They say that in space, no one can hear you scream. I'm inclined to believe that's a lie, mostly due to the hail of insults quickly filling up my chat window. I'd be a little pissed off too if my relaxing evening in EVE Online [official site] was just ruined by a roaming gang of thugs, but this foul-mouthed victim is not the first one who has bled at the hands of The New Order of Highsec. He certainly won't be the last.
For over three years, The New Order, or CODE as they are often called, have been laying waste to the safest corners of New Eden, the galaxy of EVE Online. Roaming around in gangs, they find pilots in violation of their sacred New Code of Halaima and exact swift and brutal punishment. At the center of this revolution is one man, the self-proclaimed saviour of high-sec, James 315, and the vision he has for a New Eden reborn by fire.
"High-sec is too safe. That's what it really comes down to," Root tells me. He has been with CODE since the beginning, when James 315 was largely considered just another eccentric radical. Root and I are joined by John, another agent of CODE, and Loyalanon, the CEO of The Conference Elite, the corporation that spearheads all of CODE's efforts.
It can be hard, even for a veteran of CCP's space-faring online game, to wrap your head around the tendrils of consequence that ripple through EVE Online. CODE, however, landed with a splash, sending waves throughout the community. Their message is controversial, their methods vicious, and their conviction unrelenting.
"[Miners] weren't taking part in the game, but they were reaping the benefits of playing. That's just crazy," Root continues. "Could you imagine going to play Space Invaders and saying, 'okay it's running now. I'm going to go watch Netflix while it racks up the score for me'?"
"They're non-participants," John chips in.
As a sandbox game, EVE Online doesn't aim to show players a good time so much as give them the tools to build their own. While that philosophy has given rise to the climactic battles like the Bloodbath of B-R5RB, which saw over $300,000 USD go up in smoke in a single day, the other side of the coin is the massive subculture of players who take a passive approach to playing. Before CODE brought death and destruction to high-security space, where many pilots assume they are safe from unwanted aggression, it was not uncommon to find dozens of miners at an asteroid belt who had either left the game on while they did something else, or were using bots and automation to play the game for them. Many pilots in EVE have taken to calling them "care bears" as a reflection of their soft, nonthreatening nature. Some mine, others produce or trade, but the underlying theme is that just about all of them refuse to embrace the combative nature of EVE Online.
"I would say at least 80 percent of all the kills wouldn't happen if the person was actually active and paying attention to the game," Loyalanon tells me. As CEO of The New Order, Loyalanon has always led by example. He is personally responsible for over 4 trillion ISK worth of kills. When you consider that the largest battle in EVE history cost roughly 11 trillion, you begin to realize the tenacity of CODE's vision.
You know that miner, the one mashing barely legible insults at me? Part of the reason he is so upset is because, unlike most other MMORPGs, EVE Online is a game pulsing with consequence. Death can be a crippling loss as months—even years—of hard work evaporates with the resounding thud of a neutron blaster. To many players, a mining barge is a drop in the bucket. But, considering how many times I've had scathing insults lobbed at me in the past few minutes, I'm going to venture a guess that my friend felt the loss a little more deeply.
The financial heart of EVE, where the non-player empires of the game's four main races reside, is known as high-security space. A computer-controlled military force, CONCORD, enforces the laws of high-sec by destroying anyone who engages in criminal activity—like unwarranted aggression against another pilot. Just like many police forces, CONCORD response is reactionary. The New Order has made a science out of what they do. Flying inexpensive ships like the Catalyst, a Gallente destroyer, CODE is able to land on top of their unwitting victims and kill them in seconds—well before CONCORD can arrive to destroy CODE's ships in return. For CODE, retribution is a mere business expense.
"If you're playing the game and you're paying attention to what you're doing, you shouldn't have a problem with us," Loyalanon says, "You'd be too quick."
"Mechanically we're at a huge disadvantage," John adds. "If a person is at the keyboard playing EVE, we are so far behind. All we have is [damage per second] and a little bit of strategy and wit. If a guy is at his keyboard, he is already good."
Looking at The New Order's recent kills, it's apparent such advice goes unheeded as players continue to play EVE while their focus is elsewhere. Many pilots seem content to express their rage and frustration publicly rather than adjust their style of play. Some file petitions with CCP, others take to the forums to spark 200 page discussions, and a good portion of them settle for good ol' fashioned verbal harassment.
"You guys are thugs."
Of all the insults the miner has hurled my way since I helped CODE destroy his vessel minutes ago, this rather innocuous one sticks because, on some level, I agree. After flying with CODE and experiencing ganking firsthand, I'd be lying if some part of me didn't feel a sting of guilt with every exasperated and confused response we received.
The heart of The New Order has always been The New Code of Halaima. Penned by James 315 himself, it is the law by which The New Order spreads their distinct flavor of justice across the galaxy. While many items of the Code are quite obvious, like players not participating in away-from-keyboard mining or acting in a manner that could lead to the assumption that they are using automated scripts to play the game for them, others are a bit more contentious. For one, miners are not allowed to use profanity, disrespect agents of the Code, and, upon being ganked, must even respond by congratulating their assailants on a successful hunt.
