Massive thanks to Makoto Priano for graciously volunteering his services as an editor/advisor for this series.
I had the mixed fortune of joining the Eve Online community right in the midst of what has been deemed by lore buffs to be one of the most exciting and tumultuous times in the game’s history. A “star” had recently appeared and then exploded, planets had been shattered, a new wormhole system called Thera had just recently opened-up, and mysterious forces seemed to be pushing New Eden closer and closer toward…conflict (for lack of a better term). For a player like me, a player that loves to dig deep and figure out the behind-the-scenes mechanics and plot lines, this was both exhilarating and overwhelming. It felt like the flood gates had opened way upstream and by the time that rushing river reached my boat, so much was already in motion.
I needed to catch up.
I started researching as much as I could in my spare time; studying the blogs of Mark726 and Rhavas, absorbing Hydrostatic Podcasts, and reading Chronicle after Chronicle. There were even a few books out there I would need to dive into. I was compelled to understand what was happening around me. Fast forward to the present and I felt that I had at least a fundamental grasp of what was going on, but I didn’t pretend to fully understand everything by any means.
Looking around, in spite of all I had learned over the span of months of gameplay and out-of-game research, it was clear that there were still so many unanswered questions. Who exactly are the Drifters? What is Sansha up to? What was Caroline’s Star exactly? Does the Eve Gate contain an Isogen-5 stockpile and, if so, has it been damaged at all due to quantum entanglement? Who were the Talocan really and what is their connection with the Sleepers? What is the Other up to these days?
These are the questions that keep me up at night.
Then, this past week, I was engaged in a long lore-centric exchange with the #tweetfleet and decided it was time to revisit recent events in an effort to better my knowledge of the current situation and, in the process, attempt to answer some of my questions. Out here in the real-world, I know that the present is a consequence of the past. The instability in the Middle East in the late 20th and early 21st century, for instance, can be partially explained in terms of historical actions involving the nations of the West. The Napoleonic Wars had a measurable effect on the rise of the United States. The list of examples continues.
Using that same logic, I postulated that the best way to understand Eve’s present state of affairs, was to start with its past; namely the timeline that began circa the beginning of the Empyrean Age (when capsuleers first took to vast reaches of space). The justifications for this approach came in the form of Hydrostatic Podcasts which mentioned that Eve’s game designers/lore buffs (like CCP Abraxas) appeared to be history enthusiasts (particularly of ancient history – Greece and Rome) and fans of epic tales like The Odyssey. Furthermore, it was obvious that CCP was bolstering its lore/story team when they hired a LARPer as an executive producer (CCP Seagull). These facts, coupled with marked surprises like Jamyl I (an NPC) responding to Max Singularity, the discovery of objects in Thera with incontrovertible lore significance (i.e. the Lakat-Hro caravan), and the discovery of Hilen Tukoss’s body seemed to demonstrate the Eve was dedicated to building a robust fictional universe parallel to the player-derived historical developments (sovereignty, battles, etc). I sense those two histories are about to collide in a gratifying way, but that’s a topic for another post…
With the hypothesis that the game’s lore held the key to the game’s present, I decided it was time I look things over again; to see what I had missed and see what more I could glean. It’s like watching a film a second time; you’ll always find something you missed the first time around. As I poured over the material (Chronicles, books, podcasts, blogs, forums, Reddit, imgur, Twitter…), I developed a working hypothesis that we are going to explore in this series. It has a few tenets:
Hypothesis Component #1:
The Empires do not control the timeline of the Empyrean Age
As a new player, it’s easy to fall into a mindset in which the Empires seem like the center of New Eden. They are, after all, your gateway to New Eden. They are the first environment you experience when you undock for the first time. They are a nursery ground where most new players spend the majority, if not all, of their game time. To a new player, the Empires are Eve; everything else is peripheral to what a new player assumes is some central story around five key civilizations. After all, this is how it is in many games: the narrative is shaped by a small number of major actors and the players are protagonists on rails, following that narrative.
But for those players that skill-up and decide to leave high-sec and venture out into the dangerous unknown, things get more complicated. The illusion that the Empires are the center of Eve is gradually eroded through each encounter with pirate factions, rendezvous with Rogue Drones, and jump into Anoikis. It becomes apparent that the Empires are just another set of players in the grand scheme of things; perhaps even players with rapidly diminishing significance. That sense is increased when you realize exactly how many factions there are in the game. Whereas many games have a handful of narrative actors, EVE’s world is one of dozens of actors and even more political groups within those.
Hypothesis Component #2:
Players and forces outside of the Empire have played the most important parts in shaping the history of the Empyrean Age and are primarily responsible for the present state of affairs.
I would argue that the irreversible point in the paradigm shift of power away from the five Empires began with a multi-year region in the timeline which includes the founding of CONCORD in 23233 AD, the Yoiul Conference in 23236 (YC0), and the adoption/ratification of the Yulai Convention documents at an unspecified date(s). The first two events were immediately followed by the transfer of considerable power and influence to various extra-imperial factions and primed the systems for the rise of the capsuleer at the dawn of the Empyrean Age.
When the capsuleers took to the skies and began forming their own corporations and fielding massive armies, the paradigm shift was complete. The Empire would no longer be the most powerful and stable forces in New Eden. The real power would, from that point on, lie in the hands of capsuleers and other extra-imperial forces who were in the unstoppable process of (perhaps unwittingly) crafting a new dynamic.
Evidence of the extent of this paradigm shift are numerous. The Seyllin Incident, Sansha Incursions, the battle of B-R5RB, Rogue Drones, the Drifters, capsuleer-derived research and economies…all these are examples of events and activities that have absolutely defined New Eden’s recent history and they have developed primarily outside of Empire control and, in many cases, the Empires are wholly unable to control them.
The Empyrean Age really is a new age and not just in a convenient ‘sloppy game design’ sort of way. You really get the sense that you, as a player, are participating in a timeline that has existed for millennia and that, with your arrival, is now on the cusp of unprecedented change.
Hypothesis Component #3:
While numerous extra-imperial factions and entities have shaped this new timeline, there are two in particular who seem to have shaped the events of recent past that led to the present state of affairs than the others.
The sheer number of players involved in what I believed to be the timeline responsible for the events of the present is daunting. The Angel Cartel, the Thukker Tribe, Empress Jamyl I, the Sleepers, the Drifters, the Jove, the Sisters of Eve, the Society of Conscious Thought, the Blood Raiders, the Rogue Drones, Hilen Tukoss, CreoDron…the list goes on. These entities were responsible for some of the most significant events in New Eden’s history since circa the start of the Empyrean Age and each has their own powerful narrative independent of the others.
But there are definitely connections between those various narratives and as I started trying to link them together, two narratives began to stand out as loci around which the others found themselves orbiting for very important periods of time (in terms of New Eden’s history). They were the narratives of two powerful, self-absorbed groups who were constantly working in the background; creating fervent undercurrents that dragged the other Cluster inhabitants along. They were the narratives of the Sisters of Eve and The Society of Conscious Thought.
In fact, so great was the extent of their involvement in the events that have brought us to where we are today, that I would argue that if you want to understand why things are currently the way things are in Eve (with “stars” exploding, wormholes ripping through space-time, and cyborgs invading the Empires…etc) then you should start by looking toward the Sisters and the Society.
This series continues with Part 2 – The Sisters of Eve.