Sunday, December 2, 2007

Chapter Eleven

Improbable At Best

Do you remember a while ago when I started a chapter with "this chapter is impossible to write?" No? Well, I did when I was leaving for a month's reprieve. Even though I wanted to continue after that respite, I also wanted to offer a miniature summation, some thought provoking prose to echo throughout my temporary absence and encourage readers to return once I began posting again. Yet, I ran into a brick wall, a previously unfelt inabilty to cope with the scope of some of my thoughts. And so, you were left with a last minute cop out - that weasel of a sentence. All too often someone will put out a thought or an opinion for public inspection, failing to give it the clarity it deserves. The feeling and conviction behind that thought is then lost on the readers, and misinterpretation follows. We see it on television, on the internet, and here on these forums all day, every day.

Anyway, all of this does and does not have to do with the reality of this post. This journey started with an idea I still consider a radically noble one; to make my way through EVE without the burden of ISK on my back. As I progressed through the next several months of wandering and speculating, my journey mutated. At the time I was fine with this evolution, as they appeared to be relatively minor. Now, looking back, I do not fully recognize what my journey has now become; furthermore, I feel as though I have moved on without paying the infinite toll of thought due to my original question - can I survive without ISK?

Now, I have spent what ISK I started with, but after whittling down my wallet to nothing it remains somewhere between five and ten million ISK, eternally boosted by the odd donation here or there - perfectly timed by some magic. Fresh Stabbers are ready for me whenever I lose the previous one, prepared by one generous party or another. Despite the vast degree to which I have scaled down my participation in EVE's economy, I am still irrevocably a participant no matter how I skew it. If I were a pilot of unmatched evasive skill, if I never lost a ship, or if I were willing to traverse the galaxy in a pod, perhaps then I could better avoid the shadow that ISK casts over me. Even then, I feel as though it would be an exercise in futility - the market is EVE, to a large extent. It is inescapable.

My growing discontent with this reality was exacerbated by the truth behind the suspicion that my wandering were really just a background; in the end, they have no real character - they are nothing more than a backdrop, a diversion, while I while away my fortunes. And always, I had a comfort zone; my self regulation to the ISK in my wallet did not take into account the significant assets I had in various pockets of the galaxy. While I never dipped into such reserves during my journey, they were still there - an undeniable cushion of ISK.

After I accomplished the first superficiality of my wanderings - reaching the four cardinal points of the galaxy - I reached a point I had not planned for; the end. At this point I could have halted, attempted a conclusion as to how I had fared in the role of a space gypsy, and wrapped it up - but I felt as though I must carry on. Thus, a new purpose was fabricated for the sole purpose of occupying my time - a case study of the denizens of low security. While this produced - in my opinion - some interesting insights and a truckload of social confusion-commentary, it was still just a diversion. It was at this point that I feel I lost track of the original point of the whole thing - now I'm just a wanderer-journalist with an eccentric taste in ships, which is fine in some ways and not in others.

I suppose I recognized the whole low security question as unanswerable almost immediately, but coupled it with the 140 jump trip in a sickening display of time wasting potential - all to occupy myself while I tried to unearth a style and mission captivating enough to preserve itself without constant maitenance and reformation at my hand.

Nebulous bull**** wording aside, I was - to be honest - looking for something I thought people would want to keep reading, because despite everything a writer or an artist's mind may say, an artist is not an artist unless others recognize him or her as an artist, and I feel this is especially true for writers - even more so for burgeoning ones. I do not feel as though I have found that captivating story to be written, nor do I believe it is buried here.

In essence, I like to write about EVE. I hope to continue, be that at some point in the near future or further on - but not here, not this. So, for those tenacious few who have read through all the entries, and now through this final morass to come to these last lines, I commend and thank you. I know I couldn't stand to read through my own writing.

Now, it would be fitting to finally put to rest the question I positited some months ago:

To successfully live without ISK is improbable at best.

Chapter Ten Epsilon


ISK Balance: 5,446,895.93

A few days ago, I got an EVEmail from one Rudy Metallo - one of those pirates who truly values his -10.0 security status as one might covet a valuable gem - signifying his availability for an interview if I were so inclined. Of course, given the chance to base an entire entry off of a conversation while I was nestled deep inside a station, I jumped at the chance. I'm not sure whether that sentiment is rooted in lethargy, a desire to prolong my journey, or another facet of the metagame. It's hard to write about Rudy - after all, I'm figuring he's going to see this.

