Fruits of the Cultural Revolution

When I went out to null sec back in late 2011, it was not without some trepidation.  I was going to join a friend out there and be part of a small corporation.  In the social structure of New Eden, the corporation is often the most basic unit, a small group that identifies together, very much the guild analog in EVE Online.

But the game takes it beyond that, and above corporations there are alliances, which are groups of corporations that can band together under a unified banner in order to work together.  Alliances are a meta-guild of sorts.

The players, ever ingenious, have managed to create their own social structures beyond what the game provides.  I often speak of the Imperium and PanFam and PAPI and FI.RE.  These are coalitions, alliances of alliances, an idea that has no official structure within the game.  But CCP gave us enough tools through standings and such to make them possible.

And then there are informal groups, at least so far as the game is concerned, what we call SIGs and Squads in the Imperium, but which exist in other alliances and coalitions, which try to group up people with like interests so they can do things together.

This is somewhat relevant to my own tale in null sec, which started with my joining a small corporation, BSC Legion, back in December of 2011 and getting mixed up in the never ending tale of war and drama that is null sec space in New Eden.  It may also relevant to where this post will go, though I won’t really know until I get there.

Back then the organization now known as the Imperium, at the time called the CFC, was a very different place.  This was after the great war between Band of Brothers and Goons, and null sec was a mix of survivors of the war, successor organizations, and some new groups.  It was very much the age of suspicion and spies and getting into a null sec corp required some thorough vetting and a vouch from somebody already in the corp.

And life in null sec was like a lot of other PvP games at the time.  There was a lot of casual racism, sexism, homophobia, and all the usual bad tropes of “gamer” culture, with no real incentive to change and a lot of people set in their ways.  The CEO of my first alliance, TNT, told us quite bluntly at one point that he would ban and blacklist anybody who complained to CCP about people posting porn in fleet chat, which was incredibly common at the time.  An occasional FC would ask people to go make a porn channel to keep fleet chat clear, but that was a rare thing indeed.

It was the price of playing the game… because it wasn’t just null sec that was like that.

Then things changed.  Sometime after the Fountain War Goonswarm and the CFC started to clean itself up.  The cultural revolution was declared.  A huge push was made to normalize better behavior.  The name was change to the Imperium.  We were no longer going to tolerate casual racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, and other toxic behavior within our ranks.

This was not an easy lift.  There had been some efforts before to try to get people to tone down their behavior, at least in coalition level fleets, and it was met by a lot of push back.  There are a lot of fragile young men out there who feel less than whole if they can’t been abusive.  I recall many surly complaints about not being able to link porn in fleet chat or harass any female that showed up on voice chat.

But the cultural revolution, which was most loudly proclaimed by The Mittani, mostly succeeded.  It was directed primarily at Goonswarm and coalition operations, so other alliances in the coalition did what they pleased on their own time.  There had to be a second cultural revolution after the Casino War to stamp out corners of toxic behavior… a task made easier by the fact that the Imperium had shed some of the more toxic groups during the war… and some basic standard of behavior was created and enforced.  I have been on fleets where somebody slips into that old toxic behavior only to have the fleet commander firmly remind them that “we don’t do that here.”  It is always good to hear somebody in authority holding the line.

And I am sure somebody will point out that coalition member X said something toxic somewhere… in local, in the forums, on r/eve… and they are probably right.  There is no way to police this sort of standard outside of coalition sponsored operations.  But at least people could go on coalition operations and not be subject to that sort of thing.  Life was better.

As for why this happened, there are probably a few reasons, not the least of which is that unchecked toxic behavior tends to drive out your best players over time.

But this time frame was also a point of change in null sec.  Brave Newbies had showed up and, while not exactly a power house, demonstrated that an open recruitment policy and an eagerness to help new players could generate interest and put ships on grid.

In a game where “n+1” had long been the formula for victory, this simple method of recruiting people to fill fleets was a too good to pass up.  We were also entering the “farms and fields” era of null sec, where defense of sovereignty would depend on the Activity Defense Multiplier.  You would have to live in and use your space to make it defensible, and having more people made that easier.  Also, there would no longer be “bad” space in null sec, systems whose true security gave them little value.  Upgrades via infrastructure hubs would make any system viable for ratting, mining, and industry.

So the Imperium copied the Brave formula, grabbing some of their leadership along the way, and set about recreating it in the form of KarmaFleet.  Goonswarm already had a fairly strong training and informational program for new players, so this was expanded and evolved to handle new recruits that wanted to go to null sec.

