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.