The vast world of massively multiplayer online games offers something for everyone at this point. Wanna pretend you're a superhero, defending the helpless citizens of a modern metropolis? There's an MMO for you. Wanna pretend you're a futuristic soldier on a far away planet? There's an MMO for you. Wanna pretend you're an elf with a hard-on for decapitating orcs? There's a dozen MMOs for you.
But if you're a hardcore sci-fi geek, the kind who followed Battlestar Galactica like it was Jesus and who can explain exactly why it's so crucial that Han Solo shot Greedo in cold blood, there is really only one MMO you should be playing.
EVE Online is the hardcore sci-fi geek's MMO. Hit the jump for proof.
A few weeks ago I opened my apartment door to a delivery from FedEx. It's not uncommon that I get deliveries from gaming companies, but normally those are simple thick envelopes, just large enough for the DVD-style packaging that protects modern releases. This box however, was comparatively huge. A foot and a half by a foot and a half square, and four inches thick, I was baffled at what the box could contain, so no sooner had I closed the door than I began tearing into it. I removed one of the sides of the box and spilled the contents onto my bed, noticing briefly that the sender was EVE Online creator CCP Games.
Included in the box was EVE: The Burning Life (the latest novel set in the EVE Online universe), the latest issue of EON (the EVE Online magazine), the most recent EVE Online quarterly economic report, and the standard description page courtesy of EVE's PR folk.
First, let me say that while I knew that there were novels based in the EVE universe, and that CCP employs a doctor of economics to monitor the game's fiscal ups and downs, the existence of the thick, almost inscrutably dense economic report left me with raised eyebrows and a gaping smirk. "The game's inhabitants care enough about the fictional price of items that don't actually exist to warrant a novella explaining the trends and financial theory behind the whole thing?" I thought, initially shocked, but quickly realizing that it, along with the other contents of the box say something really impressive about the world of EVE and its devotees.
I'll get to what exactly that is in a moment, but first, let me talk about the magazine, EON. Let me just say up front, my background in online journalism has left me a pretty blatant detractor of print. I'm of the opinion that print journalism is a dying enterprise, and at this point pretty much the only people willing to argue with me are those who make their living solely from writing in print, are unable to segue into writing online, and are terrified that they'll be unemployed any second now.
That said, the people responsible for EON have put together a really gorgeous magazine. The graphics are glossy, the layouts are modern without being annoyingly "ultra modern" or so gimmicky that it will look dated in a few weeks, and the paper is both crisp and suitably thick. Most crucially though, the writing is better than 90 percent of the text you'll find in its online competitors. Given the credentials and talent of most of those competitors — and keep in mind that I'm directly insulting my colleagues here — that's not a huge accomplishment, but it is exactly what such a magazine needs to strive for if it hopes to succeed.
Still, I think the real plaudits for the EON team should come from the work they put into its content. Once you strip away the pretty pictures (no small task given that the magazine has 300 percent of your daily recommended allowance of eye candy) the actual text content can best be described as "player-generated fiction." With a couple of exceptions, most content comes directly from the people actually playing EVE and their exploits in-game.
That concept has a lot of potential for being mind-numbingly stupid. In fact, I couldn't imagine it working for any other MMO — attempting to chronicle any player interaction in World of Warcraft for instance would leave you with pages of stupid Internet memes, homophobic slurs and swears — but the denizens of EVE are so devoted to the fiction of their shared online world that stories of their daily exploits could double as compelling tales in one of those yearly sci-fi anthology books.
Sharing a single world with 300,000 sci-fi geeks devoted to a singular fiction enough that their interactions with one another make for intriguing science fiction stories? That is exactly what we were all promised when the concept of the massively multiplayer online game was first being kicked around in the mid-90s. It's what we all hoped games like Everquest were, instead of the graphically impressive chat rooms that the majority of them wound up as. It took a bit longer than we had hoped, but as long as you're into the dense sci-fi fiction that surrounds it, EVE finally realizes the MMO ideal.
Next up is that novel I mentioned, EVE: The Burning Life. This is far from the first novel based on an MMO, or even the first set in the EVE universe, but it also serves to offer EVE fans more reason to love the world in which they virtually live. I wouldn't say that the book offers much over similar sci-fi novels for those who don't play EVE, but for those who spend the monthly subscription fee to pilot a ship around the EVE universe, reading a book set in the same spaceports they visit on a daily basis adds an indescribable depth to both the reading and the gameplay experience. Fittingly, I can't quite describe it to anyone who isn't addicted to an MMO, but it's close to that special kind of geeky joy one gets from recognizing esoteric references in Alan Moore's comics or grasping the more complex gags in a Douglas Adams novel. If you're the sort of person who EVE might appeal to, you've certainly felt it before, and you're exactly the target demographic for both the game and the novel.
The problem I have with recommending all of this excess fiction is that I can't imagine it appealing to anyone not already enraptured with the MMO. So why am I even writing this? Because, as I've said every other time I've mentioned EVE here, I think it deserves a larger audience than it already has, and I think Portland is home to a lot of hardcore sci-fi geeks who would really dig EVE's world and its endlessly deep fiction.
If any of this even remotely appeals to you, I urge you to give the game's free two week trial a shot. It runs on both PCs and Macs, doesn't require a top of the line computer and won't even ask you for a credit card.
Then, if after those two weeks, you decide to sign up for a monthly subscription, you should really look into the novel or EON or any of the other dozens of forms of added fiction that CCP and its fans have created.
Just don't complain to me if you end up forgetting about reality. The modern world is a whole lot less entertaining than CCP's world of space pirates and laser cannons.