Online gamers -- and especially players of the game "EVE Online" -- are mourning the death of an American killed during an attack on the American consulate in Libya Tuesday night.
Sean Smith was not only a Foreign Service information management officer with the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, he was an avid "EVE Online" player. "EVE Online" is a massively-multiplayer online game that brings hundreds of thousands of gamers worldwide together for a space-faring, role-playing adventure.
And it was here in the online world that word of Smith's death first spread and gamers came together to mourn the man who, it seems, had known death was possible not long before it happened.
Smith, who went by the name Vile Rat in "EVE Online," was killed along with Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens and two other Americans. He is survived by his wife Heather, and their children Samantha and Nathan.
In the forums of the online community Something Awful, where Smith was a volunteer moderator, word of his death began to spread. A good friend of Smith's for six years, Alex Gianturco, confirmed the news to the online community and explained via his EVE blog how Smith had even mentioned his perilous situation as protests grew outside the consulate.
Smith wrote to his friend via chat: "assuming we don't die tonight. We saw one of our 'police' that guard the compound taking pictures."
Gianturco said via Twitter that the last he ever heard from Smith was a shout of "oh sh#& gunfire." That was soon followed by news of the deadly attack in Libya.
Gianturco had nothing but praise for Smith, who he said was not only a diplomat in real life but also in "EVE Online."
"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 wrote. "No one focused as relentlessly on using diplomacy as a strategic tool as VR."
And, as Gianturco explained, Vile Rat's influence was far-reaching in "EVE."
"If you were an alliance leader of any consequence, you spoke to Vile Rat," he wrote. "You knew him. You may have been a friend or an enemy or a pawn in a greater game, but he touched every aspect of EVE in ways that 99% of the population will never understand."
Gianturco has many fascinating and kind things say about Smith's history and his gaming skills, and his ode to his friend is well worth reading in its entirety here. Meanwhile, he's been joined by a mournful outpouring from the grieving game community at large.
Members of the "EVE Online" and Something Awful communities have been posting messages and memories about Smith here and here
"It hurts a lot to know that he won't be around tomorrow to kid around with. Vilerat was a great person. I will miss him," wrote one community member.
Wrote another, "The galaxy will be a much smaller place without you. You will be missed."
Gamers have also been sharing their thoughts and condolences through the #RIPVileRat and #tweetfleet hashtags on Twitter.
More than 200 space stations in the game have been renamed in Smith's honor. And a YouTube tribute has gone up as well. It reads in part, "If we can put aside our differences in EVE maybe there is hope that one day we can do it in the real world as well." (See video below:)
The U.S. government said Smith joined the State Department 10 years ago and had served in the Air Force. He had held posts in Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal and The Hague. The members of Something Awful have started a fundraising campaign to support his wife and children.
"After some conversations with Sean's wife, we will be launching a fundraiser as soon as possible through YouCaring," they explained. Follow this link for updated information about where you can donate money.
-- Reuters contributed to this report
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti, and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.
Video: Hearts and minds meet through video games
Diplomat Killed in Libya Told Fellow Gamers: Hope I ‘Don’t Die Tonight’
- September 12, 2012 |
- 12:03 pm
On Tuesday, Sean Smith, a Foreign Service Information Management Officer assigned to the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, typed a message to the director of his online gaming guild: ”Assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.” The consulate was under siege, and within hours, a mob would attack, killing Smith along with three others, including the U.S. ambassador.
In his professional and personal life, 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 friends. Their reaction was shock and mourning.
“My people, I have greivous [sic] news. Vile Rat has been confirmed to be KIA in Benghazi; his family has been informed and the news is likely to break out on the wire services soon,” wrote Goonswarm director Alex Gianturco in a message mirrored to Something Awful at 11:21 EST. “Needless to say, we are in shock, have no words, and have nothing but sympathy for his family and children. I have known Vile Rat since 2006, he was one of the oldest of old-guard goons and one of the best and most effective diplomats this game has ever seen.”
According to his friends, Smith had emerged as a key leader for the community, and was known as a senior guild diplomat who helped engineer the destruction of Goonswarm’s chief rival, the Band of Brothers. He let his guildmates design his tattoo. On Wednesday, Gianturco posted an obituary for his friend of more than six years. “He was on jabber when it happened, that’s the most fucked up thing,” Gianturco 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.”
Next, media reports began circulating that the consulate in Benghazi, and the U.S. embassy in Egypt, had come under attack. Gianturco, known in the EVE Online community as The Mittani, “freaked out.” Gianturco wrote that he was “in shock” and felt dead inside.
“I’m not sure if this is how I’m supposed to react to my friend being killed by a mob in a post-revolutionary Libya, but it’s pretty awful and Sean was a great guy and he was a goddamned master at this game we all play, even though a lot of people may not realize how significant an influence he had,” wrote Gianturco. And that “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.”
At Something Awful, Smith was a long-time member — more recently a moderator — who posted about football, politics and working with the Foreign Service. Forumers are now leaving messages in Smith’s memory, and others are doing similar at the EVE Online forums. Gamers are now also re-naming virtual space stations after Smith. EVE Online, which takes place in a simulated galaxy, center around the digital stations as bases for trade, socializing and fighting. Smith’s username “was a name you could mention inany conversation about the pointy end of EVE, without needing to explain who he was,” posted developer CCP Greyscale.
Forumer SpaceGirlArt wrote that Smith had “been part of my internet presence for a decade, right back to the old #ce [IRC] channel. I can honestly say that I never expected to feel this gutted over the death of someone that I never met in real life. This is unbelievable.”
One forumer expressed concern that Smith’s death would be politicized by the media during an election year. But, “Through the bullshit media circus, we will know ‘That was Vilerat, and he was actually way awesome.’”
Update 2:45 p.m., Sept. 12: Something Awful admin elpintogrande writes, “After some conversations with Sean’s wife, we will be launching a fundraiser as soon as possible through YouCaring. It might take a few days.” In the meantime, the admin has posted an e-mail address tied to Smith’s PayPal account for those who want to donate now.
3:30 p.m. Ned Coker, public relations agent for EVE Online developer CCP, emailed Eurogamer: “I can tell you that CCP and its employees are overwhelmingly saddened by the news of Sean Smith’s passing, as we are when we learn of any player who is tragically lost,” Coker wrote. He added that the Council of Stellar Management, EVE Online’s player-run government, is planning to post a tribute. Smith was once a member of the council.
4:49 p.m., Sept. 13: The Air Force confirmed to Danger Room more details about Sean Smith’s military service. According to the Air Force, Smith served in the Air Force as a Ground Radio Maintenance (2E) specialist. He enlisted in July 1995, entered active duty in 1997, and completed his service in 2002. He was promoted to Staff Sergeant in August 2000.
In addition, there’s more details on in-game tributes from the Council of Stellar Management.