Sean Smith: Diplomat showed gaming generation's online influence

Sean Smith, a State Department official killed in the US consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya, was involved in a fascinating experiment in online/offline governance EVE Online is a fascinating experiment in online + offline governance in the game of 'EVE Online.' His parallel diplomacy was memorialized by hundreds of gamers.

AP/CCP Games Sean Smith
Sean Smith – a.k.a 'Vile Rat' in the game 'EVE Online' – used this computer-generated avatar portrait. The foreign service information management officer, killed in the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, was remembered by hundreds of gamer memorials as an influential intergalactic diplomat, having served in the game's virtual government as a cunning diplomat and convinced some of the game's biggest alliances to disband.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tribute to Sean Smith – dad, online gamer, and Benghazi-based State Department computer expert  – was “nothing compared to the memorials that were offered up by many of the 400,000 paying subscribers” of the space fantasy game EVE Online,” reports Lindsay Wise, a Washington-based reporter for McClatchy Newspapers.

Memorials “flooded social media and gaming [discussion] boards [and] many gamers renamed their space stations in his honor,” the report said.

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Maybe as a comfort when he didn’t want to worry his family, maybe just to pass the time when consulate employees couldn’t go anywhere, Smith, who was an “avid gamer and married father of two,” was chatting with fellow players hours before he was killed in the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, reportedly of smoke inhalation as the consulate building burned. [He was one of four Americans killed and nearly 30 Libyans wounded or killed in a two-part attack, among them Amb. Christopher Stevens, the first US ambassador to be killed in an attack since 1979, reported today.]

“Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed Smith, who’d served the State Department for 10 years at US outposts in Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal and The Hague, as ‘one of our best’.”

What struck me about the McClatchy story about Smith’s experience in both real and virtual worlds was how admired he was for the same skills in both – for his diplomatic talent and interests in the game-world every bit as much as technical skills in the “real” world of diplomacy.

In EVE, the report said, he was “known as 'Vile Rat,' a smart but tough diplomat and spy who worked on behalf of a major alliance called Goonswarm.”

Fellow players had elected him to serve on EVE’s Council of Stellar Management, which was authorized in-world to liaise with the game’s developers. The Iceland-based game EVE Online is a fascinating experiment in online + offline governance (I wrote about it in 2009 here), where by the Council of which Smith was a member grows in “power” with the game’s developers in proportion to its ability to grow its influence with fellow players.

It’s an experiment in starting “civilization” from scratch. So this was very real "parallel" diplomatic work in which Smith was engaged, and he is clearly missed deeply by those who were engaged in it with him and who understood the level of skill required. An in-game friend of six years said he focused “relentlessly on diplomacy as a strategic tool,” according to McClatchy. EVE’s developers joined with the players, issuing a statement, too, “overwhelmingly saddened” by Smith’s death.

Being able to memorialize a friend and collaborator online is small but very real comfort.

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