EVE Online: The Rabbit Hole

I have had a long time on again, off again relationship with the MMO game EVE Online for nearly as long as the game has existed. The first time I played lasted about three days. I worked my way up to a frigate, went out into a lower security system to hunt NPC pirates and got locked onto by another player in a destroyer. He started shooting my ship and sent me a chat message saying, “4 million ISK and I’ll stop shooting.” (ISK is the in-game currency.) I told him to go fuck himself, and he blew up my ship. The ship cost about 8 million to build. I rage quit on the spot and canceled my account. (At the time there was no free-play option.)

Over the years I have dipped my head back in a few times. I usually lasted about a week before leaving in head-scratching confusion. The game it very pretty, and I love the genre, but I just didn’t quite connect with the game.

A couple of days ago I decided to take a peak again. (They now have a free to play option, which increases the temptation.) This time I decided to peek at some YouTube vids about various aspects of play. Things finally clicked.

The reasons I keep getting drawn back is back have to do with my many years of playing the Traveller table-top RPG. Traveller is a game (and a fan base) that supports many styles of play. You can hunt down bad guys, be bad guys, explore strange new worlds, trade goods between worlds, etc. Over the years, the various publishers who have held rights to Produce Traveller rules and supplements have explored all of these options.

EVE Online is pretty much an open sandbox game. All of the economics are player driven, as it most of the real danger in the game. To me, it feels a lot like Traveller in that way, and that is part of the attraction for me. Another part has to do with the player driven economics. One of the things I liked doing most in Traveller was the trading and shipping of goods. I always enjoyed keep meticulous notes on systems our player group visited and figuring out where the most profit was to be made. EVE is all about that. Players mine raw materials and take them to market. Players take those raw materials and manufacture in-game items which they then take to market. Players haunt the zones where rare materials are to be found in order to ambush other players and take their hard earned loot. For the most part any “law enforcement” is done by the players as well. It’s a lawless frontier of free capitalism and blazing guns.

On YouTube, I came across a set of videos from an EVE convention in 2015. The presenters all looked like the kinds of people I recognized from going to gaming conventions over the past three decades. Not just gamers, but a specific set of gamers. Namely wargamers. That’s when the light went off for me.

One of the old school games that I enjoy is Diplomacy. Diplomacy is a game of global conquest, and there can only be one winner. There is an old adage among gamers, “Diplomacy is a great game for losing friends.” That’s because the most valid way to play is to make deals with other players and at the right time betray them. It’s cooked into the system of the game and is expected behavior. Playing Diplomacy takes a thick skin. I used to go to a convention in the Bay Area every year called Dundracon. One of the regular events was a massive version of Diplomacy. Standard Diplomacy uses a map of the Earth to play on and can support up to 7 players. The Diplomacy played at Dundracon used a map based on the Ringworld from the book of that same name by Larry Niven and could handle up to 32 players. Every year that game would fill up and the players would battle and back stab it out for the entire four-day convention.

EVE Online is not a video game in the typical sense. There are no win conditions, and the players provide most of the content. It’s more like a massive board game played out on computers. That’s the distinction I was missing, and that’s why the game can get so deep.

So, I am back to flying ships around in New Eden, and I’ve set my own win condition. I plan on making enough ISK to get my account up to paid status. After that, the stars are the only limit.

Grind Your Way Past It

Among the many life lessons I have learned from gaming, one came back to me recently in sharp detail. I have been trying this new free-to-play game out called “Path of Exile”. It’s basically a Diablo clone with a couple of wrinkles. One of those wrinkles is that every class of character has (theoretically) full access to the talent trees of all the other classes. This means that your Marauder may play more like a Duelist than could ever happen in games where the talent trees of the various characters are kept separate. What this also means is that it is very easy to “gimp your build”, a not very politically correct gaming phrase meaning that you have built out your character in a way that is far less than optimal. The game also allows (again theoretically) every class to use any piece of equipment that drops from the monsters you defeat in play.

The result of all this possible customization is that Path of Exile is very easy to “get wrong” and the learning curve is more like a cliff. Because of this it is very easy to hit a wall in progression where you can’t get past the foes presented in a new level of the game. This leads to the life lesson. You see, hitting a wall of foes you can’t defeat is not terribly uncommon in games that have characters that progress in power, and which can be customized. I first learned this lesson while playing World of Warcraft.

The lesson is this: If you find yourself stymied by the enemies of a level you have advanced to, retreat to a place in the game where you can continue beating foes and solving quests so that you can gain experience and power and then you can return to the level that you bounced off of, and prevail. I call this, “out leveling the content.” In other words, when the content of the game outmatches you, go find content that doesn’t. Gain more power in the game (levels, talents, gear, etc.) and take on the content you had a problem with once it’s easier.

In life we can hit walls in pursuing the goals we care about. Sometimes the way past those walls is getting better at what we are trying to do. In these cases there is no substitute for grinding out more practice at our craft. Automation, gear improvements, money spent on boosting our signal… none of those will suffice when we just need to be more adept at our skill. When lack of proficiency is what is holding us back, it’s time to out level the obstruction by devoting time and energy to getting better at what we want to do.

photo credit

Yes, This Is Happening

assassin

Like a lot of people these days, I get most of the influx of world news from my friends. Through social networks, my feed gets peppered with items of note from all over the globe. Many of the postings include some expression of incredulity about what is being passed on. Many of them with lead ins such as, “Is this legal?, “This can’t be happening…”, “I don’t believe we are still this fucked up…”, and so on.

