Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sturgeon, Warring Pandas and Carrion Poultry.

What makes you tough is not how much hurt you can inflict: that makes you threatening, maybe dangerous, but not tough.
What makes you tough is how much you can endure before you quit trying.

The same way packing heat may sometimes deter aggressors, but doesn't actually protect (unless you're a deity-level marksman, and can stop bullets by shooting them mid-flight), there's a world of difference between being ready to impose pain on others and being prepared to personally pay the equivalent price in blood — even virtual.

Which is why, as hinted in a previous entry, most pretend-warriors in EVE are really chicken-hawks, who croak at carebears to toughen up !, while themselves making sure their metaphorical balls are safely stored in a locked drawer before they log in.

The problem with carebears is not that they lack the toughness, or need to grow a pair ; it's that they — as the name implies — don't shy away from caring, and do put their balls on the line in their gaming.

"C'mon, it's just a game…"

It is just a game indeed, yet the oft-uttered zinger above is no less of a cop out for it.
No joke is truly innocent, and pretend games only work as long as the participants are willing to buy in the fiction that this broom really is a white stallion, the pop-cap gun really is a gunslinger's six-shots, and cousin Lucy with a mop for a wig makes a convincing Redcoat lieutenant.

Roleplayers and carebears buy in, and that's what makes their game engaging and meaningful.
It's also what makes some of them obnoxious D&D nerds when they take the game too seriously, but there's plenty of wiggle room between the Diablo-esque chicken-hawks bullies and the guy who writes an infuriated 3-page rant about some non-canon bit of Amarr empire lore in the latest EVE Chronicle.

Not really meaning to make a case for roleplaying in EVE, which would be a bit disingenuous of me, I still contend the space-thingie theme is more than mere dressing for game mechanics, or we wouldn't care about the shiney and eye-candy in EVE: I know I'm not alone to think a fantastic PvP sandbox game could be released tomorrow and I still wouldn't go anywhere near it, if it involved elves in tights. But I digress, as a matter of course…

To sum up, we need to somewhat believe in the game premises to relate and enjoy the experience, and that implies to care at least a little: if you don't care, you're not playing pretend games, you're pretending to play, which makes you a pitiable kind of spacenerd.

So, why is it most carebears hate PvP ?

The unique attraction of PvP'ing in sandbox R-POWs revolves around the fact it has meaningful consequences, and is directly tied to the potential for high-stakes battles. Unless you're competing in a world championship or play money on it, winning or losing a round of Quake or Counter-Strike can be fun, but is ultimately inconsequential for all involved. Not such in games like EVE, where a relatively poor action game can provide rare thrills and tension, thanks to the meta-context provided by the larger game goals.

That many among the ill-defined carebear/RP crowd are very keenly aware of the meta-context of their gaming sharpens the multi-pronged blade in their backs when it comes to PvP.
  • They obviously care 'more' about anything happening, which means PvP can be both a better and worse experience for them than for a player who's less engaged in the fiction — if things go wrong at first, they'll feel the burn, hard, and may not willingly come back for seconds.  

  • Because they believe 'more' in the gameverse, they're more likely to spend a lot of time early on delving in stuff like PvE, exploration, and cooperative gameplay, and only later-if-ever get around to try their hand at PvP, which makes many of them 3-years-in-game n00bs when it comes to combat — being in a n00b without realizing it makes it this much harder to cope with the steep learning curve involved in mastering the basics of PvP in EVE.

  • PvE in EVE basically teaches people to suck at PvP. Arguably true of any MMO on the market today, but less of an issue in those where PvP is entirely optional and/or non-consequential.
The first two points may not be obvious if you're not a carebear yourself, but they're self-explanatory. The third warrants a little 'splaining, though.

PvE trains you to work under three basic assumptions:
  • you choose when to get in a fight with NPCs,  
  • you know (more or less) what you'll be faced with, ahead of time, and can prepare accordingly, 
  • you can (in most cases) opt out, if things don't look like they're going to go your way.
Compare to PvP… yeah, symmetry is beautiful.
PvP is likely to be the exact opposite of PvE, unless you play The gank (as described in  yesterday's filler), which is basically the equivalent of ratting harmless players. As luck would have it, and as hinted above, most carebears early experience with PvP happens to be in the role of the gankee, which shows them how much it sucks to be a belt NPC, and hammers in the lesson that being on the losing end of PvP (gank really, but that's all they know at this stage) also sucks immensely.

