Battle of B-R5RB

I’ve been fascinated over the last day or two with stories of the incredible MMORPG battle that occurred on EVE online. I won’t get into the meta-game politics that allowed such an event to happen; I’m not really the best one to do that. I don’t play the game (or any video games, for that matter), and kind of forgot the game existed since I first heard about it in college. But the numbers are staggering and a thing to marvel at: The fight took place over a total of 21 hours and involved 7,548 players. The Eve Online servers were barely able to support all of the activity, but miraculously they held on, hosting the wanton destruction an estimated $300,000 worth of in-game capital. Reports suggest that 75 Titan-class battle stations were lost, a unit which takes almost 8 weeks to build and which costs a ridiculous amount of resources. Before the B-R5RB bloodbath, the record for most Titans lost in a single battle was 12. In all, something like 600 capital-class ships were destroyed.

Coordinated battles like this are what cooperative gaming is all about, but B-R5RB is something different. Never have so many players acted in such a systemized fashion for so long a period. It is being hailed as the biggest battle ever in gaming. Having observed a few total war-style MMORPGs like PlantetSide and Urban Dead, I am astonished at depth of organization and administrative attention that goes into building the game’s enormous player federations, and the sheer obedience demonstrated by the rank and file of these armies is nothing short of miraculous. Trying to organize any kind of coordinated strike in an MMORPG universe is like trying to herd cats. People live in different time zones and have different real world obligations which keep them from putting in the hours needed to be able to pull off anything interesting or meaningful. Most of the time, you log into a game like Eve Online, and you are plunged into an emergent chaos of tens of thousands of independent actors all playing their own games, with different goals and purposes. To see any kind of collective will expressed on the order of what was seen January 27, 2014 in the B-R5RB system of New Eden is a thing to behold and wonder at. Let it be noted that for many individuals involved in the battle, their losses were real and substantive. The destruction of each ship represented hour and hours of effort and preparation and resource management. Many are still stocked over what happened. Some have quit the game, unable to muster the motivation to rebuild and start all over again. One has to ask what could have inspired so many to throw away what was so precious to them in such a reckless manner. Reading through the forums and the statements given by some of the alliance leaders, it seems that in many cases the reason was glory and excitement about being part of something truly unique and rare. As the capital ships began to enter the fray, it became clear to everyone involved that they were participating in something that they would probably never see again in their gaming lives. They knew that they were taking part in something that would be remembered in gaming lore. They were, all of them together, making one heck of a story.

Two weeks after the battle, CCP Games, the developer behind Eve Online, created a beautiful and eerie starship graveyard on the spot where the battle occurred as a commemoration of the event and a tribute to the gamers who participated and allowed it to happen. Other MMORPG devs should take note. Usually these virtual worlds within which a online games take place remain static. They are usually treated as decorative arenas where the players’ behaviors and actions can be freely expressed but never preserved. I am pleased to see developers put time into to building vestigial signifiers into the environment to document major events in the community’s shared memory. I’m not going to say things like this make virtual spaces come alive, but it does make them mean something. It gives them identities and emotional correlatvies.

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