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EVE Online: The Proof of Player Narratives

EVE OnlineQuestion: How many people play EVE Online?
Answer: None

Here’s some choice quotes about EVE Online:
“I never had fun in EVE”
“Cunfused the f*** outta me. Too Many Buttons D:”
“this game is boring as hell.”

…so why does EVE have over 200 000 subscribers? Perhaps the original question should be “How many people experience EVE Online?”

I love space opera. I loved space combat, when you could still buy those games. I love MMOs. I should be a prime target for EVE, and yet I find it deathly boring. EVE’s triumph is its downfall: there is very little game offered.

EVE doesn’t give its players things to do or places to go: each “mission” giving agent is as meaningless as the last, each space station is as nondescript as the last, each system as “spacy” as the last. It’s an exercise in providing very little, creating an experience that almost everyone finds boring. The feeling of being incredibly lost sets in very quickly. The game offers no narrative or gameplay carrot, but provides a hefty PvP stick, scaring off new players at an alarming speed.

It is this lack of game structures that creates all those amazing stories about EVE you hear about. Because there is so little to do, players have to make their own fun. They have to tell their own stories and create their own communities. To infilitrate one of these communities; to immerse yourself so fully in forums, blogs, chit-chat, fleet raids… it’s an overwhelming ask, and one that the EVE tutorial or web site tells you about. I can only look in from the outside and wish I had the time or the inclination to be part of something so encompassing, wrapped in a fiction I cannot help but love. But I cannot, and the vast majority of other people – even those that are aware that this is what EVE is, not what the tutorial might lead you to believe it is – can’t either.

What EVE represents is the dichotomy of the player narrative: the story is so compelling because it is a story you create yourself, and yet without the hand-holding and guidance of an authorial narrative, we feel lost and confused. It is not shoe-horning interactivity onto authorial narratives that holds the answer, but rather mixing compelling authorial narratives to player narratives (by compelling, I mean not Crackdown).

If there is some way to reconcile this dilemma, perhaps we will find the real voice of the medium, no longer imitating books or movies, but finding something unique.


About the author:  Chris Lewis is a British PhD student researching the intersection of software engineering and video game development. Read more from this author


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One Comment

  1. Posted September 7, 2009 at 11:22 PM | Permalink

    I personally love EVE and feel that it brings much to the table in terms of Player vs Player. It’s one of the games that really set the mood for all the future PvP games coming out, like Age of Conan or Aion Online.