By now, everyone’s heard about Mittens’ apology, resignation, and temporary ban from EVE for comments he made during a drunken panel at last week’s Fanfest in Iceland. During the live event, “The Mittani,” leader of the the player-elected council that represents the playerbase to CCP Games, urged everyone present and watching at home to harass a depressed and suicidal guy in game and convince him to kill himself.
Honestly, I don’t really care whether Mittens quit before CCP fired him or whether he fits the legal definition of cyberbully in states X, Y, and Z. That’s just a smokescreen puffed up by fanboys. What I care about is that Mittensgate has put into perspective the real problem with EVE.
The MMO community sucks, and EVE is part of that. People were jerks in Ultima Online when they were stealing castle deeds and hacking accounts. People were jerks in EverQuest when they were kill-stealing and claim-jumping raids in the Planes. People were jerks in Star Wars Galaxies when fighting for control of roleplay cities. People are jerks on the forums and general chats of World of Warcraft. People are jerks in the comments of Massively. Anonymity gives people permission to treat other people horribly. MMOs allow people who have no power in real life to abuse people in virtual worlds where they do. Usually, we just call it griefing. When it goes as far and as publicly as it did in Mittensgate, we call it bullying.
The thing about EVE that distinguishes it from those other games is that the most public part of its community proudly revels in griefing and bullying. Normally, a lazy, laissez-faire sandbox like EVE is a blank slate on which the community can chalk anything it wants. But in EVE’s case, CCP set a testosterone-laden, misogynist tone for the playerbase. It’s right there in the official “harden the fuck up” marketing materials. The company itself is to blame for reinforcing the idea that being an asshole is welcome, acceptable, and even commendable. In turn, encouraged by CCP and this “culture of permisiveness,” the players embrace gank PvP and rampant scamming and anything offensive they can dream up to shock everyone else. They claim that this behavior (and ensuing drama) is what EVE is all about, when in reality, it’s just what these jerkface players are all about, which is why they were attracted to EVE in the first place: Because it permits and glorifies their indefensible conduct and lets them act out their aggression and frustrations in a “safe” and consequence-free arena until it escalates into something genuinely actionable.
This is why I have called EVE a bad game in the past. I do have strong mechanics-related complaints about the game (poor UI, poor ship combat, weak avatar support, slow travel, gank PvP), but more than anything, I just don’t enjoy other people’s suffering or want to hang out with people who do. That’s not what real games are about, and it’s certainly not how I want to spend my life.
It’s become such an unpleasant realm that many of players simply leave, having formed deeply negative and totally preventable but at least partly justified opinions of the game and its worst representatives, opinions that haunt the game indefinitely and cripple mainstream acceptance of the game and the sandbox genre as a whole. Compounding the problem, the sociopaths among the EVE playerbase band together with their sycophants and hardcore-wannabes in large, organized, hateful, vileness-spewing collectives out of self-preservation, which further aggrandizes e-thug ideology, inculcating this culture of asshattery and locker-room one-upsmanship that seeks as its only goal to offend. A quick Google search on “harden the fuck up,” for example, conjures up a slew of disgusting EVE slang that is common even outside of the game. Rape-cage. N****r-fleet. Motarded. These are not good people. This is not funny.
The Mittani is the leader of one such alliance dedicated to disrupting the gameplay of as many people as possible and drinking the tears of “carebears.” He has been elected to the CSM twice, both times as its leader. That’s why many gamers don’t buy the “but EVE has nice people too” grumping. I mean, I know it does. I know not everyone playing EVE is a jerk because I know people who play EVE and are not jerks. I have no reason to doubt there is a large contingent of players who play internet spaceships quietly and happily in the background and pay no attention to the doings of Mittens and his attention-craving e-thugs, and I understand because that’s precisely how I play World of Warcraft: with /general turned off and as if the forums don’t exist. What I don’t understand is why, if the Good Folks of EVE are as numerous as some of the Massively commenters insist, Mittens and his ilk keep being re-elected to the pre-eminent player office in the game, or for that matter, why anyone would want to play a single-shard game alongside 10,000+ proud hooligans who make everyone look bad. I’m embarrassed that they inhabit the same genre I do, let alone the same game.