In any case, I contacted Rudy from my temporary firebase in a Berta station. After a bit of lollygagging over this story and his introduction to and general repertoire of experiences in EVE, we started talking about pirating.

I was pleased to find from the onset - beginning with his description of the first Tristan he took into the pirate-infested treacheries of low security - an impression of pirating in general that was glorifying and near-romantic, tinged with pragmatism and awareness of the unique pirate condition. In some ways, I'm tempted to call it the ideal pirate outlook; both in terms of EVE and the real world's pirates of old - both are driven to piracy in a large part because of the romantic notions behind it.

Rudy's aforementioned pragmatism was best illustrated in his staunch stance that "lowsec is where only the strong survive." However, I began to get the sense his full fledged pirate self was, in some way, a "I do what I do" attitude; especially from his slight digression into the certainty that if he was able to effectively manipulate markets for profit, he certainly would - but because he was a pirate, he would continue to be a pirate. Despite the fun of pulling off that difficult ransom, the badge of that -10.0 standing and the harrowing grind to repair it, maybe the conviction of "because I am" is the only greater reason people remain pirates.

Rudy's two most interesting views were those on antipirates and pirate gatecamps.

He seemed to harbor a resentment towards antipirates that he tended only to touch on. But more interesting than anything, he viewed them as the victims of a stance that perpetuated the general EVE community's fear of pirates; something that seemed to manifest itself in two ways - in those that cowered in high security stations, and antipirates. I'd assume the vast majority of pirates enjoy the fear and hatred directed towards them, or at least accept it, but Rudy seemed displeased with the result - "for the most part...smacktards with no personal pvp skill at all." He didn't hesitate to suggest they were an entirely expected reactionary development to the existence of pirates, but "people associate 'griefer' with 'pirate'...much to us true pirates' dismay," and he implied this unjustified assumption was the root of his misgivings about antipirates.

When I asked him about the risk versus the rewards of low security, he told me that gatecamps were the "ONLY way a pirate can earn money in most situations." I immediately thought back to Ral Khek's suggestion that with enough work, the rewards of low security could surpass the risks - it didn't seem to be this way with pirates. Pirates, as it was becoming evident, relied on other players more than any other category of player in EVE.

Despite all of this, my favorite thing Rudy said the entirety of the conversation was "for people like me it [requires a certain degree of irrationality]. We can't explain our love. We're at home in the in between ground, on the fringes of society and the beginning of wilderness. You love the *** rats, the crap targets, the smacking antipies. We love it all, and couldn't imagine living any other way."

So is piracy in EVE more about taking unbridled, glorified joy in the impossiblity of living in such an inhospitible, neglected strip of EVE than the simple pleasure taken from another's reactor core breach? For so long I had thought about pirates as the iconoclastic small-scale players that didn't care for the greater pictures being painted in high and no security - when in reality they may be the most capable of objective introspection and a truer perspective than all of us.

This is just one pirate, though. On this note, Rudy pointed me specifically in the direction of Veto. I'll see what they have to say...just as soon as I manage to undock in Berta.

Also: I've really got to stop doing these early morning updates.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Chapter Ten Delta

The Derelicts of Derelik

ISK Balance: 11,424,895.93

This is a poor title for this chapter because - aside from the painfully obvious wordplay - there are no derelicts involved. That is, unless you count Derelik itself or its residents, which wouldn't be very nice.

The first thing I learned as I shuffled through the narrow band of those awkward "in-between" systems we call low security is that those that frequent it aren't very responsive to direct questions. Just throwing my standard opening question of "does anyone here consider themselves a permanent resident of low security?" into local gets maybe one reply out of every potential fifty, and even then it's often nothing more than "no."

As I tested out various procedures for my personal inquisition on those I en route to Derelik, I learned that most people in that particular strip of systems skirting the path from Caldari to Minmatar considered low security unprofitable and not suitable for permanent residence. The most talkative of those interviewed was JoeSomebody, whose amiability pleased me - as his negative security status suggested he would know what he was talking about. He claimed to live in Syndicate, and was in Molden Heath only to raise his security status. Despite his negative rating in this regard, he said he wouldn't live in low security, as it was to him just another battlefield in which to hunt his enemies.

Disappointed with this evaluation but appreciative for his forthrightness, I forged onwards to the less secure fringes of Derelik - taking a detour to stalk a Raven who happened to be headed in roughly the same direction.

