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Vile Rat
  • March 01, 2013 : 11:03
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Sean leaves behind a loving wife, Heather, two young children, Samantha and Nathan, and scores of grieving family, friends and colleagues. And that’s just in this world. Because online, in the virtual worlds that Sean helped create, he is also being mourned by countless competitors, collaborators and gamers who shared his passion. —Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, September 14, 2012

Sean Smith lived in two worlds, but he died in one. His death came in the world where he worked. It was September 11, 2012, and Smith was inside the United States Special Mission Compound in Benghazi, Libya. A scruffy, bald 34-year-old with a warm smile and dark wit, Smith had spent the past decade as a globe-trotting operative for the U.S. Department of State, with stints in Montreal, Pretoria, Baghdad and, most recently, the Hague, where his wife and children awaited his return.

As a foreign service information management officer, Smith was the consulate’s one-man geek squad, ensuring the electronics ran smoothly and securely. When he wasn’t fixing modems, he would help manage staff and deal with locals. But like most wartime operatives, he was prohibited from revealing any more details of his job to friends and family. When his mother, Pat, asked him what he did, he’d joke, “Mom, if I told you, I’d have to shoot you.”

The State Department had been in Benghazi since April 2011 as part of its diplomatic mission in a country in the throes of civil war. Tensions and violence grew in the wake of Muammar el-Qaddafi’s death in October of that year, and the U.S. took to upgrading security at the compound where the American diplomats lived. The outer wall had been extended to 12 feet high and lined with barbed wire and razor wire. A steel gate and drop-bar traffic barriers reinforced entrances to the complex, and large concrete blocks were placed farther outside to keep cars from ramming their way in. Five armed security agents patrolled outside. Some windows were covered with grilles and doubled as escape hatches.

For Smith, who had arrived at the compound about a week before it was attacked, being in such a hostile environment was a necessary but unsettling part of his career. “He wasn’t happy in those stressful situations,” his friend Kristoffer Touborg recalls. “He wanted to go back to his wife and kids. He was uncomfortable. But he’d try to make light of it.” When friends worried about his safety, he’d joke, “I’ll try not to die this time.”

On this afternoon in Libya, Smith noticed suspicious activity outside the compound. Attacks by extremist Islamic militiamen had been growing in Benghazi in recent months—rocket grenades fired at the Red Cross building in May, an IED explosion outside the U.S. compound in June. Now this was the onset of what would become the most controversial attack yet, a messy scandal for the Obama administration and a dark stain on Hillary Clinton’s career.

But for Smith, it wasn’t about diplomacy anymore; it was a struggle for survival. He took to his computer and fired up a chat window. He began urgently trying to describe the scene as it unfolded, “assuming we don’t die tonight.”

“We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures,” he wrote.

Soon after he wrote “Fuck.”

Then “Gunfire.”

And then, nothing at all.

Smith’s last messages didn’t go to the White House. They went to the world where he lived a double life of diplomacy, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game called Eve Online. Run by CCP Games, an independent developer in Iceland, Eve pits players against one another in futuristic space wars. Though wildly complicated, it has become one of the most successful games on the internet, with more than 400,000 subscribers paying $15 a month to battle for hours a day. It has also become an underground cultural phenomenon. There are Eve podcasts, online radio stations, blogs and fan festivals from Las Vegas to Moscow.

Yes, it’s geeky, but it’s also surprisingly influential and unique: a virtual world of geopolitical intrigue that attracts real-life spies, hackers and emissaries from across the globe. And in this parallel universe, no one was more influential than Sean Smith, who went by the name Vile Rat. As one of his Eve allies blogged after his death, “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.”

Diplomacy is a game, and to understand the mind of this diplomat—and what was going through it the moment the consulate was attacked—you have to understand the game of Eve. Launched in 2003, it was created by a group of buddies in Reykjavik who wanted to put more balls and brains in computer-game warfare by making it more like real life. “Eve is a mirror of real-world geopolitics,” says Alexander Gianturco, Smith’s best friend in the game. “Territory is scarce, resources are scarce, and there are massive wars of people fighting over them.”

The game takes place in New Eden, a galaxy of more than 7,500 star systems controlled by four warring factions. After logging on and creating your avatar—from its shoes to its eyebrows—you join one of the competing races.

But that’s where the similarities with other games end. Unlike in, say, Call of Duty, you don’t have a required set of missions to complete or enemies to slaughter. Once you create a ship to pilot, you’re off to explore the galaxy as you see fit. Flying a ship through Eve is like gliding through a dreamy sequence of Star Trek, with incandescent white supernovas and spiraling wormholes. But despite the beauty, Eve is a ruthless Wild West. As in reality, the battles center on making cash. To fuel this, Eve boasts one of the most complicated virtual economies on the internet, with its own currency. The game’s builder employs a full-time staffer with a Ph.D. in economics.

