The physical world around us continues to boil over with violence and hatred. The descendants of Abraham continue to tear at the Holy Land and spew vile anger, torturing and murdering persons innocent of perceived religious insults or other forms of personal antagonism. Riots in Egypt and Libya involving mobs of protesters have overrun the US embassies, torturing an Ambassador and his staff to death. This wave of unthinking violence is attributed to backlash against a low-quality work of fiction by an Israeli film maker, who posted excerpts from his movie to YouTube (link).
While religious zealots continue to kill anyone not like themselves and demand retribution for perceived harm to a figure long dead, another side of this story came to my attention as well. Four US citizens were killed by the mob Islamic fundamentalists directed to attack the US embassy in Benghazi in an attempt to further pursue religious-aligned aggression against the United States of America on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. One of those four, Sean Smith, was an IT support staff member like many of us – he was there to keep email and other modern functions running for the embassy. Like so many of us in the field, Sean filled long hours between installs and updates online with his family and friends.
One of the online hobbies Sean and his wife enjoyed was the shared virtual environment of EVE Online, a science fiction combat game (link). In EVE, Sean was known widely by the avatar identity, Vile Rat. (An avatar is termed a Capsuleer in EVE). Names like this are common in EVE’s virtual world, where fierce competion for resources and territorial control regularly involve combat and maneuvers of more than a thousand ships controlled in real-time by players in a single engagement. Vile Rat was very well known as one of the earliest members of Goonfleet/Goonswarm (a well-established PvP guild/corporation known for its aggression and present in many MMO worlds), as a very capable competitive player, and also as a consummate spy for his in-game corporation and association.
EVE Online is almost unique in the level of intensity its players enjoy for player-vs-player (PvP) combat and intrigue, with ships and equipment that individually constitute thousands of hours of production and resource gathering brought into regular conflict in which the loser comes away entirely without his or her ship unlike most MMO virtual worlds where in-game death results in a simple respawn action usually with a minor repair cost. Losses in EVE Online can cost a year’s worth of in-game effort and most of the virtual environment is a hostile weapons-free area of open space, moons, planets and similar features. Players tend to be highly competitive and infiltration, espionage, blockades and many other long-term competitive actions are commonplace amongst EVE’s players.
Within this highly-competitive environment, where Sean’s avatar had been highly successful in combat, espionage and many other forms of aggression against other players’ avatars and plans, many times other players had cursed the name of the “Vile Rat!” When a fictional movie posted to a popular social media video service enraged religious fanatics to the point that they captured and killed Sean along with three other Americans (none of whom were involved in the movie at all), that rage remained confined to physical world communities being stirred up by their local spiritual leadership. What was most interesting when regarding Sean’s online virtual world communities was the total lack of anger or hatred, even from people who had cursed his name prior to his death. Only expressions of affection, friendship and consolation were offered up by his personal friends and others in the online community (link).
Unlike the monumentally hateful body of people who murdered four Americans who they had no argument with, the globally-disparate community found online offered only friendship and consolation whether they had been aligned or opposed to Sean and his wife previously. This is not simply an online thing, as the family’s friends they had met online in a purely virtual setting have reached out via the physical world as well to offer support, assistance and love for Sean’s surviving family.
In a world divided by hatreds thousands of years old, technology is creating havens in which we as members of the Human race can come together to meet, get to know one-another and develop friendships and communities that are every bit as “real” as ones formed offline. If any good can be drawn from the senseless violence of the past few days it is that once we are shed of the emotional uncivilized prejudices of the past, the future offers a world in which friendships are no longer limited to neighbors but may come to exist between people anywhere in the world.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith and the other two Americans who lost their lives did so at the hands of living relics of hatred as old as the land. Sean’s final comments on Jabber (a chat service used by EVE players) alerted his friends to his peril - friends scattered around the globe drawn from all religions, ethnicities and numerous countries of origin. As we look forward from this heinous action, I hope that the communities Sean touched will continue to remember him as a friend and fellow human being who lived life as fully as possible. One day, we will finally see the dogs who struck him down removed finally from our fair planet. On that day, the sun will rise over a glorious future for all mankind.
To all those lost around the world because of hatred, prejudice and anger – rest in a peace that is surely deserved, assured that your sacrifices and efforts will result in the continued blossoming of a better world filled with those you have protected and served. Your actions will not be forgotten.