All of this was a large set of changes to the organization, and it is hard to imagine that they could have occurred without somebody as driven and frankly ruthless as The Mittani championing them.  He had been out in front of this declaring that we shouldn’t be shitty to each other.  We were all in this together and should look out for and support each other.

This is the sort of thing that builds the bonds that gets people to hold out for more than a year against three to one odds, as happened in World War Bee.

So there has been a strong belief that, no matter what our foes say, that we’re the good guys, demonstrably better people than those who attack us.

Which isn’t to say that everything was perfect.  Individuals will be jerks of their own accord.

And so it was that somebody in the coalition was stalking and harassing one of their female corp mates.  The corporation diplomats asked the coalition to ban and blacklist that person, but the coalition wanted more information.  The victim of the harassment sent more information, however nothing happened for four months, so she began complaining in the alliance forum about it to get attention.

This got the attention desired and the harasser was banned.

But so was the victim.

That was obviously wrong and the victim was unbanned.

If that were it, and my summation here is grossly simplified, it would have been bad but something to be learned from.  Mistakes get made, but they are only wasted if we fail to use them to improve.  The first I heard about any of this was a ping went out about the coalition needing a harassment policy because part of the excuse was that people handling this were not sure what to do.

But then people who were calling for the victim to be unbanned then got banned.  The victim and their defenders were banned for drama.

And there was The Mittani, in the middle of this, banning people, blaming the victim, and generally being an ass.  Quotes from him, posted all over r/eve, were the first thing I saw that made me feel that something was really wrong.

The Mittani as imagined by CCP in a video from The Scope

As more leaks came out I really began to think it might be time to leave.  This wasn’t what we fought for in the past.  I started calculating in my head what I ought to do to get out… sell my caps, ship smaller stuff to Jita… and be done with it.  This was not where the cultural revolution was supposed to lead us… or rather, it seemed to be pointing out that being better only applied to line members, that those in power could continue to behave badly behind closed doors, something we see all to often in the real world where rules only apply to those down the food chain.

That was on Wednesday evening, and I mulled it over on Thursday as more leaks sprung revealing what was going on at the top.

Then, Friday morning, The Mittani resigned.  He put out a statement that was posted over at INN about his reasons for leaving, highlighting people dragging his personal life into the fray.  And that was no doubt so.  He has made a lot of enemies and there are a host of people on r/eve and Something Awful that will drag him at every opportunity.

But there isn’t anybody outside of the Imperium who can take credit for this, though they are trying to.

The call came from inside the house.

This was an internal revolt.  When leadership chats are leaking, it is because people are not happy inside and they can’t see being able to make any change without going public.

So The Mittani has stepped down, handed over the keys to the alliance, driven there, arguably, by the cultural revolution he championed years back.

What happens next?  That remains to be seen.  Internal dissent won’t be quelled by shuffling the deck chairs.  But there are also people who feel The Mittani did no wrong, some still in leadership positions.  Goon unity is an illusion, except when people bunch us into a collective group to take a swing at us.  Outside attacks bring us together.  But left to our own the Imperium is a large and diverse group and no stereotype fits.

And how does the Imperium and Goonswarm Federation move forward from this?

The Mittani has often openly declared the organization to be an autocracy, and like its real world counterparts, it had a strong and recognizable main leader and then a host of others doing the real work mostly behind the scenes.  That means that there is no immediate and obvious heir to the leadership role.  Some care takers have taken over the main roles, but there isn’t anybody at the top now whose voice I would recognize on coms, much less know what they really do in the Coalition.

All of this has happened not too long after the ten year anniversary of the notorious “wizard hat” incident when The Mittani encouraged people during his alliance panel presentation to harass a player who claimed to be suicidal.  The Mittani apologized the next day and attempted to make good with the player in question, but CCP revoked his election to CSM 7 and banned him from the game for 30 days.

Anyway, that was an unexpected turn at the end of a disappointing week.  And, as often happens with EVE Online, now I feel I have to stick around just to find out what happens next.  I do not expect that there will be much immediate impact.  The wheels of the coalition will continue to grind on, I will still log in and fly with the same people in the same time slots and the same SIGs that I usually do.

But this could lead to a dramatic change over time.  Leaders of Goonswarm have generally left their mark on the organization, and none have led as long as The Mittani, so what happens next remains to be seen.

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8 thoughts on “Fruits of the Cultural Revolution

  1. flosch

    [The comment punted me to a login screen and now isn’t visible. It either got eaten or stuck in a spam filter. If it ends up double-posted, apologies for that.]

