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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Re: Mittani @ EVE Fanfest

TRIGGER WARNING: Post discussion includes mention of suicide

While there is certainly much to celebrate and discuss with Mists of Pandaria now in Beta and a panda-sized list of spell and ability tweaks released on MMO-Champion, SWTOR's vaunted 1.2 patch on the horizon and dozen of other highly anticipated games in Beta or about to release (Diablo 3, Guild Wars 2, etc). Today I am switching tone.

By now I have no doubt that everyone in the blogosphere, their mother, and their mother's cat have heard of the events surrounding Alex "The Mittani" at the EVE Fanfest suggesting that players harass a suicidal player such that he might kill himself. While I wanted to do a post on MMO communities, I've hemmed it down (though it may not seem that way) to focus on the current issue and I'll talk on Video-game decency another time.

The wall of text constituting my opinion after the break.


Suffice to say my opinion on harassment of the depressed and suicidal should be unsurprising to most: it's bad, it's VERY bad. Despite the objections of some (who I would argue are stuck in outdated paradigms), it is a real issue and not one to be taken lightly. Even if we take the suicidal out of the equation, harassment of any form is a bad terrible thing.

Games as something more

Video Games, and MMO's in particular have a unique ability to make us apart of a community; they in many ways can mirror the sports leagues we follow in our own lives, or even community sports teams. They offer us a place to belong, a common hobby and passion. MMO's have the peculiar situation of being able to be both In-Character and Out-Of-Character communities, but all too often we can forget that the Orc we just PWNED, ship we just blew up, or avatar we just headshot has another human player behind it. This can often lead to us easily dehumanizing our opponents or even other players on our own side. To many, the game is just a place we login to play at a whim; we stick on our "Orc Rogue" hat, call ourself "Krog" and have at it stabbing some Alliance. Maybe our guild members know our real first name; maybe in some particularly enduring guilds we might know more, or have met at Blizzcon (or another gathering). However for the majority if players, only a handful of people will ever know who we are, and we're just as happy that way.

However in almost every community there are a few that stick out; they are usually very active or very successful. Maybe they made some of our favorite videos, or they compete in tournaments, or are just REALLY good at the game. These people become public figures to the community, they become the heroes and villains of our digital dramas; whether they are the antagonist everyone loves to hate like Idra (from Starcraft) or the joker like GuardsmanBob (from League of Legends). These people we invest a lot of power in, but also demand a great deal from.

Like with all things, this can often go awry when this power is used in the wrong way, or when a bystander who is not typically in this crowd and was happy to sit behind their anonymity as just another name on the server manages to get pulled into the spotlight. Often these people did not choose to enter the public eye, they were just playing the game. That's where things get the most cloudy...the players playing to make headlines or be public are playing in the same game that the rest of us are. Higher ranking players in League of Legends might appear on a Stream, PvPers in WoW might end up in a video and so on. These players may not want to be so public, but these digital spaces have entirely different rules than real life...these sorts of issues of legality and privacy are ones our generation has to tackle; whether it is the level of privacy afforded to a facebook account or an EVE player.

There are no definite rules of what is "left on the field" and what is fair game. The amount of IC and OOC mixture is different for every single player. To some the game starts and ends at the login screen; they are "Krog" and nothing more, when Krog logs out he is an entirely different person. To others, like the aforementioned public figures they are just as much Krog as they are John Doe. To many, it makes perfect sense that the public figures, the Tim Tebows or Idras are one and the same with the persona they depict.

Mark my words however; your heroes have flaws, I don't care who they are. They have a flaw somewhere, you just might not be aware of it yet but trust me, they are there.

