This game is not for me: Non-participation in EVE Online
When not played for profit (e.g. professional e-sports, competitive tournaments, goldfarming, etc.) digital games are typically considered to be leisure activities. This in turn usually leads to playing or not playing typically being viewed as an autonomous choice motivated by individual preferences for how one spends their time not occupied by work or domestic obligations. This idea of an unfettered choice of games and absolute freedom to play has been complicated by studies using a critical feminist lens to illustrate how social forces continue to write digital gameplay as a primarily heterosexual white masculine space outside of a very narrow definition of games deemed “acceptable” for female play (Chess, 2010; Jenson & de Castell, 2008). While a growing body of interventionist literature documents new entry points for girls and women into traditionally masculine play spaces (Gray, 2012; Jenson, Fisher, & de Castell, 2011; Kafai, 2008) or making games of their own (Fisher & Harvey, 2013; Harvey & Fisher, 2013; Harvey & Shepherd, 2016), these investigations are primarily focused on current game players. What is less understood is how current players came to their particular game(s) of choice, and their reasons for not playing other games. Using the space-themed Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) EVE Online as a case study and an analytical framework provided by the long history of investigations into and theorizing of barriers and constraints to participation by leisure scholars (Crawford, Jackson, & Godbey, 1991; Henderson & Gibson, 2013), I argue for the importance of accounting for non-players in the study of digital games.
Drawing on the results of a large survey where I collected the thoughts and experiences of current, former, and non-EVE Online players (n=981), in this paper I narrow my focus to an analysis of responses from survey participants who indicated they had previously heard of EVE Online but to date have not actually played this game (n=145). Through a thematic analysis of open-ended responses to the questions “How would you describe EVE Online to someone who has never played it before?” and “Why are you not playing EVE Online?” my findings indicate that many non-players are surprisingly well-informed about the mechanics and players of this MMOG. Despite indicating they have never played EVE Online, survey participants were still able to describe its objectives and gameplay in detail. Non-players also indicated that they were made to feel like the game was not “for them” as actions on the part of both the developer and current players have created a community that seems welcoming to only a very particular demographic. Furthermore I find evidence that knowing too much about EVE Online can lead to a decision not to play it, especially for respondents who do not identify as straight, white, and/or male. Rather than assuming that playing or not playing is exclusively about choice or interest, in this paper I argue that there is much to be learned by asking players about what games they do not play and their reasons for quitting or never purchasing or downloading a particular game in the first place.