A few years ago, as part of my work on the Elite Dangerous Roleplaying Game (EDRPG), I wrote a set of short stories which are still available on the EDRPG website as adventure hooks for gamesmasters. One of those stories was a continuation of the story of Dentara Rast and the uprising on Tiliala. This was part of the plot of Frontier: First Encounters, released in 1995, and set in the 3250s. One of the key story missions of the game was ‘Assassinate Dentara Rast’.
To give an idea of the context: Frontier: First Encounters had a news bulletin system which would update as the player travelled through the galaxy. At each space station you would get the latest news. Dentara Rast was often featured in news bulletins as he led an independence movement for Tiliala and attempted to thwart the work of the local government of the system by fair means or foul. Eventually, the player was provided with an opportunity to intervene, through the mission, to end Rast’s campaign against the authorities. This mission helped resolve the war between the major Elite factions, the puppet government, and the Tiliala Independence Movement.
With Elite Dangerous sharing the same fictional universe but set in 3300 AD, and with little or no story content connected to the old mission, what became of Dentara Rast’s family after his execution seemed like a good story to tell.
So, I began researching like I do with most stories — by firing up Google and seeing what I could find.
Immediately, I was in for a shock.
Eve Online is not a game I play. I was interested in playing it when it first came out, but never wanted to subscribe to an MMO, so the game passed me by. It turns out there was a wholly different story connected to the name ‘Dentara Rast’. If you’re a player of the game, you may have heard of it. If not, here’s what happened.
In early 2006, an Eve Online player going by the name of Cally set up the EVE Investment Bank (EIB). This was a semi in-game entity that allowed players to trade the game’s currency — ISK, short for Interstellar Kredit — for real money. Like many legitimate currencies, ISK has a conversion rate to US dollars and, like many games before and since, that conversion rate has been maintained through player demand on the system.
The bank expanded throughout that year. The convenience of using a dedicated trade platform and providing account information where players could see how much they had accrued is an attractive lure. Generally people invest in things when they have confidence in them, and EIB was a trusted, efficient, and attractive platform for their exchanges.
By August 2006, the EIB had made itself part of the furniture for EVE players. According to reports at the time, it (and therefore Cally) had managed to acquire nearly 800 billion ISK. At that point, the bank suddenly went down and Cally’s account disappeared, leaving behind a ten-minute video explaining the heist. The player behind the Cally account had run off with all of the in-game currency — worth around $100,000 if it could be exchanged. Of course, the number one exchange platform had just vanished, never to be seen again.
At the time, the event generated quite a stir. The forums were alive with complaining players who had been tricked by Cally. Magazine websites like Ars Technica covered the incident, stressing that technically, since ISK had no official value outside of the game, Cally had not committed a crime. But the boundaries between the real world and the fictional universe of EVE had been bent by the ISK-to-dollar trade and now they were broken as people affected by the heist voiced their anger and hurt. The action was not seen as a legitimate, in-game, player-versus-player attack. It was seen as a real-world betrayal; a moral crime that went beyond the bounds of acceptable play.
But the decision of players to establish a value for ISK and continue to trade it for real money meant that Cally’s ill gotten gains would retain value. All the thief needed to do was stay hidden until the whole scandal blew over.
At this point CCP Games, the owners of EVE Online, might have been expected to intervene. However, the company stated that Cally had not broken the terms and conditions of the End User License Agreement (EULA) and that the action, whilst disreputable, was legitimate. The company did act through its moderators to remove the online confession video Cally posted owing to its use of profanity and sought to regulate discussions on the EVE Online forums.
Within days, a thread appeared claiming that the player behind Cally was called Kieron, that he lived in England, and had died of a cardiac arrest or been sent to prison after a fight in a bar, or both. Perhaps these stories were true.
Another story emerged after a concerted player investigation. This postulated the idea that the character known as Cally’s real name was ‘Dentara Rast’.
The person behind the EIB scandal was clearly a shrewd space sim player. Dentara Rast was obviously not the real name of Cally, but it was an obscure enough reference to fool a whole generation of EVE players. A few forum posters did make the connection, finding references to the Frontier: First Encounters mission, but the majority took the bait and believed they’d found the culprit. Either Cally/Dentara knew their history and decided to leave players another pseudonym behind the existing identities that would act as a rare joke for any space sim fans in the know, or someone else — determined to ride on the notoriety of the event and create a smokescreen — decided to make up the connection.
‘Dentara Rast’ — famed freedom fighter, terrorist and gangster of the Tiliala Independence movement in the Elite/Frontier universe — flips into another reality and becomes the criminal mastermind of the EVE Online universe. Alternatively, a lifelong Elite/Frontier fan decides to play EVE Online as a substitute for their old favourite and leaves a final calling card to the EVE players that they duped, leading them back to the rival game franchise. Of course, Elite Dangerous wouldn’t be released for another eight years, so at the time, there was no rivalry between the two franchises — but now, both are MMOs vying for the attention of players who have similar interests.
At the same time, the fan communities of each title have very different perceptions of the name. To EVE players, talking about Dentara resurrects a boogieman; to Elite players, the name is unlikely to be recognised, unless the players in the conversation are steeped in the lore and history of the game universe.
Looking back on an event that took place thirteen years ago is difficult. Many of the internet sources that covered what happened at the time have disappeared, but enough fragments remain to give an indication of the anger and pain associated with the actions of Cally/Dentara. Summaries of what transpired appear in several lists of ‘best internet scams ever’ and the perpetrator will likely never be caught. The 790 billion ISK could have been gradually transferred into real currency through eBay sales or registration and transfer on similar successor sites to EIB. It’s possible that buried somewhere in the databases of CCP Games are enough details to find out the true identity of Cally/Dentara, who acted in the true tradition of the fictional Rast family as both a gangster and a terrorist.
Whoever it was, they created a myth and that myth has a life of its own beyond the games and the players themselves. That myth will remain, no matter what the instigator of the heist does with the rest of their lives. In many ways, the truth of what happened no longer matters. The legend has outgrown fact and become something else — a part of the internet’s timeline of events that will continue to grow and recede in equal measure.
Well played, Dentara Rast. Well played.