Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Morality in EVE

A recent post on reddit about a corp theft got me thinking about morality in EVE. EVE is a game where you can play the villain and take part in actions that would be considered bad or evil in real life, such as betraying a corporation by stealing their assets. However, many consider these activities to be a reflection of the real person behind the keyboard. I'm not so sure about that.

I treat EVE as a game. It can be a highly immersive experience and can be an emotional roller coaster, from the adrenaline high of a close victory to the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach after a crushing defeat. Without the lows the highs become meaningless. The emotional response is very real. However, at the end of the day EVE is still just a video game and it is important to separate this from reality. From that perspective, I believe that any action solely involving game mechanics does not reflect on the personality/nature of the person taking part in them regardless of how those actions would be viewed in real life. If I were to believe otherwise then I would have to believe that shooting people in an FPS means I wan't to shoot them in real life too. Maybe a simplistic example but I believe the logic still stands. Playing a game by the mechanics provided does not make you a bad person.

However, things start to get grey when social interaction is involved. EVE by classification is an MMORPG. The RP element of that is important. Many people like to escape into a fantasy world and role play a character that they could not in real life. I don't feel that playing the villain in an RP context automatically makes you a villain in real life. Being able to explore an evil career path in a videogame can be an interesting experience, even if it is not a career path you would be comfortable with in reality. However, not everyone puts on a persona when they play EVE. Many players are genuine, looking for friendships and are all too willing to misplace their trust in someone else. If I were to put on a persona and gain the genuine trust of someone only to break that trust through corp theft then I very likely will inflict a very real emotional sense of loss in that person. Though, I may still feel justified in my actions I would personally find it hard not to be empathetic towards that person even if the actions are allowed within the context of the game. The question is, would it make me a bad person for breaking their trust anyway when it is allowed within the context of the game?

I'm not sure. My gut feeling is no, it doesn't. The key variable here is that my goal would have been to advance myself in the game in wealth and/or specific assets. My goal was never to hurt my target emotionally, though that would be an end result. Befriending people within the context of the game with the intent of robbing them blind is a legal move. Just as bluffing is a legal move in poker. I don't feel that I should be responsible for their own poor decision making and misplaced trust leading to their own emotional feeling of loss. Simply put, I don't think it would make me a bad person to have beaten them at the game they chose to play where the rules are stated up front when you install the game. I don't think it should be my responsibility to tiptoe around someone who can't separate the game from reality. However, I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't make me feel guilty. At the end of the day I would have still chosen to be the villain and made someone else feel bad as an indirect consequence. That is why I don't think I could carry out a theft or action in game that is based on trust at a social level even if logically I think that it is simply part of the game.

Finally, I think intent in these situations is extremely important. If the goal of an activity is focused on the game, then I believe that it is more acceptable than if the goal is an emotional response from the target. My feeling is at that point it is no longer within the spirit of the game and is moving into harassment territory. I think there is a distinct difference in intent between gaining trust and friendship within the context of the game in order to steal someones stuff in comparison to trying to emotionally cripple them, even if the result is still the same. It is important to distinguish between fantasy and reality and EVE at the end of the day is very much fantasy. It is still my view that real friendships can be made in EVE and for that reason I don't think I could break someones trust to steal their stuff. Although I view it as a "legal move" I accept that they may not and it isn't worth ruining a friendship over. In EVE, the best ship is friendship after all.