When the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked by protesters Tuesday, killing four Americans, initial reporting on the tragedy largely focused on the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. But now the gaming community also mourns in its own special way, because it turns out one of the four Americans was a prominent and respected online gamer.
By day, he was Sean Smith, a husband, father, Air Force veteran and foreign service information management officer for the consulate. But by night, he was Vile Rat, one of the most influential gamers in the popular sci-fi MMORPG EVE Online. As a senior diplomat for one of the game's most powerful guilds, Goonswarm, Smith was a highly influential player who, according to fellow gamers, helped shape the modern face of EVE and often served on the game's Council of Stellar Management.
Smith was actually online shortly before his death, according to fellow gamer and longtime friend Alex Gianturco, aka "The Mittani." Among the last things he typed before he disconnected was the word 'GUNFIRE,' which Gianturco noted had happened before when Smith served in other dangerous places abroad, including Baghdad. But this time, Smith never logged back on.
On Wednesday, Gianturco took to his website to write a tribute to his lost friend and brother in virtual arms.
"If you were an alliance leader of any consequence, you spoke to Vile Rat. 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 closed his tribute by noting that, though many only knew Smith through a game, he still left a mark on all of them.
"I'm clearly in shock as I write this as everything is buzzing around my head funnily and I feel kind of 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. It seems kind of trivial to praise a husband, father, and overall badass for his skills in an internet spaceship game but that's how most of us know him, so there you go."
Gianturco's was just one of a number of tributes to Smith that are still flooding the 'net. Threads have popped up on the EVE forums and the Something Awful forums, where Smith was a moderator, memorializing him. Fellow gamers have begun renaming outposts in the EVE universe in his honor. A Something Awful admin has also begun organizing a fundraiser for Smith's family, which you can learn about here.
This is one of those times where people who like to tell gamers to "get a life" should take notice. Sean Smith is proof that you can make a real impact across the world in an almost entirely virtual community, and that community is letting the world know that they won't forget him.