Why would they make such a big deal of losing a ship to a couple lowsec pirates jumping them in the middle of a mission ? Hmm, let's see:
  • Maybe because they've entered the mission with a mind set to optimize a run through deadspace in the cleanest, most efficient and bump-less way, with every angle covered and complete information about the situation they get in, something all their PvE experience has taught them to do very well, while un-preparing them for the unexpected, which is therefore perceived not as an exciting opportunity for some good spirited skirmish, but as a nuisance akin to patent griefing.
    This is the common root of the "Why wouldn't they leave me alone ?" syndrome, and of the absolute lack of mutual empathy between many pirates and carebears.

  • Or maybe, because of the aforementioned flawed assumption that they should be reasonably safe from interference (as a result of them not interfering with anyone) they boarded their very best (and most expensive) T2 or faction BS, rigged with the best gear l00t and ISK can afford, and they just lost the raw equivalent of a small capital fleet to a pair of '09ers T1 cruisers — it's certainly part of the beauty of EVE that such a feat is at all possible, but if you look at it from the wrong perspective, it can really seem ugly.

  • Or maybe, because once the reds showed up on overview it was over in a few agonizing seconds, just long enough to fully measure how defenseless and irrelevant the prey is to how this is going to end.  Yes, that's why some of them just log off in disgust with half-shields still up.
    Losing is one thing, being denied the ability to play is another, and for most PvE-bred players, PvP, from experience, is a strictly one-sided game where only the aggressors get to play, which is the absolute zero degree of fun for the guy on the receiving end of the bashing.

Are carebears really sad pandas ?
 …to be protected and segregated in natural parks where they would be left alone to chew roids and bamboo ?

Obviously not, but they're not a species of sheep either, only meant to feed the self-proclaimed wolves of EVE, most of whom really are more carrion-pecking poultry than super-predators to begin with.

I'm a carebear who digs PvP, most of the best and brightest FCs and combat spacenerds I've met in over 5 years in EVE are either carebears, roleplayers or competitive-sports types who're unlikely to be found ganking a mining op (unless repeatedly asked to), yet almost any of those have harassed 0.0 complex-runners at a point or another… so where's the difference ?

Context is: they did so in order to deny the enemy the ISK that would otherwise fund their capital fleet, and to remove the perceived incentive for clinging to a specific portion of space — and if you got to steal ph4t l00t from expensive ships' wrecks in the process, all the better.

For those with a problem discerning the obvious: this is not mere post-facto rationalization for piracy (which needs no apologizing anyway), this is PvP with meaning, and believe it or not, many carebears will jump into that kind of stuff with two feet, the moment they realize they can actually participate.

There is a world of difference between going only after random easy prey because that's all your inadequate e-cojones will let you, versus targeting the weak spots of a formidable opponent because that's a part of how to win a war. This may be putting too fine a point for some, but that subtlety isn't lost on warring pandas.

Panning for fangs.

Do I really believe all Empire carebears are beasts-of-war waiting to happen, and anyone with a positive kill/loss ratio is a cowardly shithead not worth the carbon expense ? Naah. Just let me find my Sturgeon abacus and you'll see why I seem to favor the fluffy ones: it'll all make sense in a minute.

[For the sake of argument, I'll assume the actual hot bodies/accounts ratio is sensibly the same on either side  of the PvP—carebear divide (almost all PvPers have reason to own 'safe' alts for practical purposes, and many PvE activities lend themselves to easy multiboxing).]

Pulling stats out of thin air, I can make a (very conservative) bet that people who  currently avoid  PvP combat (if given the choice) outnumber other EVE players at least 3 to 1, but just to be safe, I'll go with 2-to-1, and assume 1/4 of EVE playerbase will never leave a station, or quit the game altogether before they have to enter a fight against anything remotely sentient.

