I remember when I first sat down to play EVE Online. It was the summer of 2007. I was new to San Diego, with a new job and my first child on the way. I was a real adult for the first time, as I had just separated from the Air Force and was on my own in a way I had never been before. It was a stressful time, a time that I sought solace in something soothing. For months, that thing had been World of Warcraft – but its hold on me had waned and I was in search of new experiences in MMOs. I forget how I heard of EVE, but at that point in time it was downloaded and ready to play. When I pressed the button to login, I had no way of knowing that EVE would forever alter the course of my life. But it would. It did. It does still.
I was young and dumb. I didn’t have a ton of confidence in myself. I was coming off a six month ‘vacation’ during which I had struggled to even get an interview, much less a job. I felt lucky to have finally found something, but it didn’t pay well and it was a contract job. There were no benefits for me or my growing family, there was a ton of out of pocket travel expenses, and I was doubting every decision I had ever made. My very pregnant wife was staying with her mother 3 hours from San Diego as the due date approached and I was, quite frankly, pretty down about everything.
EVE did not immediately change that. In fact, I didn’t even make it through the full 14 day trial the first time I tried it. Or the second time, for that matter. I bounced from MMO to MMO, looking to recreate some of the feelings I had experienced in World of Warcraft, to no avail. Much of that experience had been tied to the friends I played with, friends that were now thousands of miles away and swiftly falling out of touch as our lives went in separate directions. Eventually, though, EVE and I clicked. Still, my life didn’t really change due to EVE. I didn’t play much as my son was born and work picked up steam.
Two years went by. I was working at another government contractor – still for not nearly enough to live on in San Diego and still with no benefits – and I still felt very much like the same child I had been when I entered the Air Force. Sure, I paid taxes now; I had credit cards; I got smog checks for my car; but that was all just dressing, the trappings of an adult hung on my immature psyche. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, other than the nebulous answer of ‘IT’. I was well into my 20s and felt utterly lost, which is a pretty bad thing to feel when you have a wife and a kid.
To hide out from this growing sense of trepidation about my entire life and all the choices I had made, I dug deeper into EVE. I dug deeper into EVE’s community, reading blogs and the like. I started my own blog. I made lots of good friends in-game and then started a corporation with them. And then a podcast. People started reading my blog and I began to experience something really silly – a moderate level of EVE notoriety.
I made more friends and more acquaintances; I started cohosting a popular EVE podcast (for its day); I started running some community services. I became confident in my words, in my knowledge of the game, and in myself. Sure, a lot of the ground work for this confidence was laid down in the military and I could equally claim that joining the Air Force changed my life. The difference is that the military didn’t necessarily encourage me to be me; it encouraged me to be a good member of the military. With the podcasting, the blogging, and the community stuff I did in EVE Online, I began to understand who I was.
Yes, this all sounds melodramatic and silly and this whole post is a bunch of navel-gazing at the end of the day. However, it is no less true. It was only by putting myself out there, into a community of people who had similar interests but (importantly) widely differing viewpoints on a variety of issues, that I grew up.
After blogging and then working for TheMittani.com for a spell, I had grown a pretty great list of friends and acquaintances, people I have gone out of my way to meet outside the game. I’ve had beers with total and complete strangers and felt more or less at ease with them. I went to E3 and EVE Vegas and Blizzcon (oddly enough), all thanks to EVE Online. I got into the gaming industry thanks to EVE Online; I doubled my salary in a little under two years thanks to EVE Online. I’ve met CEOs of corporations both virtual and real. I spilled beer on a CCP developer.
In EVE Online, particularly early in my experience of the game, I found out the benefit of patience. EVE is a cruel mistress to the impatient, a fact that is regularly made plain every time a hauler dies with billions of ISK in it, or a blinged out mission ship dies to a gank. At TMC, as I was made into an editor and then a general manager of sorts, I found out how to work with people who, typically, are kind of hard to work with – video game nerds. Also at TMC I learned what drive and motivation really were about; I learned what it was to be good at something and comfortable with saying so; I learned about greed and how to let go.
There are many things I still try to internalize, lessons that have yet to be understood fundamentally, from EVE. I made many friends and understand better every day what it means to actually be a good friend. I learned how to differentiate respect and admiration and friendship and liking a person. EVE was, for me, a mental proving ground. A place I could experiment with leading, following, second-in-commanding. The most cutthroat digital universe was, in fact, my safe place.
I grew up and matured and began to understand how to operate as a human being, and to strive towards being a good one of those to boot, all because of this internet spaceship game that I sat down to play in the summer of 2007. Eight years later, I can only look back at my 2007-self and wonder where that guy would be right now, had EVE never caught on with him. It isn’t a pretty picture, if I’m honest, but the important thing about looking back is to understand and appreciate what you have now. I have a great family, I have great friends, I have a great job and greater prospects for the future. All of these things, as well as some of the very best memories in my life, I owe to EVE Online.