Video Game or Social Experiment?

I wrote about this game previously in the blog for the Marx, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Freud, but I think that there are some relevant things in “Eve: Online” relating to some of the ideas we have discussed this year in class.

First, the article: http://www.polygon.com/features/2014/2/24/5419788/eve-online-thrilling-boring

The author of this article investigates “Eve: Online” and its seemingly endless universe. Primarily, the article seems fueled by the author’s curiosity towards a game often described as “spreadsheets in space”, wanting to find out just why so many people play this game for such absurd amounts of time. Getting to the source, he interviews major players of the game, as well as one of the original creators. From the developer of “Eve”, Hilmar Pétursson, it comes to light that there is very little built in structure to the game. That is to say, they provide certain ways to help people establish ownership of space and ways in which they can organize themselves, but as far as how or why these things happen is left up entirely to the players.

And with this I ask the question, “Is ‘Eve: Online’ a video game, or a giant social experiment?” Amongst this freedom which the developer’s offer players of “Eve”, it appears from the article that, more or less, governments and nations arose purely from the creation of the players. We only get the perspective from certain sides in this article, one that is primarily American, but indeed the article mentions there were other groups when the game was first made that were relatively consistent with real world national boundaries (one group was Scandinavian, another Russian, etc.). Since then, there have been a lot of changes, both with how much territory each of these groups  owns but also with their make up. Despite this, I find it interesting that the type of rule they decided to set up was something, so it sounds, close to an oligarchy. Thinking back to Rousseau and his claim about people being disposed to certain types of governments, isn’t it bizarre that an American would embrace a type of government which many within our country would oppose so strongly? Could this suggestion be that our people are more willing to follow a government closer to an oligarchy than a democracy? Or perhaps is our democracy really a farce and what we actually have is an oligarchy? I think, especially given the past few decades, that the last is exactly what we’re experiencing. As to whether this game provides ample proof that this has happened, I’m not sure. I don’t play the game (for interest in having a real life) so I can’t speak for certain about specifics involving the governments these players have established, however it is interesting that one which seems so close to an oligarchy (or perhaps even a dictatorship) is one of the strongest in the game.

This brings me to one more point and that is of legitimacy. From the article, we learn that the formation of the Goonswarm Alliance and the Clusterfuck Coalition (such astute names) was the result of a massive coup, involving a spy who infiltrated the previous body which held most of the power, and completely dismantled it in an instant from the inside, resulting in the rise of the GA and CFC. In the short term, this set up an organization which seems to have the most power in the game and which doesn’t seem to have an end in sight, but given the questions of legitimacy around its founding, it would seem that its only a matter of time before something similar happens to GA and CFC.

Between these two situations, it seems that “Eve: Online” is much more than a game. To me anyway, the way the game is created allows players to, effectively, do whatever they please. With that kind of freedom, it seems that this game has become a possible simulation which could be used to test ideas in political theory. “If we organize ourselves this way, what happens? If we refuse to take option A to form a government, what are we left with? How effective will it be?” Further, this game does not do away with real world issues of nationalization and private interest, both of which are ever prevalent and new content will fuel the latter. I’m not suggesting that everyone drop what they’re doing and play “Eve”, rather that there is a certain dynamic which has arisen in the game that mimics much of what we experience in the real world, and by studying this perhaps we could learn much about ourselves as humans, particularly in regards to behavior and political theory, and do so in a way which results in, relatively speaking, little consequence.

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3 Responses to Video Game or Social Experiment?

  1. dkeezing says:

    For all the talk about virtual reality worlds being exciting for whatever reasons, it’s not clear to me why we would expect people (as a whole) to behave in a virtual world differently than they have behaved in the real world. I hadn’t heard about Eve; it would be interesting to see if there have been similar outcomes in other virtual worlds that give the players most of the freedom (Second Life being the first that comes to my mind). I don’t mean to paint in broad brush, because I know there are many different kinds of people who play these sorts of games, but I think this game could be seen as measuring how people who are not able to amass this kind of power in the real world desire to behave. That is to say, is the oligarchic tendency/desire something that resides within many people, even those who are not a position to be oligarchs? Would they behave as such in the real world if they could? I think the answers to those questions are likely yes, but it’s interesting to have an online game that can show us how people might act in other contexts. In that sense, it’s much more than just a game.

  2. andymaskiell says:

    “I don’t mean to paint in broad brush, because I know there are many different kinds of people who play these sorts of games, but I think this game could be seen as measuring how people who are not able to amass this kind of power in the real world desire to behave. That is to say, is the oligarchic tendency/desire something that resides within many people, even those who are not a position to be oligarchs? Would they behave as such in the real world if they could? I think the answers to those questions are likely yes, but it’s interesting to have an online game that can show us how people might act in other contexts.”

    In response to this portion of your response in particular, I feel uneasy about making assumptions such as those about people. For instance, what if those people’s behaviors are a product of our real world government? Does that tell us more about inherent human nature or the way in which our actual world is molding people? Or are we secretly living among people who have had some dream since their childhood to be part of a ruling body (or just the ruler) of a country/nation/government/etc.? Given how little one can truly conclude from these kinds of situations, I’m more of the mind that these worlds are possibly telling us something about humanity, be it culture, behavior, or something else, but there would need to be a good deal of research to prove anything. I’ll admit that the thought you articulated crossed my mind as I was writing the post; I think it’s a valid question but requires more investigation if we want an answer.

    The other issue I thought of is perhaps they’re behaving the way they are precisely because it takes place in a virtual world and the consequences for one’s actions aren’t QUITE as severe. For instance, people might be more risky with launching attacks on other groups because if you die, you just start over again. Sure, you might lose some of your stuff (depending on the game’s model) or have something else to deal with, but it’s not as if dying is permanent in these types of games. If this is true, it almost obliterates my entire argument. If people are making choices based entirely on the restraints of this universe, then they may very well not reflect their personalities away from the game at all. I think to an extent there is truth in this (I know I tend to do stupid things in games sometimes solely because I can and know the consequences are minimal) but, again, I think there’d have to be a lot of research done in order to determine anything.

  3. njalensky says:

    This is a very interesting post. I agree with your part in saying that the US government is becoming more of an oligarchy. The size and function of the government has grown exponentially over the last 15 years, and it appears as if it is becoming more of a main stream thought to give away freedoms for security. With that you give a few people a lot of power of the masses. Having this in front of us all the time makes the tendencies in government in this game really reflect the thoughts of what is going on in the real world. I hope that the people in America can see what is happening and prevent a totally loss in power.

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