    I’ve watched this all unfold mostly from the outside. I’ve refrained from giving my opinions on this. This is mostly because as someone who as always been very anti-goon, I have to be very careful not to subconsciously get influenced by a “told you so” feeling, or even creating the impression of it.

    I’ve always tried to stay away from the culture that you described as the baseline ten years ago. The first time I joined a null alliance[*] was a little less year ago, and I can say that I’m happy that I have witnessed very little behaviour that crossed lines of bullying etc, and on those occasions, it was swiftly dealt with. As this has boiled up, I was happy to see that the ones speaking up from higher ups were open about the skeletons our alliance used to have in the closet, and how they at times have struggled to find the right balance when dealing with accusations that are not publicly documented via disruptive behaviour in posts. And this is TEST, who for sure had some of that.

    So what will happen to goons? I don’t expect a mass exodus, because huge organisations have too much inertia, too many people AFK for a few weeks or months that can’t easily all be reached and organised. “Just leave and re-form” doesn’t work at that scale. It’s one of the reasons that TEST, still has what I consider one of the most tasteless corp names in all of EVE, which is even acknowledged by long-time members when you ask them.

    Going against what I said earlier of staying out of this, I will give you one suggestion: consider looking for another home. Maybe this will all work out and a credible clean-slate new start will be made by leadership. But if not… I don’t know how close you feel to certain people in the alliance. Maybe follow them if they leave? And if there’s no such smaller group you feel especially attached to, then just go window shopping on your own. I’m sure that in the aftermath of this, there will be some people leaving and looking for new homes. As someone who has a history of being reasonable, not causing stirs, and being all-around decent, plus two decades of public writing to back that up, I think you should be able to find a new home in almost any alliance you would want to be part of in the first place. Or try something completely new outside off null sec, though I got the feeling the game really only managed to keep your interest when you went to null and were part of a larger organisation.

    [*] actually, now that I think about it, that’s not quite true, I was in PH for a very short time in 2016, and I remember it not being too much fun, but IIRC more for a general “obnoxious spamming” type of people than anything actively “toxic”, as we call it these days.

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @flosch – The problem is that I have no desire to go cold into some other organization. Maybe I might consider Brave, but the rest of null sec either doesn’t interest me or wouldn’t have me.

    If one of the sigs I play with went to another group, I might tag along. I was kind of interested when the leadership of Liberty Squad struck out on their own. However, I am a low key player and am not on as often as many, so I wasn’t invited along… which was probably okay since many of those same people ended up back in the alliance anyway. This is a not uncommon thread in GSF, people deciding to try another group and finding that things may be different but not necessarily better elsewhere.

    Meanwhile, the piling on of those with an axe to grind about Goons has hit a pitch in r/eve that the mods are killing threads left and right for many things that simply are not allowed on Reddit. While I know the people doing this are not necessarily representative of other groups, it doesn’t make the rest of null sec seem shiny and happy either. Even PGL got his post killed for doxing.

    The one person I have to hand it to is the Mordus Angels guy who rose up to demand war against Goons. They got reset by Goons for low participation back in 2012 or so and somebody is still mad these many years later.

    Edit: Also, your first comment ended up in the spam filter. No idea why.

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  3. Mbp

    I remember being very surprised when you first became associated with the Goons. At the time they had a terrible reputation for abusive behaviour. It seemed very out of character for you. I guess your posts served to illustrate that just like any large organisation things were more complex than first appeared. However I still think a lot of your posts from that time felt like indoctrination. Once in you quickly went from being an objective commentator to a staunch supporter of the party line.

    I am not sure why I am saying this now because the Imperium’s current tribulations are the normal sort of thing to be expected from any large organisation. Culture wars and leadership sights are very much par for the course regardless of whether or not the organisation had a toxic past.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Mbp – I have heard that before, especially during the Casino War, during which I had to set comments on the blog to full moderation mode because our foes in the war decided that threatening me was going to help them win the war. That was probably the closest I came to just stopping to post. But the war ended, we lost, and people moved on.

    I try to tell the story as I see it, which is obviously from the Imperium perspective, our foes not being keen to let me in on their councils of war. But I used to, back when there was a thriving EVE Online media, link out to other sites, especially sites that were very much on the other side of the war. These days I am lucky to find a coherent thread on r/eve to give any sort of additional perspective on things I write about.

    I could pick out a bunch of posts where I believe I was out of step with the “party line” or whatever The Mittani was saying. There are even a few where I call out what he was saying as dumb or counter productive. But it is subtle and unconvincing in a world of black and white, where you’re either for or against. As with the real world, there is no room for nuance.

