Virtual Gamers Mourn Slain Diplomat

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 12 2012 7:04 PM

"We Were Friends in Real Life and in Internet Spaceships"

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Fair goers test computer games at the computer games fair Games Convention 24 August, 2007 in Leipzig, Germany

File photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images.

Wired magazine brings us this rather fascinating story about one of the U.S. diplomats killed during last night's violence in Benghazi:

"In his professional and personal life, [Sean] Smith was a husband and father of two, an Air Force veteran, and a 10-year veteran of the Foreign Service who had served in Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal and The Hague. But when gaming with EVE Online guild Goonswarm, he was a popular figure known as 'Vile Rat,' and alternately as 'Vilerat' while volunteering as a moderator at the internet community Something Awful. Smith’s death was confirmed on Wednesday morning by the State Department and reported widely in the news media. But the first people to report Smith’s death were his [gaming] friends. Their reaction was shock and mourning."
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In his free time, Smith inhabited a complex world known as the EVE Online Universe, a cyber landscape that could serve as the setting of a science-fiction novel. EVE takes place 21,000 years in the future in a series of interconnected star clusters where four races fight to control New Eden, the core of this intergalactic universe. Players form alliances with each other known as guilds, which engage in activities like piracy, mining, exploration, and combat.

It was in this world, according to one of Smith's fellow gamers, that Smith's real-world talents were on full display to his virtual friends. Smith was "the single most influential diplomat in the history of EVE, or perhaps of any online game," Alex Gianturco wrote in an online obituary for a man he had been friends with for the past six years, "both in real life and in internet spaceships."

According to Gianturco, Smith was online when the consulate came under siege. "He was on jabber when it happened, that’s the most fucked up thing," he wrote. "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."

You can read the full Wired report here, and Gianturco's obituary for his friend here.