Almost every item inside Eve—from the spaceships to the towers—is created, distributed and sold by the players. To earn money, players work at in-game jobs—seemingly menial tasks such as smashing rocks or driving a delivery truck. For hours a day. As in reality, sex can be a currency. One of the game’s most notorious players, a busty blonde avatar named Tigerlily, is a self-described “sexpionage agent.” She plies her trade in Pleasure Hubs, sections of Eve devoted to gambling and sex. She waits for high-profile pilots to fly through and then flirts with them in chat—hoping to lure them into a private chat session where they can have full-blown cybersex. “When you’re presented with a sex slave and all she wants to do is suck your cock, it works out quite well,” she says.

In real life Tigerlily works in national security for the Canadian government.

For added gravitas, Eve has a unique element of mortality. In the game, death is real. “The idea,” says CCP spokesman Ned Coker, “was to have a massive universe where the core principles were that death has to mean something and Everyone lives in the same game world.” This is a radical departure from hit online games such as World of Warcraft, in which players can die and respawn without much consequence. By limiting itself to a one-game world and making losses permanent, Eve raises the stakes for gamers.

As in real life, evil is part of the game. “We don’t regulate what players do,” says Touborg, the game’s lead designer. “We accept that people don’t want to play good guy all the time.”

For a player like Sean Smith—who would encounter his share of bad guys from Iraq to Libya—Eve was something remarkable: a political minefield with high stakes, just like the world he lived in day to day.

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read more: entertainment, Gaming, video games, issue april 2013

