EVE Online is a game of transactional violence that operates on doing terribles things to other players. From stories of in-game heists, to real-life scams, it’s a game where players are given a vast galaxy within which capsuleers ( EVE’s players) are free to steal, scam, bribe, spy, assassinate, and generally screw each other over. So, it’s not hard to see why the game has a reputation for toxicity and player harassment.
Yet many an EVE fan will be quick to tell you that the majority of the community draws a stark line between in-game drama and the people behind the avatars. EVE Online is a tight knit community where fans often forge lasting friendships, meeting up yearly for EVE Fanfest in the game’s native Reykjavik or the annual EVE Vegas gathering.
But because people invest so much in EVE, things can go south very quickly when a player’s ship is destroyed, or they are killed by an enemy, or in-game valuables are stolen. Issues afflicting the person in real life could snowball with in-game turmoil, meaning stress, tensions, and depression can often come to a head in-game.
Seeing this problem, the community rallied, building an initiative helmed by real retired military veterans, in-game galactic clergy, and developer CCP Games itself.
Broadcast 4 Reps (B4R) was founded in 2014 by a National Coast Guard veteran who goes by Coffee Rocks in game. On EVE’s subreddit and across dedicated chat channels on services like Discord, Slack, and in the game itself, players are able to find help in a familiar environment, seeking out a supportive community who will hear out their troubles. B4R is also at the ready to handle any players who may be contemplating suicide or are fostering thoughts of self-harm. Moderators in all B4R channels are prepared to file tickets to CCP’s community team, who then send these reports on to the police.
Over time, B4R has grown into a galaxy-wide mental health and suicide prevention network, complete with a full volunteer staff, an off-shoot just for veterans, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit called Spam 4 Heals, and the full support of CCP, establishing itself as a fixture in the very fabric of EVE Online.
EVE Online’ s very own Space Pope (real name Charles White, or in more formal terms, His Holiness Max Singularity VI, First of His Name) has used his own fame to spread awareness for B4R. Space Pope and his coterie of nuns draws crowds at EVE fan gatherings, as followers kneel to kiss his papal ring (a diamond encrusted gift from his wife) and seek his blessings. He is certainly one of EVE’s more colorful characters, a real-life rocket scientist at NASA and Burning Man artist who basks in the attention he receives moonlighting as Space Pope.
White established himself as the leader of a player-run faction called the Sixth Empire through cut-throat politicking, before rebranding the empire as an unofficial “Coast Guard” of sorts for New Eden’s many warring pirate bands, corporations, and alliances.
“Players who are abandoned by their alliances, or have emotional problems, they can take a temporary home with us, and chill out, and then they can either stay with us or move on, we don't care,” White explains.
The Sixth Empire essentially scoops up players who otherwise might not know where else to turn, and gives them a chance to get back on their feet—a pretty shocking act of philanthropy from a man who is also in the business of assassinating empresses and executing backroom deals at various EVE fan events. White adopted Broadcast 4 Reps’ (B4R) mission in rebuilding the Sixth Empire, and it now acts as a sort of offshoot of B4R’s mission.
“We try to help players. If anyone throws out this B4R hashtag, we have people that will counsel them and help them and what we can do is we can also invite them into our Sixth Empire. We don't keep numbers of the people we save. They're not a metric,” White explains. “However, we have a lot of indications that we've saved a lot of lives. And we've actually made 911 calls and had police intercept people on their way to committing suicides several times. We're not trained professionals on that, and we tell people to call them, but if you're not comfortable calling them, at least talk to us before you do anything.”
Above: Broadcast 4 Reps’ Introduction Video
Others have created their own offshoots of B4R. Sean Bedingfield (or J McClain as he’s known in-game) is a retired infantryman in the US Army, where he served for six years. He was deployed to Afghanistan before being pulled for medical retirement. Upon returning to the U.S., Bedingfield says he spent the next two years barely leaving his house and struggling with PTSD.
With extra time on his hands, Bedingfield immersed himself in EVE, where he met a serviceman from the UK—Bedingfield approached the British veteran after hearing hints of what sounded like military speak in the in-game comms. The two instantly clicked over their shared experiences, which Bedingfield says alerted him to the benefits of socializing and going outside. Thanks to EVE, Bedingfield once more started living life outside again.
“That got me thinking,” Bedingfield explains. “Hey, if talking to this guy has helped me this much, it could really do that for a bunch of other people, too.”
Things naturally evolved into a support network specifically for veterans in EVE who are experiencing moments of crisis. As Bedingfield’s group, Best of Us, grew, it was taken under B4R’s umbrella.
Best of Us, Bedingfield says, while related to B4R and served by the same non-profit, has a different culture. He notes that B4R doesn’t target a specific group of people, meaning that the help or advice people receive will be less tailored to their particular context.
“The people that are in B4R do a really tough job,” he says. “It really can be very helpful for the people that utilize it. But with our folks, we’ve come from a different culture and background.”
Best of Us focuses on serving as a place where veterans can get together to talk about the issues relevant to them. “It’s been a good sounding board to get together with other vets and vent and express their agitation or their frustration with the way things are going,” Bedingfield explains.
For all of the good B4R and Best of Us do, it’s worth remembering that these are organizations run mainly by untrained volunteers, which rightfully raises concerns about the initiative’s ability to effectively and safely aid players who might be in crisis.
