I suspect my perspective is skewed: years of obsessive Quake playing will do that to a man. Sat alone, chewing on a cable and watching those accuracy ratios slowly rise across months of physical and mental conditioning, it’s a process that has some deep-seated cognitive side-effects. Just as I could ‘fly’ through mental models of the maps I knew so well, so now I visualise pretty much all of 3D space using my psychical Quake-tools. Further, I’m convinced that now, as I deteriorate, I will never again know the sublime animal-perception intensity of 20-minutes of instinctive, snap-impulse gaming. I just can’t invest on that level.
Likewise, I find the level of competition in other games almost laughable. Player-vs-player combat in the RPGs for example, lacks physical and mental challenge. Except, perhaps, in Eve. I was thinking about why this was, and concluded that it’s all down to the way in which person vs person interactions are handled by these games. In Quake it’s one nervous system against the next. Tactics are all timing and base cunning. In Eve, however, it’s about deployment of power, in various forms. You work long and hard for your power. You invest in it. Not just time put into the game, but into other people. This is why player-driven alliances have become so important to the game. You are tied into the power structures of others. You invest in them and rely on the investments of others for additional power and security. Player vs player combat here is less about impulses and precision than it is about co-ordination, manipulation of fears and about the deployment of brute force – force that is gathered over time by players’ investment in the game. It’s a kind of combatant’s inertia: the longer you’ve spent in the game the more power you can wield, and the more allies you will have to help you in fleet battles, and skirmishes. The greater the deployment of power, and the more successful it becomes, the more resources you reap, the more power you wield, the greater the inertia becomes. Life is a loop.
Of course this comes about because Eve is so open-ended and modular. People can find a use after just a few weeks of play. There is a real role for the junior members, as scouts, jammers, whatever. They can, symbiotically, enjoy the benefits of the power-structures they tie themselves into.
In Quake the weakest player might as well not be there at all. He’s just letting the team down. Likewise, in the linear structures of games like World of Warcraft, there is simply no place for the weaker man. Player versus player conflict is little more than empty betting. You gamble one set of statistics against another, for a token of nothing. In Quake the combat’s outcome has honour and ego at stake, in Warcraft nothing, aside from the moment, really matters. For a game that is based in a persistent world, the results of hostile player interaction have very little long-term impact. In Eve, the very power structures that you’ve invested time and money in are effected by war and peace. The gamble here is a big one, with real fears emanating from it. In other RPGs, there’s little or nothing to be said for this most visceral of interactions.
I’d like to think that one day soon a middle ground will be possible. One which will create an environment of suitable modularity that the power-structures of Eve can be united with the earthiness and immediacy of something like Warcraft. Star Wars Galaxies made substantial moves in this direction, but it wasn’t enough. Now I can’t seen anything that has that kind of ambition. Eve seems to have managed to be the most interesting player-combat arena almost be accident. Now someone has to do it better, and they should do it by design.