214 comments

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile rat, you'll be missed o7
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP VILE RAT You will be missed, sir.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat. Very well written article, its great to see that the media has taken an interest into our game and the complexity of it. It is not an easy game, and that is why I believe it attracts many people from various professional backgrounds.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Покойся с миром Vile Rat
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat, from S2N and N3.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Named my 4 bill isk ratting ship RIP Vile Rat after Sean My it live forever as you live in our harts
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Sean Smith a.K.a Vile Rat. see ya in Heaven buddy! ^_^7 -Indonesian Eve Online Player Community.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Shoot blues, tell Vile Rat. RIP
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat. You shall forever be missed. -Reimon Jeh (PRAX) [GENTS]
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Amazing write-up, RIP Vile Rat
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Rip Vile Rat Also who is tigerlilly?
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Shoot blues, tell Vile Rat. RIP
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Abandoned by the man he "supported". His death mere political expedient. An absolute disgrace.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    shoot blues tell vile rat
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Man, RIP Vile Rat. Great man, great article. Thank you
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    FS and GF. RIP Vile Rat
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    We will never forget our fallen comrade Vile Rat
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat I know you will always fly safe, and have fun.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Shoot blues; tell Vile Rat
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    o7 RIP Vile Rat. I may have never been graced with meeting you, but I admire and respect you all the same. Fly Safe and Swarm Heaven.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Sean Smith RIP my brother
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Shoot blues, mail Vile Rat.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat o7 fly safe
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat. Fly save up there.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Rest in peace space friend :(
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Goodnight, sweet prince. You were too good for us.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Sean. We miss you every day.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat o7 flay safe
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    An extraordinary human being. It was a privilege and an honour knowing you.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Rest in peace, Vile Rat O7
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Well played playboy, well played. Never forget, Vile Rat.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Brought to tears by an article in Playboy...
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat He would be happy to see EVE getting more attention than ever.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Sean .... Never forgoten
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I knew VR in both RL and ingame, he was a great man! RIP Vile Rat, you may be gone but we will never forget you! as for the political side of this, I am still outraged! No answers and probably never will. Not with this joke of a President. Shows where his priorities are and you can best believe its not on help us out, Unless your an illegal
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    You will not be forgotten, spacebro
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat, I've never met you personally, but I enjoy the Galaxie that you helped creating. I hope you find whatever you're seeking.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Sean may your soul travel the stars for eternity
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat. May you find the peace in death you tried so hard to get in life brother. Fly safe
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat we'll never forget you mate.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat. You will forever be remembered.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Sean we miss you man! Chyph3r
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    "The deaths of Smith and the other Americans have continued to plague the Obama administration. Despite high-profile hearings, the entire truth about what happened in Benghazi may never be known." Really??? The end of this article is a massive political rescue of an administration which had HOURS, many hours to send a bunch of helicopters from the American Base called Sigonella in Sicily. They could have done this minutes after hearing the news of it which was immediate, yet, nothing. So from minute one they were already on containment mode. So sorry if I don't give a damn about any comment or speech Clinton and Obama might have said after the fact they stubbornly kept referring to as an overblown reaction to a moronic trailer of a movie never created.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    R.I.P. Cant Believe its been a year already..
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Absolutely awesome. I knew Sean in game and having an article in playboy about him is great.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    We love you, we miss you. Sleep sweet.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Shoot Blues -> Tell Vile Rat
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Rip vile rat we miss you
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    FUCK the USAmerican Battleship politics - FUCK the US created wars worldwide - Rest in peace Vile Rat you are always here with us in New Eden
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat. Fly safe o7
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat, we still miss you. Damn you Playboy for getting it so very right and bringing tears to my eyes again. Well written, and well said. Ad honorari mortui nostrum diu vivunt cordibus nostris!
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    May the c-beams always glitter in the dark for you... RIP Vile Rat
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    It wasn't "a gamer" who wrote "Use diplomacy in real life and only fight wars with other gamers online," it was Frank Conniff, better known as TV's Frank from the show Mystery Science Theater 3000.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Shoot blues, tell Vile Rat. RIP my friend.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    07 May New Eden forever cry out your name. Fly Safe Buddy
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Sean, we miss you.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP.... but since I'm on this page I might as well...
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat. The UMI-KK bubbles burn bright.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    R.I.P Vile Rat. See ya on the other side bro. 07
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat This was one of the best-informed and well written articles I have read on this subject!
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Vile Rat. We will never forget you. But these were not dozens there were hundreds of Pilots to say goodbye to our Friend! R.I.P
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    True hero in all aspects.. RIP Vile Rat, you are missed...
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I play EVE, and though I am not a member of Vile Rat's alliance, I knew him through others, and it saddens me deeply that I didn't get the chance to meet him in game... that would have been an over-joyous occasion.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    o7 vile rat, peace be uppon you
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    If you ever need to find the way home, we'll light up the map with cynos. RIP Vile Rat O7
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Vile Rat was a hero to us all, both in Eve, and in the real world. A model of a father, husband, and patriot. Shoot blues then tell Vile Rat. RIP one of the best of us.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Fly safe Vile Rat *bows*
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    not only the ship display of text, but for several months thousands of player owned stations were re-named in his honor.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    o7 Vile Rat. Good job Playboy.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP m8 u will never be forgotten
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Excellent article, thank you for getting this right! RIP VR -S7
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I play Eve myself and I was moved by this article. It was well written, and gives a good overview of Smith's life as a diplomat and as a gamer. o/
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I've played eve for some 7 or 8 odd years. I was never in any way on par with the corporations of factions that Vile Rat was a part of, and I have never met the man. Being an Veteran of Desert Storm I did see friends and passersby in the steel halls of my ship pass away and die. whether they be pilots or cooks, to firemen, they were all part of a brotherhood, and they're deaths were not something to be taken lightly. Our own government fails to take care of our own and remember their contributions, but the brotherhood of New Eden will always remember.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Will miss you in local forever! RIP our friend
