It is 1:34 in the afternoon. I haven’t eaten today. As I walk down the alleyway, the small amount of sun almost knocks me over. When I close my eyes, I can see my frigate launching into warp towards a local worm hole. I need to get back to work, wash my face and go through two hours of meetings. A key motivation for going to wash my face is that I might return to my alley.
I have been playing Eve Online, a multiplayer online game created here in Iceland five years ago, launched three years ago. In the week that I’ve been gaming, the game has held me casually interested—there are the standard Icelandic obsessions with bloodlines and cars, (in this case space cars), and ideal economic environments, and to play a game made by friendly, politically outspoken locals is fun, much the same way buying a local album is.
And then, on a tip, I walk into Ground Zero, the Internet café in downtown Reykjavík, and buy the afternoon special of two hours for 500 ISK, and sit down to experience Eve on a high-end gaming computer. The experience is a cross between driving a Ferrari, seeing a great local band, and being pulled into a good book.
When I sit down at Ground Zero, I am awkward, I am taking notes on the kid across from me, who at first glance looks 12, but on closer examination has the wearied look of a late-developing 16 year old, who is screaming “When you turn the corner, shoot” to a friend playing a First Person Shooter with him, likely anywhere in the world.
Most people who go to Ground Zero look somewhat like they’ve been in the place for weeks, much like arcades used to look when Donkey Kong Jr. took over. And at first I feel self-conscious, trying to load into my Eve game in which I have yet to complete the tutorial.
Two hours later, my time ends, and I wake up, only partially, feeling the bond among the rest of the people at the café that you feel after seeing an especially powerful concert from a band that hardly anyone knows about, and I start planning how I’ll get back to this place.
So How Are the Graphics?
The first thing I asked when I was told that everybody and their mother was addicted to Eve was how are the graphics? Approaching video games from a 1990s model, I wanted to know if I could really tell if… well, if the space station had good physics. Or if the Eve girls that I saw in advertising brochures would have the Star Trek vibe. Or if I might buzz by planets with the appropriate sense of flying in space.
As soon as you log on to Eve, you get graphics, and they are impressive enough—as you begin a game, you get to create your character, including morphing the entire face shape and going for a range of tattoo options. As I chose races and bloodlines, a somewhat disturbing task that refers to a frequent obsession with amateur genetics studies in sci-fi literature, I wasn’t surprised that the more primitive race referred to the aggressive sexual nature of the females. Getting beyond that little faux pas, the bloodline talk could sometimes be amusing, and the ultimate lesson seemed to be that any bloodline you chose for your character could be equally successful and/or sexy.
The outstanding graphics, and even better, the sound effects drive you through the tutorial well—as with Star Trek, everything comes with a whoosh, and as with 2001, you get an ultra-creepy talking computer sidekick named Aura. For the first ten hours, all played in my case in 45-minute increments as my three-year-old computer tended to overheat trying to run the program, I was pleasantly amused and proud of the guys at CCP for putting together something so competent.
Then the actual game play began. There is little to say: you start with a small ship in a safe region of space, and you do your best to make some money doing things like running errands, or mining, or finding space pirates – things that shouldn’t be as appealing as they end up being. Shooting around a galaxy at warp speed, past well-drawn planets, buying the larger guns, etc., was pretty much what I thought Eve would be. What I wasn’t expecting was an economics lesson – to say nothing of an enjoyable economics lesson.
Almost immediately, though, you realise that in Eve, you are entering the great capitalist experiment with one ultimate hitch – everyone in Eve enters on an equal playing field. What is more, there are rules, and the rules are enforced, though they could be broken if people wanted to break them. With consistency and patience, anybody can succeed in Eve. If you want to take risks, you can succeed even quicker, and if you take too many risks, you can likely get squashed and have to start over.
In the real-time space community of Eve, you work, get rewards, build a reputation, and get more rewards – it’s the world of Huey Long or Eisenhower, the ultimate fantasy.
Overtaking the Novel
To understand how this perfect capitalist world connects to the typical player, or to at least understand how I got so attached to the idea of carrying a memo to a moon of a distant planet for 100,000 that I almost told my girlfriend that I had to vacation someplace that had a decent Internet café just so that I might carry more memos, I had to refer to the craft of writing fiction. John Gardner, the great American writer and teacher of fiction, the man who discovered and trained Raymond Carver, among others, put down a good deal of the key axioms of great modern fiction in his book The Art of Fiction. His key point, and one that I always wanted to disagree with, is that people read fiction to find something stated that matches a deep internal belief.
With products like Eve, the gaming community has taken over the role that fiction writers held in the 20th century. Like Fitzgerald, or even Laxness, they now voice the key thoughts that so many of us are grumbling over but unable to state. These days, with Enron on trial in America, and with concern over a number of corporate scandals coming out in Iceland, somehow the dream is now extremely similar to Laxness’s great Icelander, Bjartur: we dream of an equal playing field where following the rules might allow us a chance at success. As of February, 100,000 people worldwide are paying $20 to experience this. And as of February 14th, I’ve been one of them. Other than my occasional binges at Ground Zero, I have been able to limit this fantasy to an hour a week.
You can get a free trial of Eve Online through the Reykjavík Grapevine website, www.grapevine.is.
Opin Kerfi ehf. provided the Reykjavík Grapevine with an HP Compaq nw8240 Mobile Workstation so that we could finally test Eve Online properly.
For more information log on to www.fartolvur.is.
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