Andre "werd_the_ogrecl" Larocque joined B4R and took an active part in the movement because he valued the EVE community. “I saw it as a noble thing for them to create so I involved myself with it,” he explains.
But after an incident three years ago, Larocque—who is a mental health professional—noticed that B4R seriously needed an effective response protocol if it was to safely serve EVE players
“A fellow gamer committed suicide after seeking support in the channel,” Larocque recalls. “As a mental health professional I felt obligated to do something in order to help prevent this from happening again. The systems in place were inadequate to allow a mandated reporter to do something in a timely manner. Because of the lack of a crisis response protocol someone passed away.”
B4R volunteers mean well, but more often than not, these sensitive situations require a formalized clinical response. Rather than scrap B4R altogether, however, Larocque turned his attention to improving matters, creating a peer reviewed wiki on the EVE subreddit that would bolster the in-game support channel, whose practices were not evidence-based at the time.
EVE attracts players from all over the world, and often different countries use different crisis response protocols. Larocque gathered localized information from the community to ensure the wiki included hotline information for a number of different countries before submitting it for peer review.
“The wiki now serves as a single link to provide local professional support where it is needed,” Larocque says.
Waypoint also spoke to Dr. Anitha Iyer, Chief Clinical Officer for the Mental Health Association of New York City and advisor to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, who affirmed the necessity for proper response protocols.
“Overlaying such a community [as B4R] with trained moderators is an important addition to ensure that individuals in need can be routed to the appropriate level of care. Moderators can provide support in the moment and/or direct users to other channels where individuals expressing high intensity of concerns and/or risk can receive support and crisis counseling,” Dr. Iyer says.
With these systems properly in place, though, Dr. Iyer believes that B4R can play an important role in the greater EVE Online community. “Creating, fostering, and encouraging individuals experiencing emotional struggles to share their concerns and needs in a safe space that they trust is important, as it opens doors for individuals to seek support and access care,” she explains.
CCP serves as a key connection to mental health services and emergency care in the B4R network. All emergencies that come to B4R are passed onto CCP’s 24/7 support team, who will then work with the Icelandic Police Commissioner, Interpol, and local authorities elsewhere with the hope of saving players’ lives. Once local authorities are contacted, police usually perform a personal wellness check at the person’s house.
Providing proper care for players struggling with mental health issues can create a burden for B4R volunteers and CCP staff as well. EVE Online is a relatively small community in the grand scheme of things.
“We're kind of the little guys in terms of the few hundred thousand people who we have playing,” Elsy says. “But in the same respect I think that gives us an advantage where we have a close-knit community, we're all on one server, people know each other a lot more and intimately a lot better.”
Providing proper care for players struggling with mental health issues can create a burden for B4R volunteers and CCP staff as well.
This means that CCP’s community staff will receive notifications from people they know personally who are thinking of harming themselves. It can be a real challenge when it does get a little bit more personal.
“It's something that cuts really deep, because I've been around with the community for so long. It really hits home when that happens. And that's happened a few times over the course of the last couple of years.”
Regardless, Elsy tries his best to reach out to as many cases as possible to check-in after a report is made. “I generally try and reach out to as many people as I possibly can, including those that I both know personally and those that I don't, just as a follow up to make sure that they're doing okay,” Elsy says. “9 times out of 10, people are in a good frame of mind or once other players reach out to them, or someone who can give care reaches out to them, generally they find out that they're not on their own. There are other people who think this way. There are other people who have these kinds of problems, and that there is help there if they need it.”
Bedingfield, like Elsy, feels the mental weight of this work. “People were coming to me in instances of crisis, and I was living their day-to-day crises. So I've had to develop a layer of disconnection from negative stuff, and embracing compassion instead of empathy when it comes to dealing with issues in Best of Us to help with my mental health,” he says.
In keeping with this philosophy, Bedingfield works to keep Best of Us free of needless negativity and has created further initiatives to keep people moving forward, like Fit Fleet, which urges EVE Players to exercise and practice a healthy lifestyle.
It’s tough, tiring work, that much is for sure, but B4R is invaluable to its members. The community often speaks to the strengths of EVE Online’ s tightly woven player base, one that is unique to most other online games.
One player who suffers from depression and anxiety, who prefers to remain anonymous, came to B4R because they found that, although their real-life emotional support network was strong, it wasn’t always available or what they needed. B4R serves as a complement to real-life support, where they can relate to fellow EVE players. “I have posted in [B4R] in the past or gone to the in game room where I have been met with some genuinely kind people,” they note.
Following our conversation, Bedingfield told me that he had given his Purple Heart to CCP, who now displays it in their office. “I gave it for them to show how valued their community commitment has been for us,” he adds.
I shared this with CCP’s Paul Elsy, who immediately lit up at the memory. “[Bedingfield] came to EVE Vegas a few years back and he made me custodian of his Purple Heart, and I was floored by that. I almost had a bit of a cry,” he says. Elsy and Bedingfield have become close friends through their work with B4R and Best of Us.
“It's those kinds of bonds that bring our players a lot closer together than most other online games,” Elsy notes. “I think it's these kinds of bonds that are the reason why things like B4R and Best of Us actually exist, because for a lot of people it's not just hiding behind an avatar. There's a real sense of community and a real sense of belonging to something special. It makes me kind of lucky to work in the job that I do.”
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/j5admx/eve-online-mental-health-support-groups