EVE Online: Work or Play?
Where does play end, and work start? In the online world of the MMORPG EVE Online, this threshold might be blinded by the dazzling glitter of the stars, but it is just as easy to pass.
In EVE Online, the gathering of resources is a daily routine that traps the player in a loop of delayed gratification. Resources are needed in the first place for trade purposes – making money – and secondly to manufacture certain game-objects. Since both capital and consumerism define a gamers happiness within the hyper-capitalistic society of EVE Online, it is hard to deny the system without missing out on many important aspects of the game.
This however is not the end of the story. Experienced players of this Sci-Fi world will argue that it is not the size of your wallet that matters, nor the number of spaceships in your hangar, but the reward of collaborating on a common goal with your fellow gamers. Having something big (Titan-class spaceships, outposts) to look forward to, something that you could not possibly have achieved on your own, is a great incentive for spending hours on end doing chores. But why use the word chores? Not necessarily because these tasks are boring to many, but because they are tasks handed out by those higher in command. In other words, they are obligations. If you choose to ignore these orders you will run the risk of being called a slacker or parasite, and eventually being booted from the group. This makes two incentives: A monetary or gameplay award, and social control. Well, that sounds a bit like work already, doesn’t it?
Of course, many role-playing games require a certain temporal dedication to progress to a next level. Which really isn’t that problematic, since instant gratification would keep the gamer from pursuing any future goals, and leaving the game in sheer boredom. So what makes EVE Online stand out in that respect? In my view the main reason would be the ideological similarity of the virtual world’s game mechanics with those of Western society. Assuming capitalism as an end, you can either choose to conform to its rules or be left out. There are no support structures in place for those seeking freedom from the dominance of capital. To take full advantage of the game’s possibilities gamers thus join forces in corporations. Although there may be vast differences between the way individual corporations are organized, there are already basic structures in place which push them in a specific mould. This is illustrated by the fact that there always is a CEO in charge, at least formally. Even though the gamer in question might delegate his or her responsibilities, the time invested in training the skills which are demanded for such a position discourage such a scenario. Then, on descending the hierarchy we will find that lower positions of power are defined by access to resources and information. A leader of combat operations might have unlimited access to ammunition, while an internal security agent might be granted access to information on the whereabouts and transactions of corporation members. These are not just efficient methods of organizing a group of people, they are also explicitly supported by interface functionality. In doing so, the game willingly keeps structures of inequality in place. Whether this constitutes the main attraction of EVE Online – a ordinary employee could command his boss in-game – or the source of real-life frustration remains to be seen.
A disciplinary society
The conflicts we see here are Foucauldian in their sense of collaboration through discipline, and the enclosure of its spaces. Although I do possess some valuable experience being a former member of one EVE’s largest corporations, we have to keep in mind that this article can only provide preliminary observations: The EVE galaxy might have already started to modulate. More definite conclusions can therefor only be drawn after a more intensive stay in-game, focusing on those parts where enclosed spaces emerge and possibly collide. Until then I can’t help to wonder why I spend my free time doing assignments “for fun”.