As I traveled, I thought extensively on the subject of residence in low security. Surely, many of those that frequented low security were just border guards for the pipes into their choice bits of 0.0 - I had frequently pulled border guard duty myself in my alliance days. They were probably not a good source of opinion on what it was like to live in low security. Then there were the new characters who had just wandered in for a look - they might be good for a first impression but not much else. I figured then I was seeking either full-time pirates or anti-pirates. So it went, Icarus and I wandering and wondering down to Derelik.

As I proceeded through jumps and thought processes, I began to formulate a hypothesis. If low security really was that unprofitable, perhaps those that chose to live there were focused more on player interaction than high or no security players. A pirate needed other players to make money, while anti-pirates needed both pirates to fight and defenseless victims to protect. In high security a good enough player could hardly ask for more than a few peons to do his bidding, and in no security more people just means greater increments of security (and attention). Moreso than anywhere else, I began to think, low security needed people. And yet, there were so few people.

From this, I began to think about anti-pirates and pirates and all the dichotomies they give rise to. If they comprised the true residence of low security, what did conflict between them mean? Were pirates a chaotic power, and anti-pirates one of order? Was it that easy to separate, or were the two generalized factions closer than it initially appeared? Most of all, what was the theory behind both pirates and anti-pirates, and how did that translate into practice?

When I unwittingly stumbled upon an area of Derelik secured by anti-pirates, I found none of my questions answered. Nevertheless, I discovered basis for the beginnings of a coherent, driving opinion of low security.

The avatar who deigned to talk to me, Ral Khek of the Kingpins, was fascinating for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, he instantaneously became my link to the interior workings of this anti-pirate area. Secondly, he and his corporation were interested in joining my former alliance, the Interstellar Alcohol Conglomerate. They mined me for information and opinions concerning IAC, and after a lengthy prelude of caveats and general "IMHO"ing, I attempted to leave them with the impression IAC was an alliance with a few large flaws and one thousand-seven-hundred-ninety-five small strengths. It made me question my own opinion of IAC despite my tendency not to think much at all about my time there; the greatest of these questions is how adamantly I believe IAC is truly greater - or even equal - to the sum of its parts, and to what extent other alliances are the same. After all, with all the faults with leadership and trust so many alliances seem to encounter, is it possible that the pod pilots are greater as individuals than when they attempt to cooperate "because they should?"

I'll step away from this quandary for the moment and get back to Derelik. Ral Khek educated me about the structure and operation of this low security nook, and his opinions concerning life in low security. He said felt safe with the likes of INTERDICTION watching his back, but he could never let himself forget he was in low security. Also, rather than finding pirate incursions a nuisance, he welcomed them as a fun diversion from everyday EVE-life. Ral was also quick to state he was making more in low security than he ever did in high security - a sharp counterpoint to JoeSomebody's earlier claim. Clearly, a cohesive anti-pirate force allowed those willing to accept their protection to turn a fair profit. Perhaps it could even be likened to a more profitable high security, with an approximate level of security, better mining and better missions. Of course, the intelligence and discipline of the individual pilots either makes or breaks that scenario.

This brought up an interesting question in my mind; is securing a portion of low security - even a single system - to a degree comparable to high security antithetical to the ideology of low security, or is a legitimate effort by simple virtue of player accomplishment?

Clearly, I'll need more travel to even begin to approach a foundation to base answers upon.

Chapter Ten Gamma

Prawns and Cigarettes

ISK Balance: 11,677,487.94

It's debatable whether or not this is even worth an entry, but let's see where it goes anyway.

Eight and a half months ago, a real life friend joined EVE-Online as a Gallente character. Shortly after his inception into this universe, he was ready to buy his first cruiser - a memorable step for any character. I still remember my first assault missile launcher-fitted Caracal, and the long minutes I spun my mysteriously freefloating camera about its unique Caldari symmetery.

I also remember how quickly it became wreckage when I had the newbie audacity to take it into low security the day after I got it. Ironic that I return there now, hardly any wiser.

So just shy of eight months ago, I bought my friend a Thorax. That Thorax died the next day in low security - fascinating how the cycle perpetuates itself so flawlessly.

In any case, Kallion made himself a note to pay me back for that cruiser. For eight months the pithy reminder "Give Cyberflayer 5mil for his birthday" sat in his EVE notepad. In the course of his experiences, that notepad became cluttered with funny quotes, Ventrilo passwords, and fleet operation times - but still that first note perpetuated. My friend has gone through numerous incarnations of the charming Thorax, just as I have gone through quite a few Caracals (and now, Stabbers). In a way, each new cruiser holds a shard of a memory of the first, and I like to think Kallion will never forget Elarel, just like I will never forget Apocrypha.