    And being on the inside does give me a different perspective. The aforementioned r/eve, and even another blogger, has been going on this week with “This is proof that Goons are bad and we should eliminate them from the game.” But literally every bit of damning evidence about The Mittani came from Goons who brought this out in the open because they knew the line members would be mad because we’ve been told we’re better than this, we’ve been promised that this sort of thing isn’t tolerated.

    I can’t make people outside stop that. I wouldn’t even bother suggesting it. But I did remind a couple of people that nothing brings us together like feeding the Goon persecution complex. A year ago we were nearing the end of a 59 week long war in game where most of null sec attacked us under Vily’s banner of removing Goons and forcing The Mittani from the game, and we saw how that worked out.

    Yet, here we are, The Mittani is out of leadership, not because a bunch of outsiders called us all names, but because he failed to live up to the standards he said applied to all of us. But that is a perspective from within the organization.

    And the struggle isn’t over. There are still people in the Imperium who long for the old days and wish they could be the same shitty people they were a decade back. They want to purge all of this nonsense, not bother with anything as mundane as a harassment policy, kick and ban anybody complaining, and go back to the way things were. They pop up every time the Imperium talks about these sorts of things.

    Finally, the lesson nobody ever seems to draw from this is that this might be good, fighting to hold people in leadership accountable in some way. Nobody seems to be asking why other groups in the game aren’t having these discussions. I mean, maybe we’re the only one with problems, but somehow I doubt it.

    But, and I mean this seriously, that might be too much to expect from people in a video game.

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  5. Nogamara

    I, too, have always been wondering how you, who I file under reasonable person, have found a home there for all these years :P

    And I guess my prejudices have 90% been founded it what happened before I even started playing EVE, a firm resolution to not join them – with the old “will ruin your game” and the stories from the OG SA goons. That’s why I was so surprised (and a little shocked) that this came from there (and I read the whole 170 page forum thread, oof) and they mostly sounded pretty reasonable, but I wouldn’t say that everything what came to light as the outcame from the current GSF sounded unreasonable, so I guess I’ll just keep being happy it doesn’t concern me and I don’t have to choose. I was indeed a little surprised no not even see a small/noticeable exodus via dotlan numbers, even if you account for people still liquidating stuff.

    That said, I’ve always tried to keep the ramifications of my prejudices to “I will simply not join them” and leave it at that. (Also we seem to have gotten a few ex-GSF in BRAVE in the last week so for the regular line member there would probably always be a place, if you like living where the fights come to you all the time…)

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  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Nogamara – TheAdj, who is currently the caretaker for the alliance, made a point of saying in his presentation on the new policies, that we were not going to hold to the traditions of Something Awful anymore, whatever that means. I am paraphrasing, but he did specifically call that out.

    As I noted above, the sentiment from those currently in leadership sounds good. But it is how it plays out in the long term, how things develop the next time there is a crisis, that will show whether all of that talk meant anything.

    I will say, if they try to rehabilitate The Mittani, that is going to be a hard stop for a lot of people, myself included. But Mittens has been so tied into the game for so long, I can easily imagine he’ll try to come back in a few months. We shall see.

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  7. Alexander Wong

    According to some of my corpmates who have been all over New Eden, this kind of behavior is actually typical among people on the internet in general. I mean, they weren’t talking about this drama, but over the months I’ve heard stories about people just being jerks in other alliances.

    In fact it probably exists in ours too even if I haven’t seen it, just that I tend to hang around with people I trust. The alliance leader openly says anything with a good enough solo killboard can justify any words typed in chat that doesn’t violate the EULA since good enough results will always weigh more than mere words. I heard a story from beofre I joined that when someone made a lot of homophobic comments and his CEO was like “I can’t take this repeat offender” (The CEO removed him from his corp and the alliance leader didn’t remove his corp from the alliance). The guy went inactive 3 years later and I never heard anyone like him, but I’m sure they exist. And there are actually worse alliance leaders out there.

    So don’t be too discouraged. This behavior is somewhat typical. In fact, based on what I’ve seen, I’d say once The Mittani apologized for the suicidal player, his behavior would be “above average” even taking into consideration the past week. When leadership openly starts behaving badly without even trying to hide it or when FCs start behaving badly might be time to think about long term plans, but safe to say unless you personally know your CEO through some offline means (like he’s an old buddy or whatever), your odds of finding a calmer place isn’t very good. If you’re going to stay in null, it’s difficult for me to see you being happy anywhere but the Imperium.

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