Date of Award

May 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Thomas M. Malaby

Committee Members

Ingrid Jordt, Stuart Moulthrop


Ethnography, EVE Online, Governance, Iceland, Power, Virtual Worlds


Interest in virtual worlds has grown within academia and popular culture. Virtual worlds are persistent, technologically-mediated, social spaces. Academic literature focuses on issues such as identity, sociality, economics, and governance. However studies of governance focus on internal or external modes of control; less attention has been paid to institutions of governance that operate within both the virtual and real worlds.

In EVE Online, the Council of Stellar Management (CSM) represents a joint venture between developers and users to shape the direction of EVE's virtual society. As a group of elected representatives, the CSM represents societal interests to the game's developer, Crowd Control Productions (CCP). The CSM structures the relationship between CCP and the player base, and shapes how these institutions manage the development process. At the same time, cultural and political conventions of EVE's players at times work against these structures as CCP and the CSM seek to attend to their own interests.

In this thesis, I examine the intersection of culture, power, and governance, and illustrate the consequences these negotiations of power have for the inhabitants of EVE Online. The historical circumstances that led to the CSM's creation shape its reception among the community. As a model of governance, the CSM was designed as a deliberative democracy to generate community consensus. This feedback is channeled to developers through elected representatives. However, these channels of information hindered discussions necessary for true democracy. I examine how power is generated, leveraged, and mediated by the two cultures in which the CSM is embedded: EVE and Icelandic cultures. I also illustrate the authority and legitimacy of the CSM from the standpoint of its constituents. The CSM is understood within the same cultural frameworks as in-game power structures.

Primary research was carried out during a one-year period in 2012. During this time, I joined SKULL SQUADRON, a large corporation with a neutral diplomatic mission. Snowball sampling was used to find informants. Three main methods were used to interview participants: face-to-face interviews, text-based interviews through EVE's communication channels, and voice interviews conducted over Skype, an internet-based communications program.