So, CCP, the developers of EVE Online, are going to mark the site of a recent battle by filling that particular sector of space with permanent, dead ship hulls. If you haven’t read about this particular battle, check out Janine Hawkins’ breakdown of it here. It was a massive thing, unlike anything else in the game’s history. But I have mixed feelings about this graveyard.
I’m sort of kind of quoted in Janine’s piece, noting specifically that the scale of the battle is beyond anything I’ve seen before in the game. Titans are ships of incredible size. Normally, they appear only in small numbers, lingering there. In photos of massive EVE battles, they’re punctum, punching through the actual focus of the battle to draw our eye to them. But in the shots that have come out of this fight, they are so numerous that they become the body. Suddenly, new details emerge: my eye is drawn to the spreadsheet like overlay off to the right side; to the stars in empty, space over in the corner.
Sometimes when a system is pushed to new, unpredictable scales, new seams appear in it, new qualities become clear. Here, it is not only the change in photographic focus, but a new understanding of the way EVE’s mechanics represent loss and permanence. I’m cribbing from an unpublished piece on EVE I’ve written here, but loss is one of the central components of the game’s design. Nothing a character has in EVE is risk-free. Everything can be changed, stolen, or lost. Ships, stations, equipment, even skills. However unlikely it is to happen in a practical sense, if the stars aligned just so, if an elaborate enough plan was executed on, any player could be wiped clean.
In many other MMOs, these things cannot be lost or destroyed, and so they exist on a sort of consequence free, timeless tier of existence (or they carry those traits in themselves, depending on how you want to come at it, I guess.) In many MMOs: Items, characters, skills—these things are eternal. Even the games with some degree of loss (de-leveling, item wear, etc.) rarely have it in a way as wide or prevalent as EVE.
The result of these mechanics of loss, though, is actually a greater experience of object/world/character permanence, not less of one.These things gain permanence, the quality of really exisiting in the world, only by losing their eternal quality, only be become impermanent. The stop being transcendent, and become historical.
This is why I have mixed feelings about the graveyard. Because, see, there was already a graveyard born from the battle of B-R5RB. The real wrecks of the real ships that real players piloted litter the system after a battle. They become carrion for scavengers to claim. Dedicated salvage ships can swing through the system, scooping up the best bits of wreckage for their own use and for sale on the market. And then, like nearly everything else in the game’s world, that graveyard would also be lost.
Except now it transcends, becoming “The Titanomachy.” Now it becomes a fixture.
It is untrue to say that everything in EVE is impermanent, though. There are a few things that last: Moons, Planets, Stars. Celestial things. The EVE Gate itself, which fictionally is what transported people to that universe eons ago, not only exists forever, but exists in a different layer of the universe: it cannot be captured by screenshot. But these qualities have no played history. No player built the stars, the planets, the moons. So in a sense, these things are transcendent.
I know that this isn’t the first time that player activity has changed the world of EVE Online. Other systems have gained little notes in their descriptors, for instance. But this feels transcendental. It originates in player activity. It starts as the graveyard built by over 7,500 players—a graveyard that would vanish if the systems were left to operate as they normally do. But instead, it is translated, converted by CCP into something that will last forever.
I’m not sure how this makes me feel. I love that CCP enjoys these big events. I’m glad they get that things like this, and the Burn Jita campaign are what make their game special. But…
In EVE and out, I think that it’s important that graveyards can be robbed. The difference is that in EVE they almost always are, and here we’ve agreed not to. This takes the question off the table. Will there ever be an event so big, so literally monumental, that players decide to let it stand? Or will CCP always reach in to prevent the community from hashing that out themselves?