Enter, EVE Fanfest 2012

The story has been summarized dozens of times, so I won't repeat it here but a great analysis has been written up by Jester here however I do have to disagree with him on a few of his points. Jester brings up that The Mittani wears essentially three hates: the Mittani, Mittens the CSM chair, and Alex the person he is out of the game. This is probably true for most of us; we have a different hat we put on when we play. John Doe is Krog in WoW, or John IRL. However in the case of The Mittani there is an additional challenge; he has two hats that exist in EVE, which is a game notorious for blending IC and OOC heavily. Real people have

The basic gist I get from Jester is that The Mittani was wearing The Mittani hat (an intoxicated one at that) when he suggested his audience harass another player. Jester does not view it as a breach of the ToS but I have to disagree:
1. You may not abuse, harass or threaten another player or authorized representative of CCP, including customer service personnel and volunteers.
In fact the very first term of the ToS prohibits this. While EVE is notorious for players attempting to collect "tears" from others, there is certainly a line. Directing others to harass can be viewed as the same as doing the harassment. In fact, the ToS even deals with that:
29. You will not encourage others to break these rules or any rules set forth in relation to EVE Online’s game service or web site.
This meaning that directing people to harass is a breach of the 29th term.

At the very least, this means The Mittani breached the EVE's is known for being flexible. So lets look instead to the 'hats' idea.

A hat for all seasons

What "hat" he was wearing at the time really is less important when there are multiple hats in the same community. Certainly the "Alex" hat might not be involved, EVE only really has any jurisdiction over the other two. The problem for The Mittani is that he has two hats in the same theater, and the average player knows this. We're not talking about a person who takes off his glasses, rips off his jacket and everyone forgets that he looks strikingly like Clark Kent...we're talking two hats which most players know are the same person. I would venture to say that your average person does not separate the two (especially since the CSM has has a history of corruption).

The Mittani made a mistake, unfortunate The Mittani also happens to be Mittens, and just because he had a different hat on, doesn't mean he can get a pass. Doing so would set a dangerous precedent of people adopting "identities" with which to execute unwanted behavior with the expectation that they can avoid punishment for their primary identity. I am not saying that The Mittani did this with malicious intent, but this is EVE we're talking about...everything with a "good" purpose in EVE can just as easily be used for a negative one.

I mean, I feel bad for the guy; alcohol can screw things up and I would hate to see a single mistake screw up what has indeed been a great thing for EVE. That however does not excuse what he did and there have to be consequences. I feel like stepping down as the CSM Chair is a good start; this won't stop him from being an advocate, and the community will still listen to him.

On the other hand, suicide is serious, and if we stop and think about what happened...he was calling (while intoxicated) for other people to encourage someone to take their life, a HUMAN life. Now at this point we don't know if this was just a ploy for sympathy or another scam and frankly, from EVE it wouldn't surprise me. However sadly we have to take these things with a measure of seriousness because it's an all too common issue, and I do hope that CCP takes a serious stance on how they treat suicide.

The issue is that The Mittani has a lot of power, a lot of sway with his fellow players and I don't think it is a stretch of the imagination to think that some of the people in the audience were seriously considering doing what he suggested. They are just as culpable surely, but are a discussion for another day. Those with power have to be careful how it is exercised...there was clearly alcohol at this fanfest; what would have happened if he had pointed to someone in the audience and told everyone to start punching that person? Would they? Maybe...I surely hope not, but when groups of people get excited and alcohol is involved, stranger things (Football riots?) have happened.

Jester uses the example of Bill Clinton; and he is in some ways right, Bill harmed no one but he did make a mistake. As a result he was nearly impeached and he has not held office since but is still a very vocal and influential part of his party. It took him several years to get back to that place, as the wounds do eventually heal.

A more recent example would be Congressman Anthony Weiner, one of the loudest liberal voices in Congress, who sent some inappropriate photos to women he was having digital affairs with. Despite these acts being mostly personal (though some photos were taken in Congressional areas) he was forced to resign as a result. I have no doubt though, that in a few years Mr. Weiner will be back in the public eye advocating his cause, just not necessarily in public office.

I know, it sucks for long-time EVE players to imagine a CSM without The Mittani as he is a hero to that community, and no one wants to see their heroes go.

I applaud that he has already taken steps to right what he has wronged, including issuing an apology. But at the end of the day CCP needs to send the message that this sort of conduct is not welcome in their community; that no amount of special celebrity status will allow such conduct.

Edit (28/3/2012) - CCP has handed down their punishment (Read here) and it is very much what I expected: a 30 day ban from the game and he has forfeited his position in the CSM. However, as I said, he can still be a voice in the game, and given that he got 10k votes for the CSM, I have no doubt he'll be back for CSM 8.

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