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Jump through. Hold cloak, wait for us to catch up. R.I.P. Vile Rat.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    o7 vile ratt! You helped make a game fun for thousands of us! Lumpynurse
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Shoot Blues. Tell Vile Rat. o7
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat, Shot blues and call Vile Rat this day
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    fly safe in heaven Vile Rat.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    In both this reality and our virtual he lead in honor. His name is forever stamped in the stars of New Eden as a legend of its definitive longevity. - Miskondukt, GENTS
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat, you are missed in EVE and in real life! A very good article. VV
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Our hats are dipped low to such a man of courage and greatness may his battle cruiser speed him on his way to the halls of his forefathers where may sit watching what happens next.. peace be with you always.....Lordcryus CEO Brewcorp
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    A moving tribute of a man and a true diplomat and never a truer example of how New Eden is really no different to real life, friendships are made and lives impacted by what we do, who we do it with or to and the outcomes we all share. RIP Sean Smith AKA Vile Rat
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Thank you Playboy for honoring our fallen friend. RIP Vile Rat
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    au revoir Vile Rat. Kry'Ger
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I shot a blue but I can't tell Vile Rat. :( RIP Vile Rat
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat. I'm surprised to see such a well written and researched article on Playboy. A far better job than just about any mainstream news outlet managed. This writer deserves a bonus!
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Thank you for honoring our friend. RIP Vile.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Your actions will live with us all good sir! Your fight will go on forever... O7
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Gone but not forgoten
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I'll always remember when I was new to the sov warfare, deployed for the first time down in Delve on July 2012, joining prolly my 1st or 2nd fleet..... tons of people in local, then I noticed one: VIle Rat. I smiled for his name, for his fame, for me being there. RIP Sean
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I talked with Vile Rat in local chat once. He was one of the most interesting players I have ever met and I am sorry I didn't get a chance to know him better. RIP Vile Rat. May your soul move through the heavens and bring light wherever you may go.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Brilliant article, o7 VR
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Shoot blues, tell vile rat. R.I.P my friend
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    o7 I'm inspired to rejoin the stars after reading this article, too long I have not known of this. I never really liked the swarm(although they did provide much needed humor in my life) but I will always respect Vile till the day I die, not many could do what he did, and to lose him to hatred is a truly horrific image. An image that those that wish for peace are often the first to be taken from us by those who wish for violence. R.I.P. Vile Rat, although I've never met you(in real life or eve), I will always have great respect for you...and what you have accomplished.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    rip vile rat ty from ur friends in fa
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Rest in Peace good sir! Your actions were swift and true. Your leadership was legendary and your fight will go on and live forever. You will be remembered. You are the strength, courage, and willingness to succeed that will live with us forever.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat, recognised even in playboy.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    R.I.P Good friend, you are sadly missed IRL and in game
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Never forgotten, Brother.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    The greatest of men are known by but a few. Their efforts are felt by many
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    R.I.P Vile Rat from your spacebros in SMA
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    It is a shame he was apart of one of the most hated Corps in Eve online
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat, never had the honour of knowing you in game, but a gamer is a gamer and when one does the final logout it's sad.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Sean, I hope you and your family have found peace.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    The last election guaranteed that those responsible for his death would never answer for their crimes. RIP Sean
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    So glad we could raise the money for his family. Rest in peace my friend
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat. Anytime you need a cyno to guide you home, we'll light up the fucking map for you.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat Space is not the same with out you.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP VR never not shoot blues
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    From all in DNS to Sean and his family RIP Vile
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP, vile rat. Baline
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    You are missed. And thank you.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    We will never know? Sean Smith was lost because it was an administration that refused requests to improve security. Requests were filed repeatedly by the Ambassador. The former Seals, true Americans heroes will never be honored for the valiant efforts that night of more than 6 hours of hard combat, repeated requests for support went unanswered, we left our men to rot. We have American Diplomats still recovering from injuries at Walter Reed Hospital. Congress has not been provided a single eye witness while many were rescued. We will never know because it was a cover up for the sake of a poltical narrative. We will never know because a President choose to bury the bravery of 2 incredible heroes, Sean who was a such a terrific guy and the Ambassador who went there to make a difference.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Rest in peace mate and thanks for everything you have done in eve
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Shoot Blues, Tell Vile Rat ... RIP the greatest Diplomat EVE has ever seen.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP VR... The worlds you touched are forever changed because of your care. - Clansworth
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Shoot blues everyday. RIP Vile Rat.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Rest in peace my man, you did good.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    You did good VR, you did good. RIP buddy.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat, you are missed -Alpha Tenshi
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    o7 We salute you, even though you have passed on, you will not be forgotten. Your actions have made this world a better place in both the Milky way and New eden.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Hopefully you have found peace, you will never be forgotten. RIP Sean Smith a.k.a. Vile Rat
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    There is nothing that I can say to explain why I am so sad at Sean's death RIP Vile Rat
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Sleep with the stars tough guy.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    R.I.P Sean "Vile Rat" Smith
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    May his pod float along the stars forever.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    ""The deaths of Smith and the other Americans have continued to plague the Obama administration. Despite high-profile hearings, the entire truth about what happened in Benghazi may never be known." "Really??? The end of this article is a massive political rescue of an administration which had HOURS, many hours to send a bunch of helicopters from the American Base called Sigonella in Sicily. They could have done this minutes after hearing the news of it which was immediate, yet, nothing. So from minute one they were already on containment mode. So sorry if I don't give a damn about any comment or speech Clinton and Obama might have said after the fact they stubbornly kept referring to as an overblown reaction to a moronic trailer of a movie never created.""" Wow, someone is never gonna be a playboy bunny when they grow up.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Rip Vile Rat -Volatile Power
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Sean "Vile Rat" Smith. One of those very few True Heroes
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat, you will always be remembered.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat. You will forever be remembered. Ingame and out
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    R.I.P. Vile Rat. "every rifter counts , friend"
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    o7 Vile Rat.......sleep well my friend
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    RIP Vile Rat. You're an inspiration to us all.
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