Side-bar here: Recently I started on a piece about Hassan i-Sabbah. You see, I am an avid gamer, as well as being a fan of fringe philosophy, whack-o epistemology, strange ontology, stripped down spirituality, shadow history, and the scientific method, all while working towards immanetizing my personal eschaton.

Recently, I caught quite a fascination about the original order of assassins by playing the “Assassin’s Creed” games (which are awesome, by the way.) In them, part of the credo of the assassins often quoted is the phrase, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” I had read that phrase before, of course, mostly in the Principia Discordia, and the works of Uncle Bob.

So, being the avid geek I am, I started researching. As I did, my romantic notions about the ideology of freedom that the phrase calls fort, and which the game creators emphasized, bubbled over. The idea of facing reality directly, without holding any one particular reality-tunnel as absolute, allows for a personal unbridled freedom. Our behavior comes under our full ownership and responsibility. We can begin to answer for ourselves to ourselves. For me, this formulation is right up there with, “The map is not the territory”, and “Whatever you say a thing is, it isn’t” from Korzybski, alongside the offerings from Aliester Crowley, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”, and “Will under love.”

Hassan i-Sabbah, was the founder of the original order of assassins, and the apparent coiner of this phrase. Trouble is, no one really knows when he said it, or why. The most compelling version (for me anyways), is as follows: After winning the castle-fortress Alamut in a con-bet that involved the hide of a bull, Hassan took up residence and proceeded to run his group of assassin’s to make targeted eliminations for the purposes of forwarding the agenda of the Muslim world. He recruited soldiers and conditioned them by using drug enabled trips to “heaven”, a walled paradisiacal garden built to evoke the fantasies of what awaits Muslim’s who give their lives over to the service of Allah in the afterlife, complete with virgins to provide physical delights. Hassan employed a wide range of theatrical shows to convince his troops. Once, he had a pit installed in his throne room. He had a follower stand in the pit, then rigged a false floor that made it look like his severed head was sitting on a platter. Calling his troops in, Hassan claimed this was the head of a man who had failed to obey him. He then evoked his “magical powers” and commanded the head to speak, at which point the man in the pit began screaming and detailing the tortures that he was undergoing in Hell.

Once Hassan was installed in Alamut, he never left his chambers (aside from one trip to the roof gardens) for the remaining 35 years of his life. He sank himself into studies of the religion, philosophy, science, and mysticism of his time. Hassan was a deeply respected spiritual authority, and he turned to his studies with an unmatched fervor. On his deathbed he uttered the phrase, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

Now, what did he mean by that? Was this a death bed confession that all he had believed in for his life was false? Or, was this some deep mystical revelation representing the culmination of his studies, and meditations? Or, was it the farewell of a con-man who wanted to assuage his guilt?

Who knows?

In any event, one thing is clear. Hassan was a confidence man of the highest order. He willfully used the fanatic religious conviction of his followers, which he magnified through genius level brainwashing, and spent their lives for his own ends. What he did was amazing, but it’s nothing to get romantic over.

This ended my fascination with Hassan i-Sabbah as a source of mystical insight. My respect for the insight remained, however.

Here ends the side-bar.

All of that was to illustrate the truth behind the term, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” You see, we all live in reality-tunnels sourced from our individual unique partial views. This reality-tunnel is colored by our physical and psychological structure, as well as the conditioning imprinted on us by our culture and life experiences. We each have a unique “take” on things, and none of them is ultimately true. They (at best) are just how things seem to us. This does not mean they are not real; it’s just that they are only real for us. In this way, “nothing is true.”

Each of us takes our actions guided by our own personal plum-lines. The thing is these conditions of morality, and ethics, and social norms, are installed in us during our upbringing. These rules of conduct dictate our actions to a large degree. If we had a glimpse (or maybe a good long look) at reality free of our conditioning, then we might understand that, “everything is permitted.” Then our actions become fully our own. That does not mean we will necessarily do good things. We can still be bad people. Some will take advantage of such freedom in service of their own needs and desires.

“There are trivial truths, and there are great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.” ~ Niels Bohr

It seems ironic to use that quote as a tool to look at an insight that states that, “Nothing is true…,” but to heck with it. Life is short. Following on with Professor Bohr’s line of reasoning, it seems to me that every deep insight can be implemented in a positive light and in a negative one. I am beginning to suspect that this insight, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” is floating around out there in the noosphere with a negative inflection. Not in the foreground like the countless LoLCats, and Ikea Monkeys, but just like those memes, it’s being passed around in the background.

Those working with this idea have a free license to do as they please. With no truth holding them back, they permit themselves actions that most of us would balk at.

So, yes, this is happening.

Governments are breaking laws.

People are being locked up for no reason other than convenience.

Teenagers are bashing each other’s brains in, and people are using these tragedies as an excuse to promote racial profiling.

Corporations are poisoning the bio-sphere and exterminating species to increase their bottom line.

All of that is happening. Really. It really is.

As long as we deny it, what’s going to stop it?

This is not a call for some overt action, or screaming in the streets. But, what if we all let in the idea that maybe, just maybe, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” And, maybe if we did we could slow the tide of license and abuses, and expose them all to the light of our awareness. Not our hatred, or our revenge, but just our knowing. Maybe that light could be shined into the darkest crevices and if they want to take their actions, at least they will do so while we see.

Just a thought.