The Power of Eve Online's Infinite Narratives

By Rich Shivener in Unraveling Yarns
Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm
Where do we start?
Last week, when my friend Danzl and I were talking video games over pints at the bar, I was once again jabbering about open-world video games and their massive options. "Skyrim," he uttered, shaking his head and expounding on its non-linear yet linear yet awesome narrative.

Jokingly, I asked how Eve Online was treating him. I haven't played the science-fiction, spacecraft-centered, massively multiplayer online role-playing game, where players control the economy, government and more from the ground up.

His shook his head again.

"In Eve, you can really hurt people."

Those words have been haunting me for a week. He had so much conviction behind them, a sign of a self-described recovering (albeit harmless) addict of the game. I've taken his words, done some Internet trolling, and synthesized an idea related to preexisting ideas about Eve: It's a drama with infinite narratives designed by its community. Or it's a drama lacking an "authorial narrative," or a master narrative that dictates the drama. (More on that in a moment.)

It's a simple idea that I invite you to expand on. I have to know more about this game.
Let me back for a moment and revisit my friend's comments. We exchanged a few brief text messages last night:

Me: The other day you told me that "In Eve, you can really hurt people." What did you mean by that?

Danzl: Google "eve" and "harvesting tears." Then we'll discuss over a drink.

OK, brain. Answer me this for now ... have you been hurt, or are you a ... cold-blooded killer?!

Yes, but not butt-hurt. Also, I have killed. 
[Ah, lingo! Butt-hurt isn't limited to Eve and it generally means that someone is a sore loser, I think. I checked out this thread.]

There are rules in eve to avoid butt-hurtness.

Don't fly what you can't afford to lose.

When you undock consider the ship lost.

Don't ever pay the ransom. Never, ever pay the ransom.
[Apparently this is a hot issue.]

As evidenced by the texts, Danzl, like others in the Eve universe, has developed his own principles, which shape his narrative. He has control, a "player narrative," to cite Chris Lewis at UC Santa Cruz.

According to Lewis:

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).

With this in mind, I gather that Eve is a unique drama for every player, and every player can choose when their narrative ends. Maybe a player harvests 100 tears, completing an epic, non-linear narrative arc along the way. Maybe a once butt-hurt player goes on a rampage, seeking out nothing more than ransoms. This is just some of my conjecture, of course.

I'll end this little meditation by citing a small excerpt from Jakub Majewski's master's thesis regarding video game narratives. He points out notions on the differences between drama and narratives in video games.

"The second difference that Brenda Laurel identifies between drama and narrative is that drama intensifies the experience, while narrative extensifies it. That is to say, drama condenses time and intensifies emotions, trying to reach a maximum emotional impact, whereas narrative frequently does the opposite, expanding time for the sake of description or to depict a particular incident from multiple points of view (73)."

It seems that Eve players err on the side of drama, synthesizing unique narratives that ultimately create a massive universe. I welcome infinite arguments.

Unraveling Yarns is a weekly column that explores video games as narrative delivery devices. James Hawkins and Rich Shivener rotate week-to-week to discuss their opinions on some of gaming's most challenging and nuanced stories from all generations. Follow James on Twitter @JamesHawk1ns. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichShiv. 
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