Yesterday, a group of armed militants stormed the American consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi. According to BBC reports, the attack took place during a protest over the anti-Islamic sentiments seen in a low-budget film purportedly produced by American Sam Bacile (although some reports suggest this is merely a pseudonym), and promoted in the Middle East by an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian named Morris Sadek. The attack left the American ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three other American officials dead. U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility that the attack was part of a coordinated terrorist action.
Although the names of the three Americans with Stevens were not initially released by authorities, one of the victims was quickly identified by his friends online as Foreign Service information management officer, Sean Smith.
Smith was a huge fan of CCP Games’ EVE Online, and a long-standing member of the infamous Goonswarm, an amorphous group of gamers who initially came together on the forums of the Internet humor site Something Awful. While many claim that Goonswarm exists purely to infuriate other players in whichever game they happen to be playing — Goonswarm is most prominent in EVE Online, but has branched out to a number of other online titles — even these people can’t deny the group’s ability to affect change on a massive scale within a game due to its sheer numbers, dedicated player-base, and surprisingly well-coordinated actions.
Last night Smith (aka “Vile Rat”) was online speaking to his friend and fellow gamer, Alexander Gianturco, who goes by the handle “The Mittani” Gianturco has since posted the exchange as part of a eulogy to his friend. According to Gianturco, Smith was a long-time online gamer who was working as an IT consultant in Benghazi when the attack occurred. Due in part to his work, Smith spent a lot of time on the ‘net, doing the sorts of things anyone else might: conversing with friends, passing the time and playing video games.
“If you play this stupid game, you may not realize it, but you play in a galaxy created in large part by Vile Rat’s talent as a diplomat,” Gianturco said. “No one focused as relentlessly on using diplomacy as a strategic tool as VR. Mercenary Coalition flipped sides in the Great War in large part because of Vile Rat’s influence, and if that hadn’t happened GSF probably would have never taken out BoB. Jabberlon5? VR made it. You may not even know what Jabberlon5 is, but it’s the smoke-filled jabber room where every nullsec personage of note hangs out and makes deals. Goonswarm has succeeded over the years in large part because of VR’s emphasis on diplomacy, to the point of creating an entire section with a staff of 10+ called Corps Diplomatique, something no other alliance has. He had the vision and the understanding to see three steps ahead of everyone else – in the game, on the CSM, and when giving real-world advice.”
The protests surrounded the film Innocence of Muslims, which depicted the Prophet Mohammed as fraud and a pedophile. Protesters in Egypt had already burned an American flag in front of the consulate in Cairo, and the Libyan protests may have been coordinated. The date, the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, was also lost on no one.
During their discussion last night, Smith told Gianturco:
(12:54:09 PM) vile_rat: assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures
While alarming, this wasn’t particularly unusual for Smith, who’s situation was well known among his friends. A few years earlier while Smith was stationed in Iraq, he also found himself under fire but finished his time there “physically unscathed,” according to Gianturco.
“He was on jabber [the IM service] when it happened,” Gianturco posted. “That’s the most fucked up thing. In Baghdad the same kind of thing happened – incoming sirens, he’d vanish, we’d freak out and he’d come back ok after a bit. This time he said ‘FUCK’ and ‘GUNFIRE’ and then disconnected and never returned.”
Soon after that conversation, media services around the world began to report that protests outside the American embassies in both Libya and Egypt had begun to turn violent. It wasn’t long before news of American deaths was being reported, and Gianturco recognized that his friend was dead and the EVE Online community was in morning.
While that’s easier to recognize his influence if you happen to be an EVE player, the end point is that Sean Smith had a huge impact on both the people he played EVE alongside, as well as the game as a whole, both personally and within the digital world he enjoyed. While the name of the fallen ambassador may soon be a household name, the name of Sean Smith will not be forgotten. Since the attack, a number of in-game space stations have since been renamed in Smith’s honor. While that might be a seemingly minor remembrance to the man, it is exceedingly heartfelt.
We recommend you read the blog post in its entirety. It’s equal parts mournful reminiscing and raging at the state at the world for ending the life of such a well-liked member of an online community. But in sum the piece is a touching memorial to a man from those who called him “friend.”