Or perhaps I'm just odd because I get overly attached to internet spaceships.

Today I logged into EVE, prepared to continue my strange stint as an investigative journalist, and found my wallet had swollen some. My journal shows that yesterday, that five million ISK was returned to me.

I think it will just barely buy a Stabber.

Chapter Ten Beta

The Catch-Up Game

ISK Balance: 6,680,437.94

As I looked about the space enveloping me, the vacuum rated "0.5" by CONCORD and thus enforced by their presence, I sighed. I imagine the capusleer nestled within Icarus' hull sighed in a similar way - difficult as this may be while surrounded by those famed ambiotic fluids. Neatly arranged on the left edge of my screen were a multitude of dots colored from a cool, inviting blue to an agressive red - this autopilot route would be hovering in my alter-ego's mind's eye, fed into his neural net by hardwired uplink. These precisely one-hundred-and-forty jumps would either lead to my education about the elusive greater motivation behind those that dwelt in low security, or it would lead me nowhere but in circles.

And as I stood atop my mental precipice - preparing for the next (barely) controlled decent into my next great journey, only thoughts of what lay behind me came to me. I thought not of what might be ahead of me - because I frankly have no idea, other than the expectation of getting shot up a lot more - but instead of experiences and encounters from my previous feats of pan-galactic navigation that stick out in my mind. Mostly, these particular experiences occur first and foremost to me because I neglected to fit them into my narratives, and thus they come to me because I want to give them their due attention - and because I do not want to forget them.

For example, I never spoke a word of the Hobgoblin II - a Billy II, if you will - I stumbled across somewhere near a pipe into the vast expanses of 0.0.

Or the fact that in FAT-6P, I spontaneously decided to reorganize my bookmarks from this into this.

Or the couple of times I had extraordinarily overt blessings of luck - or just plain old temptation, I suppose.

Or any of the dozens of people I talked to - traded ideas and dreams with - that I never mentioned or recorded.

Or how magnificently this at-a-whim storytelling has transformed from the trials of intentional poverty to a massive thoughtscape of lucid realizations, self-awareness, cosmic insignificance, introspection, and social commentary. At least, I like to think so.

Or how poorly and briefly I've communicated thoughts that ran around in my head for days before I placed them here, and how much more rambling, overthought detail I could go into concerning each piddling smidgin of an entry.

Or how little or much can be communicated in four thousand character, and how rarely I've had to use a second post to continue my thoughts - and if that is a good or a bad thing.

Or how utterly uncertain and nebulous the entire process is, and wondering if the journey will still occupy my interest the next day - and what will happen if it doesn't.

Or how hard I would be laughed at for entertaining the thought of ever reaching the same sort of recognition Innominate Nightmare did, and wondering the extent of that shadow cast over me. And what idiotic anathema it would be to suppose a kicks-and-giggles IPO in a similar vein to his would ever amount to more than a bundle of laughs.

Or how nobody ever offered to buy me a titan. Which I am thankful for.

And before I know it, I'm in Derelik; my first destination in my new hunt - that for the low security denizen who can tell me why he or she is there.

Chapter Ten

The Next Great Journey

ISK Balance: 6,680,437.94

Despite the trouble seeking I indulged in by plotting my escape path straight through the midsection of the Drone Regions, I nevertheless expected my journey to be mostly quiet with momentary interjections of anxiety, shock and surprise - as I have found 0.0 to be. And so it proved to be, but I did not anticipate having much to relate upon having successfully trailed rust flakes and plasma exhaust through Smashkill's domain. In fact, I figured I would be able to jump right into my grand scheme for a thorough galactic interrogation of low security's denizens.

Of course, my foolish assumptions just had to be proven wrong. While hustling through the systems immediately following a R0ADKILL station system to shake any potential tail, I nearly missed a pithy entry in local: "sucker."

I paused - probably idiotically - at the gate to the next system. Sucker? I was the only other person in the system - it had to be directed at me. Was it a ploy engineered to give me pause while a trap was sprung, or had I already stumbled headlong into it? Surely, as I stared stupidly at the blinking lights on the Caldari gate and the single malformed insult sitting beside it in local, a carrier fleet was being readied somewhere - preparing to pounce on one last victim before their impending rebalance.

Finally, a clarifier appeared "c'mon, 1v1?"

