Update: WELP... what a difference a year makes.

In the aftermath of the Karttoon incident, the future prospects of GoonSwarm seemed bleak at best. However, once the dust settled and regrouping efforts commenced, the community has rebounded, and in very surprising ways. The ragtag, raucous, rule-tweaking horde of goons has unexpectedly leveraged the game's procedural rhetoric in a way that, arguably, benefits the entire universe of players. After years of wrecking things, they're actually helping to make things better.

"Chairman LMAO," yet another instance of ironic propagandistic art, this done in tribute to GoonSwarm's takeover of the game's player-elected government.

EVE Online has an elected body of player representatives known as the Council of Stellar Management (CSM). Historically, the CSM has been little more than a collection of figureheads, collecting grievances and suggestions from players and shuttling them up to the game's designer/publisher, CCP, with no real expectation for change. In 2010, the very year that GoonFleet had no representation on the CSM (coincidence?), representatives were given more of an active voice in the game's future development. This year, a vigorous campaign ensued to install The Mittani, one of GoonFleet's more active players/organizers/agitators, as chairman of the CSM. Not only was this campaign successful, but as a result, the CSM ended up being populated by representatives from the area known as "0.0 Space," the lawless, no-man's-land regions of the MMO where goons thrive, the place where flouting rules is encouraged, where things often go boom and mommy and daddy aren't around to keep the kids in line, where all the media attention emanates from. Such a move angered many of the game's "vanilla" players, who were caught unawares by the somewhat stealth political maneuvering, but the CSM's agenda is, if you take The Mittani at his word in the Kugutsumen forum post "~KING OF SPACE~ Update: Oops, we won Eve again," for the betterment of the EVE Online universe.

Beyond aimless griefing, this bloodless coup has resulted in legitimate changes to game development, both technological and procedural, that have been deemed positive for most of the MMO's player base. The Mittani updates the crowd in the aftermath of sweeping changes in his blog post "Groupthink and Ganking," where he even highlights the fact that CCP apologized for its failings to heed player feedback, largely because of pressure he exerted on them. Now that Goons have the center seat at the table, enhancements to gameplay, more regular conversations with the player base, better account security, and a host of other related changes are in the works. And now Goon stock is definitely on the rise, as they have recently toppled the White Noise alliance, inspired griefer copycats such as Dreddit and Test Alliance Please Ignore, and (as of this writing) are in the middle of the most successful newbie drive in GoonFleet history. These are, in a sense, real, material effects of a communal rhetorical strategy based largely on flouting convention, of bending rules near or beyond their breaking point. That such a nose-thumbing group of malfeasants were able to achieve this kind of takeover is facepalmingly ironic, but in a sense, logical. Disrupting the rule set from the inside is perhaps the most productive way of effecting change.

EVE Online is the kind of low-stakes space where its members can play with rhetorical boundaries: they can challenge conventions of good taste, play with ethos in counterintuitive ways, and basically experiment without experiencing the real-world repurcussions of these types of rule violations. While delighting in these violations, they are in fact innovating, figuring out new means by which to get their goals accomplished. As more and more communication takes place in online venues—chatrooms, web forums, Twitter, Facebook, ad infinitum—studying a group like GoonSwarm becomes increasingly important. They constitute a living laboratory of rhetorical expression, a microcosm of Web-based community-building practices. With new generations of people growing up communication in online spaces, the rules are constantly being renegotiated as to what constitutes effective rhetorical practice. Therefore, looking at settings like EVE Online, and groups like GoonSwarm, helps us extrapolate to larger and more diffuse populations, helping us make sense of the chatter.


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