EVE Fanfest: Where Everybody Knows Your Space Name

Chances are if you frequent this site you are at least familiar with the existence of cons and have a general idea of what they are even if you’ve never set foot in one. If you are blissfully ignorant stop reading now and close your browser ask your friends about them. I’ve been to a few cons but this is the first one I have learned about that is centered on one game in particular. Eve Fanfest 2017 is the 13th annual gathering of Eve Online fans, and the fifth one in at Harpa (renamed Tranquility for the fest) in Reykjavik. More notably, this also marks the 20th anniversary of CCP Games.
As the name of the event implies, if you are not a fan of EVE Online, this event pretty much will have zero appeal to you. Now for fans of EVE Online that’s a completely different story as this event is filled with enough EVEness to give the fans multiple nerdgasms throughout the event. From hands on time with CCP developed games, EVE swag to bleed your wallet dry, and just the general sense of community in being part of such a large gathering of EVE fans make this an event that is a perfect excursion for fans. Oh, and there is a pub crawl and party at the end of the event too so it is virtually impossible to not have fun at Fanfest
Fanfest kicked off with an opening ceremony hosted by CCP Guard and EVE player Manic Velocity. CCP Guard was slated to handle the hosting duties but failed to deliver on the tall and blond departments, so Manic Velocity had to step in and fill that void. The ceremony was pretty entertaining, and had a lot of information about what is coming to EVE Online and its related titles and what we can expect to find at the event over the next couple days. Some major crossover news is that the CCP Games house band Permaband will have some songs added in Rock Band 4 in the near future. They also had some locally brewed EVE themed beers on hand for the event, which was the final nail in the coffin of my acceptance that I will essentially become a functioning alcoholic for the next few days. Other members of the CCP team came out to discuss various topics, including CCP Ghost who was greeted with catcalls of “show us your brain!” Oh, I almost forgot to mention they played the new intro trailer a couple times.

Permaband

At Fanfest there was no shortage of things to entertain the attendees. Typical things like EVE merchandise vendors and areas to play the EVE related VR games and Permaband songs in Rock Band IV were present, and there were numerous panel discussions and presentations, far too many to list all of them here but some of the more noteworthy ones I checked out were on The Discourse and Project Discovery. The Discourse is the news media of the EVE universe and its very existence is extremely fascinating to me. These videos cover the current events that happen in New Eden, some of which even carry the current New Eden stock market activity in a ticker scrolling across the bottom of the screen. I initially wanted to refer to this as the fake news of EVE, but despite the fact that EVE is a fantasy universe the news coverage provided by The Discourse discusses real events that happen in New Eden, so technically it isn’t fake since it deals with real events that happen in a fictional world. But then again, this fictional world does exist in cyber space and is shaped by the actions of real people, so I will leave the philosophical discussion on whether or not The Discourse is real to the EVE buffs in comments section. I do know The Discourse is more real than several alternative facts I have come across.
Project Discovery is hard to describe how amazing this is and do it justice without using language the Hardcore Gamer CEO won’t let me publish, so we’ll just leave it this is the bee’s knees. Project Discovery is the EVE Online community branching out into doing some real life science. 2016 saw Project Discovery contribute to the development of the Cell Atlas with more than 250,000 images of proteins in human cells. 2017 takes this endeavor into familiar territory to EVE players: outer space. The focus of the next phase of Project Discovery is on exoplanets, and while I would love to try to summarize this in a couple paragraphs it just seems easier to link the video to Michael Mayor’s presentation on this topic.
To add another cool element that borders on the surreal was CCP had some live action role playing interactive event going on throughout Fanfest called the Kyonoke Inquest. I have never seen anything like this done at any other convention I have attended, and this gave the event another level of immersion into the fantasy world of EVE. Not surprisingly, everything about this activity within Fanfest was done to make it as high quality as possible, from the story telling and role playing to the costume designs. I was not able to really participate in this due to journalistic duties, but from what I was able to observe this was a very cool feature of Fanfest.

