Monday, September 13, 2010

The Hot Seat

Being Fleet Commander in EVE Online has become, for me, what the game is all about.

It's a very grand title: Fleet Commander! Look at me! I am Fleet Commander! I am Hero! I am Great Leader! Well no, you're just a guy who plays a game and talks more than the rest of the players. From the outside looking in it must sound very pompous and self-important, something that the geeks have made up to make themselves feel less sad. Well fuck that opinion. Internet spaceships are serious business.

That's a phrase that's bandied about by the EVE community all day, every day, and it's most often said ironically, but the truth is that the players who have put years into the game do treat it seriously. Yes, it's a game, for all that that entails, all the stigma that it brings. Looking at it sideways, away from the stigma of being a (say it) videogame, it's just part of the twenty-first century's new wave of entertainments. We're not just playing a game, we're inhabiting a persistent world, we're creating and evolving and destroying something wonderful. And we all treat it very, very seriously.

The Fleet Commander isn't just the geek with the loudest voice - although sometimes that's all he is - mainly he's the guy who helps other players have fun and that's a great responsibility; a duty, almost. Internet spaceships are serious business. When we get a fleet of players together to go on a PvP op, I'll decide what ships they've to bring, I'll decide which way we're flying. If we find a fight I'll give the fleet orders, call primary targets, give the call to run away. If at all possible we'll come out of the fight with more kills than losses but if not I then have to get the fleet to safety. And it's hard. If things go wrong, it's the FC who gets the blame and all of a sudden you're the person who has ruined other folks' fun. That's when it becomes serious business.

When it all goes right, though... that's when the shakes come in, the adrenalin, the unbeatable feeling of being on top. That's why people FC in EVE. After five-and-a-half years of playing it's hard to find situations where The Fear is still there. Launching your ship into overwhelming odds, hoping for one kill and then getting out is one. Taking a fleet of other players into a battle and coming out victorious is another. It's (probably) the closest thing us armchair warriors are ever going to get to being heroes... being men in the romantic sense.

I think it's something that only EVE can produce. I imagine that in the good ol' days of World of Warcraft, when forty-player raids took hours to complete, that there was one guy calling the shots all or most of the time, but those raids were static and the experiences wouldn't really change on repetition. Every fight in EVE is different - different gang, different targets, different ships, different location. You're asking two or five or ten or seventy people to listen to your words and react, to do as you say and follow your commands, to make their internet spaceships shoot other internet spaceships; you're asking all these players of this game to listen to you and do as they are damn well told. And, most of time time, they do. Because you're the fleet commander, and you are in charge. And that is amazing.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

State of Identification

Seeing names in World of Tanks that I recognise is always a surprise. Here's a game that's been available for weeks only, a couple of months at the most, but even with my fairly sporadic play I'm still seeing gamer names that tug at the brain strings and say "I know you..."

The truth of the matter is that all these people are from EVE. Whether I've flown with them as corp- or alliance-mates, or merely seen them on a killboard or forum, they're recognisably EVE pilots in a different environment, and that got me thinking: why use the same name? Fair enough, if you're playing a new multiplayer game with friends you'll want them to know which spaceship/tank/soldier you are, but these days everyone has a forum, or teamspeak, or even Facebook - some easy way for folks of a like mind to get together and plan some internet shenanigans. There's no specific need for me to have the same identifier in World of Tanks as I do in EVE Online, except that it's also the name I use in countless other games, on forums and message boards, on console and mobile phone profiles. It's my secret identity, the one my non-gamer friends don't know about, or sneer about if they do. I am Jamie McEwan as much as I am mpk (or empeekay or M Piquet, or a variety of other versions).

Why is this? Why the need to be known as something other than plain ol' Jamie? Are the "experts" right - is the internet or, perhaps more specifically, the gaming part of it actually, really full of social misfits who can't operate properly in the Real World? Do we need to have a handle to hide behind to empower us into being the potty-mouthed, evil-minded little shits that comprise 90% of all internet denizens?

I don't think so. At least, I hope not. Because that would mean I was as weak as "they" say we are, someone who has been desensitised to violence and is, quite possibly, able to comfortably handle a gun.

I'm not saying there aren't people out there who wish they could subsume themselves into a completely electronic existence, the kind of social drop-out who is dying for William Gibson's future to hurry up and come true, but for me it's just a nickname. There are people from university who still call me "Gazelle Boy" after I jumped over a table in the refectory one day, and there are people from further back who still call me "Jesus" because I had the gall to be tall and skinny with a beard. Neither of these names define me, and neither does "mpk". It may be an identity, but it's not a personality; mpk isn't cooler than Jamie, he's not funnier or more attractive to women, but he does fly more spaceships and cause more explosions.

I suppose there is an element of wish fulfilment there, but there's no desire in me to be mpk. He's not the cool side of me; he's not even a "he", just me. But still, wherever I go, whatever I play, I use the name mpk to refer to myself. It's a nickname, sure, but it's a name that I share amongst the community of the internet, a community that isn't as large as you may think, given that most people travel in similar circles to their acquaintances. For instance this mpk is not me, nor this, and I definitely have nothing to do with this company, but if you see M Piquet at the to of your killmail, or if mpk destroys your tank, you'll know where to come to complain.