’s influence is lessened or even absent. I speak of low sec, null sec, and wormhole space.
Here you would expect a state of nature to exist but it’s not entirely so. I would say that there is a certain degree of lawlessness in the unsettled areas of the cluster but only between different groups of players (corps, alliances, etc.). Within these groups there are social codes that govern their member’s behavior. These codes of conduct may not be overtly enforced; often all that is needed is a bit of social pressure (desire to belong to a group, peer pressure, etc.). I’ll give an example. Many of you are familiar with RvB, the PVP institution that boasts near constant, easy to join fights. Even in here there are rules. They’re some that are written down (no ECM being an example) but they’re are some unspoken ones as well. For instance, it’s frowned upon if you were to undock in a Rokh, alpha an unsuspecting frigate, and dock up again. Unsportsmanlike and all that jazz.
Another example is the null sec alliance policy of NRDS (Not Red Don’t Shoot). For those unfamiliar, it basically is a policy where a null sec alliance will allow neutral players into their space as long as they take no aggressive action. The largest subscriber to this mindset is CVA and its allies. Again, there’s no built game mechanic enforcing this behavior, just the players policing themselves.
Intra-group codes of behavior are hardly a bad thing. They keep the group cohesive, minimize conflict, that sort of thing. The problem I have with all the fair play talk is when two of these groups interact. A recent example is the compromise between Test and the Goons in order to prevent full scale war. Rather than going at it, both groups decided to reset their standings to one another and have prearranged “thunder-domes”, basically pre-agreed upon battles. I can understand why they did this but it makes Eve so much less interesting. I’d much rather hear about CFC and HBC going at each other’s throats, null sec power structures collapsing, the end of dynastic alliances and coalitions, etc. than the Goons and Test had a fight in a predetermined place at a predetermined time with no consequence pending the outcome. I feel that shying away from conflict diminishes the Eve experience, not only on an alliance or coalition level but on an individual one as well. On that note, I’ll end with a personal experience.
Before I joined Noir Academy, I was a hauler. I did some industry, but by and large I spent my time in-game cruising the space lanes in my trusty Obelisk, the aptly named “Rolling Blubber”. I had been hauling most of my Eve career up to that point and had come to somewhat of a peak in my hauling career, namely that I was hauling for Red Frog Freight, one of New Eden’s major hauling corps. This was back when freighter suicide ganks were extremely common. Every now and then a corpie would link a kill mail of some poor freighter pilot getting alpha-ed by a fleet of battle cruisers for his shiny cargo. The response often was, “He was hauling too much ISK worth of cargo” or “He was probably auto-piloting”. The conversation would then turn to bemoaning the Goons for starting this whole ganking fad and other such complaints. I, however, would think to myself, “Man, I’m glad those gankers are out there. They keep me on my toes and otherwise hauling would be really, really boring.” So while playing it safe and making things fair are all well and good in real life, I think there needs to be a different approach to Eve. We need to be a little more adventurous than we’ normally be, if only for the sake of making things interesting. After all, it’s the players that make the content in this game. We sometimes have to take a leap of faith in order to find it.