Pub Crawl leaving Tranquility

Fanfest itself was chock full of interesting activities to pass the time, but the Fanfest events after hours were where some of the more memorable experiences took place. The pub crawl was one such event where all the fans, journalists, developers and other CCP Games staff members all came together and descended upon Reykjavik en mass. Being naturally introverted and shy at an event like this should have kicked my social anxiety into high gear, but thanks to the friendliness of the people and copious amounts of that magical social lubricant known as beer, I had many great conversations with strangers, though some are remembered better than others. Conversations early in the pub crawl were about EVE and Fanfest as a common ground ice breaker, but after a few drinks in I was having more conversations with people about topics of interest other than EVE. One individual, and because I was not in interview mode I sadly did not write down any of his information, discussed some of what he does in EVE Online along with his military background in real life. He told me about a group he runs in EVE Online for veterans that doubles as an informal peer support group for veterans with PTSD. He discussed some of the challenges of returning to civilian life and how there is still a stigma in asking for help or showing vulnerability, even though many experiences of people in his alliance need to process some of the events they’ve been through. His group provides a safe environment where people can show their vulnerable side and address these issues in a judgment free zone behind the anonymity of their avatars and space names to other people who can relate to their experiences. I was reminded of my conversation with Stephen Machuga of stackup.org at a PAX a few years ago (doubt he remembers me) where he also discussed how video games have been a positive force in addressing PTSD. It’s a shame stories like that do not get more mainstream media attention, which tends to put more focus on negative aspects, whether they be true or sensationalized to create a ratings generating story.
The night following the pub crawl was The Party at the Top of the World. This took place in the convention hall at Harpa Tranquility, and it was just a fun way to say goodbye to Fanfest. All attendees were condensed to a central area near the merch tables, and it wouldn’t be a party without more alcohol (my poor liver) and music. To kick off things local party legend Hermigervill filled the room with electronic dance music that seemed to go over well with most attendees. The party continued when Kristian Nairm, best known for playing Hodor on Game of Thrones, came out to do a DJ set. I have to admit I came to watch him just because I wanted to see Hodor DJ, but I have to admit Nairn is a damn good DJ. I came in because I wanted to see Hodor, but stayed until the end because I liked what I was hearing. It was apparent to anyone watching that he was having a ball up there as he played his roughly hour long set, each song seamlessly transitioning into the next. Of course in the middle of his set their was a techno snippet of the Game of Thrones theme, and at the end of the set when he was expressing his joy in spinning and thanking us for listening, he appeased the fans by saying Hodor before exiting the stage.

HODOR!

The headliner was naturally the CCP house band Permaband, and they brought down the house to give Fanfest a proper send off. Permaband played a blistering set that was mixed of covers and originals, and they put on a spectacle of a performance that was matched by their musical prowess. The set they played was quite diverse too, playing original songs Come Fly With Us and Warp to the Dance Floor interspersed with songs known to people outside of the EVE community like Danger Zone and Purple Rain. During the closer of Thunderstruck I believe it was CCP Guard who ended up crowd surfing in a human hamster ball.
Many stories about what happens in EVE Online tend to focus on the destructive nature. This is of course not something to downplay since the treachery and killing is part of the appeal of EVE, it is a dark game that allows people to do horrible things to each other for fun, which is great. The evil, dark side of man is prevalent in EVE Online and none of the fans want that aspect to go away, but what doesn’t get looked at is the camaraderie that exists within the community, both in and outside of the game. A good headline is that a 70 story house of cards that took hundreds of characters two years get destroyed, but what that doesn’t emphasize is that the hundreds of characters had to work together over a period of time to even build that structure in the first place. Developers have told me stories of crooked new player training centers that extort and exploit new players who don’t know any better, and alliances form between groups that are currently at war with each other to shut those shady operations down.
Outside of the game I have found nothing bad to say about the EVE fan community during my time at Fanfest. People came from all corners of the globe, and while who do you fly with seems to be the standard greeting it really doesn’t matter here since regardless of who scammed who or who is at war with who everyone just seems to want to hang out and grab a pint together and talk shop. Video game communities like this didn’t seem to exist a couple decades ago, but events such as this make it apparent the prominent and positive role games play in some people’s lives. During the closing ceremony it was shared that a marriage proposal was accepted at the event, which reminded me of a couple I know that have been married for over a decade that met over Phantasy Star Online when they were living in different countries. Discussions about games with other attendees veered away from EVE and went into other games that hold meaning to us and other events we have attended. Earlier I mentioned how I talked with veterans about how games helped them cope with PTSD, but I have also had conversations where games also helped them get through bouts of depression or difficult times in their life, whether it be through the element of escapism found in a well crafted story or through social support found through people scattered throughout the world that share a common interest in an online game. In regards to being a prominent social activity, video games have grown from something that was sold to niche children’s market to a mainstream form of entertainment that can appeal to all age groups and walks of life. There are many that still look at gamers as being nothing more than people living in a state of suspended adolescence, but that view is inaccurate and outdated, and the people at Fanfest are a great example of how wonderful the gaming community can be.