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Jita’s Ashes: EVE Online teaches us something about player freedom

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Freedom is an interesting thing even if a little hard to define at times. It's a strange concept to try to apply to video games because as a hobby, we haven't really a needed to call the notion of freedom into the picture. But ever since massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) hit the scene, the idea of just what freedom means in relation to an online world has been a question that seems to be ignored for the most part.

With that in mind, I found that the recent "Burn Jita" player event in EVE Online catalyzed and carried out by the game's own players to be a good sounding point with which to call the concept of what freedom means when it comes to gaming in a communal world.

 

It might be best to temper this with an example from another game: League of Legends (LOL). Riot Games recently banned a few hundred players for what in essence boils down to an exploit of how the games' Mastery system worked. By dumping more points into the system than should normally be possible, players were able to spam some of the better spells without suffering a cooldown. The exploit has since been patched, and Riot is coming down on those that choose to use it — something they are rather frank about calling, "bullshit." They continued, "[A]nd we're not going to allow it."

Now, whether or not you agree with them coming down on the people that used the exploit is a matter of personal experience. Certainly, one could make a case in either direction. If you were one of the people who got creamed by an exploiter, then you're probably not too happy about it. But at the same time in a competitive world like LOL, is a player who is willing to find, use, and abuse any advantage he can really doing anything terribly wrong? The exploit itself is obviously something that Riot didn't want in the game, but it took the players to prove it was there and to motivate a fix for it once it was discovered.

The LOL example is pertinent if perhaps a little narrow. Consider that in this case, both the problem and the response can be rooted in the game itself. Still, some will complain when bans come down or exploits and loopholes are patched. They would argue that unless it breaks the game in a fundamental way that it should be left in; let the community deal with it or find ways around it. After all, it's their world, shouldn't they be able to do what they want in it?

Well, the truth is: No, it's not your world, and you only rent space in it. It's up to the landlords to decide just how far you can go before your get evicted. But remember that when you ask for more freedom, it's not something that you only benefit from. This is where "Burn Jita" comes in.

"Burn Jita" itself stems from less than noble origins — at least if some of the interpretations are to be believed. Some speculate that the most prominent figure on the attackers side, Alexander Gianturco, might have been engineering this entire thing in response to the month-long ban he received for egging on people to grief a player who was openly talking about committing suicide.

It's certainly an atrocious accusation and one that has its own story. Regardless of that, though, and also regardless of whether this was an attempt at payback for a perceived slight, that actually isn't what's important here. What's important is how EVE Online developer CCP reacted upon hearing of the "Burn Jita" campaign.

One comment from EVE Online senior producer Jon Lander sums it up better then anything else ever could: "I tell you what; it's going to be fucking brilliant."

Not only would the administration not interfere with what was about to happen but they actually took measures to make sure that the server wouldn't crash under the higher-than-normal strain and then took steps to analyze the aftermath.

Certainly, the in-game ships that attacked were quickly destroyed by the computerized police ships, but the raiders planned for such a thing, which is why the planners undertook months of ship-building to construct a massive fleet. The damage inflicted over the "Burn Jita" player event seems staggering: "The total damage inflicted over these three days amounted to 45,117,952 hit points delivered in 249,021 distinct hits," as reported in CCP's analysis.

Even to someone like me who's not familiar with the game, a number like 45 million means a lot. I can't help but wonder just when someone will put an actual monetary figure to this entire thing, assuming no one has done so already.

CCP could have stepped in. Some people who lost much in the carnage no doubt believe that they should have stepped in. However, no more pertinent example of freedom in games exists that I can see when it comes to recent events in an MMO of any kind.

People said they wanted to destroy a port of major commerce, and the gatekeepers simply said what amounts to, "We look forward to seeing it. Don't break the rules." Think whatever you please about the reasons, the results, or anything else about the weekend Jita was ablaze, but know that it was something that illustrates the freedom that some have yearned for when they believe they've been imposed on by designers in other games.

Freedom is nice, but it comes with its own risks and its own prices to be paid. Those that continue to survive in the world of EVE Online would doubtless argue that the price is worth it; for others, it stands as a sobering reminder of just what can happen when a hands-off approach is taken.


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