Written by: Sam Henry Miller
EVE Online (CCP Games, 2003) is relentless, unforgiving, minimize-the-window monotonous, and still, somehow, satisfying. Many hardcore gamers will find their tempers tested from the moment they log in and likely up until years afterwards—because EVE Online isn’t actually a game (in the traditional sense); EVE Online is a “second life”.
Well, World of Warcraft can fill this role—hell, an online game exists (and quite successfully so) with the aforementioned term as its title. So where lay the distinction? How can EVE rightfully claim to be a “second life” more than Second Life, Guild Wars 2, FFXIV, and other highly-successful, critically-acclaimed Massively Multiplayer Online Games? It can because it is unmediated or, in other words, “player-driven”—which is another way for saying, “EVE is ‘uncanny reality’.”
EVE falls into the principle video-game genre coined “Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs)”, tweaked by the sub-genre of outer-space. MMORPGs can function as addictive outlets for escapism as they provide goals, work (alternatively known as “grinding”), and rewards in a faster fashion than real life (RL) ever could. In EVE, you begin as a fully customizable human-avatar, situated within a distinct, interstellar faction, and granted a personal spaceship to your beck and call. The goal: to become affluent—there are no levels to attain in EVE (in the traditional sense)—only power, prestige, and wealth. Players have full freedom to choose which route they desire to achieve one or all of these three states of being. Some examples: exploration, combat, resource gathering, playing the market, joining the military, creating/joining a corporation (not a guild; an actual corporation), research and development, piracy… the list, just like the sandbox nature of real life endeavour, goes uncannily on.
Beginner tutorials are available, but only topically divulge information about the game’s user interface (UI) and mechanics. Consequently, the ‘true’ learning curve in EVE is monstrously steep. The game is so complex in fact that within the UI itself exists an internet browser for FAQs. Even an embedded calculator can be a necessary resource, effectively earning the game the derogatory title of “spreadsheets in space.” Nevertheless, much has been simplified with 11-years’-worth of updates. The developers clearly wish to make the game more accessible to a larger player base, and, in this sense, EVE’s only fault, its monotonous number-based gameplay—as opposed to fast, action-based gameplay—is slowly disappearing. On many critical websites, the game can generally be found within the top five listed MMOs of all time. But why/how can this be with such niche-like, excluding elements? Well, the answer can only come in the form of a question: What rating would you give real life? This is perhaps an uncomfortable thought, and likewise EVE can be a very intimidating and discouraging environment.
Inevitably, frustration will ensue from failed risk-taking, yet only to the degree of the risk’s respective reward. For example, if you decide to venture into low-security space (no faction NPCs to protect you from other players) with your mining ship, to hopefully discover a juicy, extractable asteroid, you can be killed—not K.O.ed, not sent back a spawn point, but killed. In EVE, death is permanent. The only countermeasures one can take against death is purchasing a variety of insurance plans for their ship(s) and a “cloning plan” for their character (which all, of course, have expiry dates). The former allows for currency (ISK) to be partially recovered and the latter, skills (A.K.A. time).
EVE, from a game company’s perspective, is the perfect MMORPG, because EVE parallels risk-reward paradigms of RL so similarly that it can become addictive (similar to gambling). Like a drug, one can enterEVE to swiftly—with clear and present threat to one’s hard-effort and time—progress and feel a sense of satisfaction that RL scarcely allows. Because no meta-governing force exists (Game Masters), EVEparallels an anarcho-capitalist environment where players (all aggregated into a single server) can achieve faux-power, faux-prestige, and faux-wealth.
Ultimately, EVE Online is about escapism and self-satisfaction in spite of, or perhaps because of, how it handles progression and the freedom it allots—for better or for worse—its players. The game actually bypasses what most would coin “hardcore.” Rather abstractly speaking, EVE is so hardcore that it is an alternate life, exhibiting tremendous seductive value to individuals with time, propensity to addiction, and/or dissatisfaction with their current sense of progression in real life (self-esteem).
In sum, as a game, EVE is downright boring; as an alternate reality, probably the most thoroughly designed (infrastructurally speaking) in existence today; and as a commercial product, highly addictive ergo highly lucrative. Since CCP Games is constantly and rigorously trying to improve EVE’s “fun factor” based on player feedback, there is little room for criticism elsewhere. “What is the point of EVE?” many gamers are likely prone to ask. Well, what’s the point of life?