That gives us (again, conservatively) something like 150k accounts controlled by actively-non-PvPing players, 75k dead-for-the-pool accounts that are beyond salvaging, and 75k actively-PvPing (anywhere from occasional to primary playstyle).

By Sturgeon Law, that's about 7.5k players/accounts who engage in what I'd call interesting PvP combat, focusing on challenging/dangerous targets as a rule (the sportsman described in yesterday's filler), and/or whose pew-pew fits a higher purpose than raking stats, and is  directly informed by a strategic take on the game (that doesn't apply to faceless grunts forced into blobs as the price to keep their ratting/mining privileges in alliances, btw, only the fraction who willingly plays the wargame, regardless of role).
It also translates in at least 15k players who are not currently engaging in PvP combat as a significant part of their playstyle, yet aren't in EVE because they took a wrong turn and thought it was WoW, only in spaace.

If even half of that untapped reserve of potential werebears could be successfully converted, we'd  double the population of PvPers worth the name. That's a prospect I find exciting, and so should you — if you like your fights interesting.

Sending out a calling.

PvErs are used to play low-risk/high stakes, and their natural drive to high stakes plays a large part in keeping them away from PvP, where the lack of control they have over chances mixes badly with their tendency to always bet big.

The first step in learning PvP is that you can't control the risk but you can mitigate its consequences by being smart about how much you put on the line. A common saying in EVE is "Don't fly what you can't afford to lose", and for once that piece of common wisdom is not just posturing bullshit.
Translated for carebears it should be understood as "Don't fly what you aren't prepared to lose".

Once you've got that part down, all you need to do is practice living at higher risk. Go, dare, die, you'll be surprised to find you have more balls attached than most -10 retards you run into.

At some point, it'll get mildly boring… that just means you're finally ready to up the ante to high-risk/high-stakes PvP: the part of the game less than 4% of the playerbase, and less than one in ten 'PvPers' will ever dare experience — it simply pwns.
Congratulations: a Warring Panda is you.

Parting words of dubious wisdom.

• If you're a carebear reading this, take my word for it:
I'm one of you, and I know there is more fun and sense of accomplishment for you to gain from  interesting PvP combat than you'll ever get mastering the subtleties of the perfect run through a lvl 5 mission.
Also make your peace with the fact you don't know jack about PvP yet, that none of your PvE experience and 00ber gear really translates into making you combat-ready.
Enroll in some PvP classes, start your baby-piewate alt corp and go out looking for trouble in T1 kits, die a lot, try to kill something with guns and half a brain fitted while you do… Play high risks but low-stakes for a bit — I know it's counter-intuitive for you, but that's how you start in a new game, and PvP is another game entirely.

• If you're a pirate or PvP corp looking for a challenge and new blood to add to your crew, unlock the drawer, put on your e-balls, and go after big game.
You may die more than you kill, at least for a while, but you'll get thrills like you never felt since your first fights. Also consider spreading the love: run PvP classes, answer the convo of the guy you just killed, and if he's not smacking, take a moment to explain how you trapped him and what he could do better next time. In short, try and play in ways that lead you to care more, you'll thank me later.

• If you're running an Empire carebear corp, think about going on low/nullsec hikes in expendable ships, once in a while.
Don't be afraid of it blowing back. Nullsec alliances won't bother  retaliating with  empire wars against another no-name piratic band roaming through their space: it keeps their miners and patrols on their toes, which is only healthy.
You have no idea of the effect sharing the thrill of battle can have on your carebears' cohesion and loyalty until you try.

• If you're a dev at CCP, a CSM, or anyone with the will and time to lobby for changes in the game:
Help CCP make PvE less of a brainwashing machine towards victimhood.
Have it teach players to deal with the unexpected as par for the course, upgrade rats so they chase players who run away, and break engagement when kited. We all know AIs don't have to suck so much, they come pre-nerfed to make things easy on the lazy and dim-witted, and those aren't helping EVE get any better.
You may lose a few lemmings to WoW, but you'll attract  and breed fanged bears, and those will make EVE a much more exciting PvP sandbox than the hordes of part-time sociopathic brats who currently make the bulk of your PvP l33t.


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