That could still be a trap - moreso, even - but I didn't particularly care for Icarus in the same way I did Apocrypha or Kabbalah, and I was headed back towards Empire space anyways. "What ship type?" I inquired, and was answered by my engager's Stabber appearing next to me at the gate. I grinned and warped to a planet, beckoning him to follow. "To the death," we agreed.

It turned out to be one of my favorite battles I have ever had, which is ironic because it wasn't really much more than two Stabbers wailing away at one another. Of course, you must understand I am a PvP-starved individual; the bulk of my PvP experience has been needlessly compacted into the fleet and space-trench warfare aspects of combat, leaving the skirmish and the 1v1 as a romanticized ideal in my mind - any small gang or solo combat I can get my hands on instantly reverberates in my memories as a favorite encounter.

I like to think the battle was delicately waged; I eschewed the use of my warp disruptor in the interest of a show of simple dominance. I honestly didn't expect to triumph, especially when I was at half shield and my opponent still had three-quarters of his. Somehow, with a series of strafing runs and missile saturation I was able to avoid the bulk of his fire while whittling down his shields, before teasing his Stabber into a zero-transversal environment where the Barrage from my autocannons tore his armor in half before he warped off. It was appropriately elegant as it plays again in my mind - of course, in the heat of the battle I neglected to take a single screenshot other than one from the outset - with no defense other than a scarce buffer, our speed, our skill, and our wits. Our characters were fairly similar in age, and our setups had only slight discrepancies. I'm tempted to say it was the most pure test of player skill I've seen in the game in a long time; perhaps forever.

From there, my opponent and I went our separate ways; I arrived at the fringes of Empire space as planned, and he disappeared back into the depths of 0.0 to continue his hunt. Best of luck to you, Keeper ofDungeonSquad.

Chapter Nine Delta

Without Goals, We Are All Truly Wanderers

ISK Balance: 6,683,387.94

Goals are an important commodity in EVE. Unlike datacores, Tritanium, or Caldari Navy Ravens, they cannot be sold or traded for anything of value, but they're just as essential to making ISK. So long as you want to turn a profit, a clear, driven state of mind is easily equivalent in value to the right friends, the right resources, and being in the right place at the right time. In fact, so many of the predominant goals in EVE have to do with making ISK. It's those heavenly goals - the ones that will remain beyond your grasp for years - that require the most commitment, and of course, the most ISK. That carrier, for instance. You want it? Well, you need ISK for the skillbooks, the fittings, the ship itself, and enough ISK to sustain yourself in that year-plus before those golden doors will open for you. Maybe you're more of the station loving type, and you want to wage market warfare from across the region or dominate an aspect of manufacturing. You'd best become acquainted with the magic of capital, and those capricious beings known as investors. So many of the average player's goals deal so heavily in the flow of ISK into and out of their wallets that money is even more of an omnipresent force in EVE than in the real world. It drives the entire game.

I mulled over all of this as I shared the view of the eastern edge of the galaxy with RT64-C VII, a lonely planet whose craggy, inhospitable surface certainly matches its outlook on life - an unfortunate side effect of such intense focus on the abyss beyond.

As I stared alongside the planet, I thought to myself; "I haven't talked an awful lot about being poor, about hoping the next marketplace I have to peruse for yet another Stabber won't overtax my wallet yet again and I'll have to call in 'just one more' favor from my magnanimous friends. I haven't talked a whole lot about ISK at all - mostly, it's been 'adventure here, journey there, wander everywhere.'" Then again, isn't it a way to get away from the constant thought of poverty? Isn't that what we do in the real world? We try not to think about the extent to which money determines our fate, especially if we haven't got much of it. It's an uncomfortable truth - what better place to confront and theorize about and struggle viscerally with than in a virtual environment?

And with my navigational journey finalized with the eastern frontier, I looked for another journey with which to occupy myself. I turned to Amarria Black, who after a few suggestions, struck goal; low security. It's commonly considered worthless, neglected, frequented by crazies with nothing to lose (and the occasional mothership, of course). That's the way the community seems to paint it, anyway. But what's low security really about? The only way to find out, I decided, would be to go there and ask around myself.

Most of all, I want to know what drives the inhabitants of low security. Is it something similar to my journey? After all, it could be considered the least profitable place in EVE. Are those that frequent - live in, even - low security more free from the grasp of ISK than the rest of us? Or are they simply the marginalized poor with nowhere else to go? Maybe low security is much more than meets the eye.

But first I've got to fight my way through the oncoming tide of Smashkill back into Empire.