The New Order also sells mining permits, which players can purchase for a reasonable 10 million ISK. By displaying their permit in their character profile, they identify themselves as compliant members of the Code. However, many mistake this as a sign of immunity; a lesson they quickly learn the hard way.
It can be hard to not see the New Code of Halaima as a set of rules designed to be nearly impossible for many pilots to follow, especially when CODE have a tendency to poke already wounded players in an attempt to elicit a reaction. This usually leads to further infractions, leading to further ganks, and begins a vicious cycle until a pilot finally breaks and agrees to abide or discovers some way to evade CODE altogether.
Either way, the victory is usually awarded to The New Order. If a pilot gives up mining forever, they win, if CODE finally breaks their pride and gets them to abide, they win. Even groups of players who have fought tooth and nail to resist The New Order are playing right into their hand.
"I don't feel any group or organization has the right to tell another player that is not directly associated with them on how they should play the game," Javen Kai tells me. His Alliance recently received a formal declaration of war after an altercation with CODE. Javen's attempts to defend his teammates resulted in a series of mocking blog posts on The New Order website.
"They make ISK by scamming and ganking people who fly expensive things without protection. Any 'vision' they portray is just propaganda."
Yet, even Javen Kai would be forced to admit that this recent turn of events has meant prepping his pilots for war and engaging CODE rather than spending their time mining. Something Loyalanon counts as a success.
Of the recent victims I talked with, Javen was easily the most level headed. But you don't have to dig very deep to find the type of responses that I received from the miner I helped gank. Just like any online game, EVE has its own troubled history with harassment and verbal abuse. However, the unique nature of the game makes it unclear where to draw the line between involved role-play and downright abuse.
Role-play is a core facet of The New Order, but it isn't what you might think. Players don't gather to offer morning prayers to their savior, James 315 (at least, not that I saw, anyway). Instead, they use it as a hook to bait reactions from those they attack. After a successful kill, agents will message the victim to inform them of their breach of the New Code of Halaima. They will, through repeated attempts, get players to recite the rules they broke. Agents of CODE will reproach the player, often quite scornfully, in an attempt to force them to repent from their sinful ways. For an already upset player, it's the straw that breaks the miner's back; many fly into fits of rage. These instances are recorded and shared on CODE's website for members to laugh at.
"It's just a video game," Loyalanon says. "We're made out to be the bad guys, but there is this whole community of anti-ganking, and if you sit in there you're guaranteed to see them make a real life death threat on myself, or my kids, or any other CODE member. That's on a good day."
"We always operate with the assumption that CCP is watching what we say," John adds in.
Loyalanon isn't convinced that CCP is always impartial during these heated exchanges.
"A lot of CODE members have said things like 'shit' and they get warnings, and the care bears are spewing death threats and they get nothing."
Death threats seem to be common, but they aren't what has troubled members of CODE the most. Loyalanon tells me about the times his actions have been equated to child rape, murder, and worse. He tells me he even had to file petitions on behalf of players claiming that they were going to commit suicide because of their loss.
Perhaps no one within CODE is as familiar with the barrage of harassment as Kaely. She's been with the alliance for several years, but when players discovered her gender, the sexual insults started pouring in and have never stopped.
"I kinda get that kick out of it, when you have everyone whining and crying because they got ganked," she said. "I don't let it bother me. EVE is a game; when I log off, real life is in effect and nothing from the game bothers me. Why it does for others, I will never understand."
Last year, EVE was subject to a very contentious wave of bans including several prominent members of the community. Though the actual reasons for the bans were, according to Loyalanon, never fully disclosed, many members of CODE were locked out of the game for allegedly partaking in verbal harassment. CCP retains the right to ban players without refund or notice, but for Loyalanon, this issue and the perceived bias that he believes CCP holds towards high-sec players has coloured his perception of the game immensely.
"We lost friends, and they wouldn't give us an answer—they wouldn't give anyone an answer," he says. "Fuck CCP."
If anything, The New Order of Highsec casts a harsh light on the ideological schism that has formed between not only the players, but, as various members of CODE tend to think, the developers as well. While there is no denying that their methods are vicious, perhaps overly so, the continued tug of war between those wanting an open sandbox experience and those wanting a safer high-sec has become a painful topic in the community.
James 315 may not be as involved as he once was, but he still maintains a close watch over his zealots. I managed to catch him one evening, as I was looking for another miner to try and gank.
"From my perspective, the over-the-top negative reactions we get from some people is due to their belief that they're supposed to be 100 percent safe in high-sec. People will petition CCP after they get ganked, for instance. It's not a matter of opinion to me; they're simply mistaken about the rules of the game, and about high-sec being completely safe. When people react this way, it reaffirms that CODE is on the right track," James tells me.
"As for CCP, I think if you were to ask them, they would say they have bent over backwards to tolerate an organization that wouldn't be allowed to exist in other games."
And that angry miner? I spent a large portion of my evening talking with him. It was a surreal experience to adopt the mantle of CODE for a night, and I couldn't help but feel out of my element as I scorned his lackadaisical ways and urged him to repent. But, as I continued to probe his weaknesses and dismantle his aggression, I began to understand the mental power fantasy that lies at the heart of CODE. When I logged in the next evening, I noticed he was already playing. I couldn't help but laugh when I clicked on his character profile and saw written there: "I support the New Halaima Code of Conduct."