By continuing to pay for and participate in EVE without denouncing the actions of the scumbags — or worse, pretending they don’t exist because to do so tarnishes the game’s reputation — the EVE-Has-Good-Guys-Too folks are in fact contributing to the problem. If they truly comprise the bulk of the population, then the only conclusion is that they allow the mob to run their city. In Ultima Online, we formed anti-PK guilds to hunt down and destroy griefers. Where are your vigilantes, your leaders, representing the Silent Majority of Invisible Gentlemen? Wherever the EVE humanitarians are, they’re eclipsed by official forum threads filled with support for poor, poor Mittens and #tweetfleet spam and blog posts making fun of “internet white knights” and ridiculing depression and suicide and claiming (with straight faces) that this is just an isolated incident and how dare the media cover it in a way Goonsquad didn’t pre-approve.
In fact, a “leaked” declaration purportedly from Mittens himself laid an impressive amount of the blame for his “persecution” at Massively’s feet in an attempt to control the story and make it about us rather than about him. He and his minions called out our writers by name, all but inviting grief upon them over Twitter and blogs and in-game, and the griefers were happy to oblige. While simultaneously mocking the idea that Mittens could be wounded by the media, the goons began assaulting that very media for wounding him, snarling over confusion about the sequence of events and “defamation” and the true definition of cyber-bullying and making demands that the press rewrite stories and issue apologies as if non-MMO journos actually cared about EVE in the first place beyond pageview farming whenever some internet spaceship crimelord crams his foot in his mouth.
I won’t claim that everyone handled the fallout with class. There are undoubtedly people within EVE who seized the opportunity to maneuver themselves politically, and there are certainly people outside of EVE, even in Massively’s comments section, who salivate for any chance to hate on the game. Irritatingly, in the tussle between the outraged (who blamed everything on the community), the weary (who sought to defend their virtuous corner of said community), and the goons (who blame everyone but themselves for their actions), the real issue — asshattery in MMOs has real-life consequences — was marginalized and forgotten. Meanwhile, EVE’s thugs are sitting in their private channels right now having a beer and a laugh and calling all of us dumb pubbies because for them, this is all part of the carnival, and they believe they’ve sucked us into their twisted freakshow.
Indeed, this scandal has confirmed to me what I’ve suspected for a few years but never verbalized: EVE’s bullying culture extends far beyond the game and its immediate vicinity. Any time Massively, for example, posts anything negative about the game, swarms of EVE fanatics flood our comments sections and inboxes (never mind social media) trying to shout us down. Sometimes, including this past week, it’s obvious that they’re part of a concerted and organized effort to, well, bully us, to threaten and insult us individually and collectively into not talking. Some of the podcast letters we get make me suspect the authors never did listen to us but instead were simply instructed to show up at the designated time and start picketing. At least one of our writers is being griefed by phone. The ongoing harassment has left me reluctant to debate EVE’s mechanics and place in the genre, which infuriates me. I’ve never before felt that someone out there was not just disagreeing with me but actively trying to frighten me into shutting up. I understand that criticism and trolling and even sexism are part of the territory of being in games journalism, being a woman in this hobby, and being an opinionated and argumentative person. I expect turds hurled at me from the dung heaps of the internet.
What I don’t expect are veiled threats that suggest EVE’s thugs will attack us IRL if we don’t comport with their demands, like this one: “I’m sure we shall see more if the gaming press decides they want to camp Eve Online. Eve players tend to be … creative. Maybe someone should warn those reporters to stay away.” And they say we take the game too seriously.
Notably, these hostile emails rarely center on other games, not even when we flame LotRO or WoW or SWTOR or Diablo III. It’s just EVE, and that’s not a coincidence. No other playerbase seems to think itself that special or that entitled or that capable of mass-bullying the press and “dumb pubbies” and even CCP itself.
And CCP is ultimately responsible for all of it. EVE may be filled with people like Mittens, but CCP encourages this “EVE is h4rDc0r3″ behavior and then validates it with a slap on the wrist in the form of a month-long ban that doesn’t impact Mittens in any way except to elevate his status and consecrate his martyrdom with his goons. CCP Games could put a stop to this, but instead, CCP has impotently watched it spiral out of control, perhaps understanding that without people like Mittens and the drama and publicity they generate, the studio has nothing left but a sexist vampire MMO and a derivative console FPS that relies far too much on the continued success of a creaky, incomplete, nine-year-old sandbox that spent 2011 in deep decline.
So bravo, as usual, CCP. Bully for you. Now everyone who suspected your players were sociopaths has yet another reason to believe it’s really true, and the rest of us have a really good reason to never buy anything from you ever again.