The MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) genre in videogames has provided a gateway into a new type of narrative. These games create a single coherent world where all the players will interact through. When a player is logged off, time still flows in the game world. When you have a game space of this scale with such a large amount of people playing, something truly unique is created. The scale of agency and social interaction we can have in these games creates a new collection of incredible experiences, many of which are too fantastical to be even remotely plausible in meatspace. But what is amazing here is not the mere experience, it’s the fact that it is a shared experience. In MMORPG’s it is very likely that someone else was with you during some grand moment of pixelated badass. You all share the experience and then you bring those experiences with you when you talk with your friends. This idea of sharing folklore is reborn in the MMORPG genre and we can once again be captivated by stories of grand battles and heroic players.
Now you may be thinking that the notion of linking folklore to videogames is absurd but just because an event occurred in a videogame doesn’t make it any less valid. Nothing in these games happen on a whim, they all have established histories and narratives, created by the players. Something that happens in a game can be just as captivating as what may occur in meatspace.
In this instance, I would like to look at one game in particular, EVE Online. Much like World of Warcraft, EVE Online is a MMORPG, here players interact in an interstellar world, exploring planets, solar systems and the other wonders of space. There is a functioning economy, there are alliances between factions and there is a rich history. With the exception of the location of the game space, there are numerous similarities between meatspace and the game world.
In January 27th 2014, a single event sparked a series of chain reactions into what is probably one of the biggest online battles ever seen in a videogame. Now your immediate reaction may be to think it was probably caused by some people who simply wanted to have a battle in a videogames. However, that is where you are mistaken. The motives for this battle are probably as valid as any large scale war that may occur in meatspace.
Much like the relationship that may exist between rival countries, the factions in the game have a very similar relationship. To say they are tense would be an understatement. So what was the catalyst to such a titanic battle? Here is a brief description of what happened.
“Here’s how it went down. Corporation Nulli owned a station. Which gave them ownership of an entire sector. That’s a big deal. Their corporate ally PL was stationed there and had lots of assets there. Nulli “forgot to pay rent” So then… The space-station became unowned. Except all of PLs assets housed there remained there. Another corporation, RUS was near, saw this going, and swooped in to take the station. They succeeded. PL came back with guns to take it back from RUS. To get their stuff back. PL also got their ally Nulli to help them. When that happened. RUS called their ally CFC. Normally, these kinds of things happen between smaller ships. And one team will either leave or win. But both sides refused to back down. And the fight continued to escalate continually. Until we have what you see now. Currently 2160 people. In a pitched war.”
What I think is amazing is how blurred the distinction is between what is real and what isn’t. This reads like any other war story you might hear, aside from the obvious technological differences. I think this is largely due to the fact that people do have things invested into these games. Whether it be time or money. There are estimates which put the cost of this conflict to be worth between $300K – $500k USD of in-game assets.
Further reading on the EVE Online conflict:
The MMORPG is an amazing genre of game and completely changes how we think of narrative in game. Much like life, it is something which we simultaneously create and experience. With games which allow for multiple players to interact in a single world, the potential for such folktales is what makes those games so appealing.