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Vile Rat
  • March 01, 2013 : 11:03
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Smith grew up in a middle-class suburb of San Diego, an only child raised by a single mom. Despite his technical chops and ham radio hobby, he was no pencil-necked geek. He had a passion for Chargers football and motorcycles, eventually getting himself a Harley Sportster. After graduating from high school, he joined the Air Force, where he worked on ground radio maintenance and, during his six-year stint, became a staff sergeant.

It was during this time that he found his other home, online, at SomethingAwful.com, a comedy website that lampoons pop culture (featuring, for example, a series of titles for the porn versions of film classics, such as Rear Windhole). He hung out with other die-hard fans of the site in the Something Awful forums, where they called themselves Goons.

But the Goons didn’t just sharpen their spears for goofy websites. They were serious gamers. And as Smith soon learned, few games seemed riper for conquest than a new one called Eve Online. The Goons began to trickle into the game, and soon they numbered in the thousands. As their power grew, the game began to trickle into their lives away from their computers. When one early leader left the Goons, rumors flew that he had stolen currency from his teammates. In retaliation they hacked into his e-mail. They found nude pictures of him and faxed photos of his penis to his office.

Goons also began to organize off-line meet-ups. During one, Smith met with some of the guys in Washington, D.C. They drank, talked politics and ribbed one another as most men do. “He was soft-spoken but a guy you would listen to,” remembers Touborg.

There was a reason for Smith’s quiet resolve. One day he let slip that when he wasn’t fighting wars in Eve, he was working as a State operative in real life. To prove it, “I’d make him show me his diplomatic-immunity badge,” recalls Sean Conover, a fellow Goon and the security director at CCP. But that was as much as he’d get from Smith. “He was pretty hush-hush,” Conover says. “For him to tell me details while sitting in the Green Zone would be a pretty big deal. He had rockets lobbed at him every day. He plugged into a video game to not have to deal with that.”

“Fuck mortars,” Smith typed to his buddies in Eve. “Sirens again God dammit.”

Smith was in Iraq, in his fifth year working with the State Department. Hearing the bombs fall around him was becoming routine. It was also wearing on his family. One day while talking with his mother, he suddenly went silent, then came back some minutes later.

“What’s happening over there?” she asked.

“Listen,” he replied and held out his phone.

His mother could hear explosions in the distance. As hard as it was, she tried to accept the dangers he faced in the line of service. “I can’t spend my life worrying about it,” she later recalled. “I accepted what he wanted to do.”

Smith tried to make the most of his time in the war zone despite the 11-hour days. The situation in Iraq was beyond tense. The 2003 U.S.-led invasion had toppled Saddam Hussein’s government, leaving a power vacuum in the region. Tribal warfare raged. The State Department in Baghdad had the unenviable task of steering political negotiations toward a peaceful regime that would work according to Washington’s interests in the region. Meanwhile the death toll mounted by the day. Suicide bombers killed hundreds in the first half of 2008 alone, and it seemed only a matter of time before someone targeted the U.S. consulate.

“We lived in shitty trailers and ate some kickass food,” Smith later recalled. “This is the best job I can even dream up,” he said on another occasion. “You do things every day, then you see it on CNN later.” And another time: “Places are unimportant; people make the place in this line of work,” he wrote. “The best post could be a living hell if your Ambassador/DCM/MGMT are bad, but the worst hellhole on the planet could be the place you always remember as your favorite post if the community is awesome.”

A huge Obama supporter, Smith was known to go around slapping Obama stickers on Republicans’ desks. For fun, the guys would grab a jeep and joyride into Baghdad to hit up the shops and restaurants. “It’s a college party atmosphere,” as he put it. “If you’re spending that much time in your apartment, you’ll be that weird shut-in guy. Don’t be that guy (it’s not healthy!).”

To help survive the insanity of life in a war zone, he escaped into battles in Eve, where he could apply what he was learning in real-life diplomacy to fueling the Goons’ conquests. In Iraq he was observing firsthand how the U.S. was handling diplomatic efforts in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s removal: increasing security in Baghdad, engaging in talks with Syria and Iran, joining forces with Iraqi tribe leaders to fight militants.

The Iraq war was directly mirroring the biggest battle ever in Eve, known as the Great War. As fellow Goon Gianturco describes it, the Great War was “a three-year grudge fuck between two blocs”—the Goons and a group called the Band of Brothers. As nerdy as an online war sounds, it’s addictive for the players. The Great War was all about conquest, about which alliance would become the most powerful in the game.

Vile Rat sought peace where others sought war. “A lot of people think spaceships drew him to Eve,” recalls his friend James Lohman, a 36-year-old computer-security specialist known in Eve as Digi. “But it was the politics, the espionage.” And as a leader of the Goons, Smith decided to apply his real-life skills to the problems. “He created his own diplomatic section that was modeled on what he’d learned in the State Department,” says Gianturco.

With more than 10,000 Goons to manage, Smith spent hours a day communicating with his fellow online diplomats, analyzing chat logs, examining intelligence. He created the Corps Diplomatique, based on his experience in the State Department. It was structured as a group consisting of chief and junior representatives. Getting into the Corps wasn’t easy. Smith made prospective diplomats go through a demanding application process. They had to write essays and analyze political history. They had required reading: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, The 48 Laws of Power, How to Win Friends and Influence People. They also had to pass tests on solving diplomatic challenges.

Eve’s reputation for attracting real-life hackers, diplomats and military personnel extends deep into the game’s subculture. While Smith was negotiating for greater democracy within the virtual world, he was also recruiting the brightest gamers for real-life jobs with the State Department.

“He was one of State’s best advocates for getting people onboard,” Lohman says. “If he liked you and knew you decently enough, he’d do everything he could to talk you through the application process. The thing about Sean is that he loved his job very, very much. He loved the people and believed in the mission—the diplomatic mission, bringing democracy to people who don’t have it but want it, keeping foreign relations intact.”

“Can I offer a dissenting opinion on this one?”

It was March 2012 and Smith was taking his turn at the microphone alongside eight other leaders on a stage in Iceland. He wore a black Fanfest T-shirt pulled over a white one and had a bottle of beer before him. Smith had no idea, of course, that he had less than six months to live.

The occasion was the annual Eve Online Fanfest, a gathering for hundreds of the most hard-core players from around the world, none more hard-core than Smith and the other guys on the dais. They were the elected representatives of the Council of Stellar Management, a group of players responsible for conveying the concerns of the Eve community to the developers at CCP in Iceland.

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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
    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.
  • 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
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