The Lookout

Murdered State Department official Sean Smith was influential online gamer

Eric Pfeiffer
The Lookout

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An image from the online game Eve Online (Wikicommons)

Today, the U.S. is recoiling from the tragic news that Sean Smith, a State Department official, was one of four individuals killed in a rocket attack in Libya. The U.S. ambassador to Libya was also among those who died.

Smith, a foreign service information management officer, had a sphere of influence that extended far beyond the realm of real-world diplomacy: He was also a respected and hugely influential figure in the world of online gaming.

For much of the past decade, Smith was an avid player of Eve Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). The game has more than 400,000 players, who take on roles as warriors, strategists and even diplomats in a science-fiction setting.

Alex Gianturco, aka "The Mittani," one of Smith's Eve Online colleagues, has written a moving tribute to his fallen friend, who went by the online moniker "Vile Rat."

Smith was online chatting with Gianturco shortly before he was killed in Benghazi. The two men, who had known each other for more than six years, had met several times in person and considered themselves close friends both online and in the real world.

"Many were injured in these pointless, reprehensible acts, and one of my closest friends was killed as a result," Gianturco wrote.

Gianturco posted excerpts from his final chat with Smith, including this chilling message:

(12:54:09 PM) vile_rat: assuming we don't die tonight. We saw one of our 'police' that guard the compound taking pictures

Gianturco writes that Smith's dark humor was nothing new; he had been stationed in other potentially dire situations before.

"The last time he did something like this, he was in Baghdad in 2007 or 2008," Gianturco wrote. "He would be on jabber [an instant messaging service], then say something like 'incoming' and vanish for a while as the Kayatushas came down from Sadr City."

Unfortunately, this time was much different.

"He was on jabber when it happened," Gianturco writes. "In Baghdad the same kind of thing happened - incoming sirens, he'd vanish, we'd freak out and he'd come back ok after a bit. This time he said ... 'GUNFIRE' and then disconnected and never returned.

"Then the major media began reporting on the consulate and embassy attacks in Libya and Egypt, and I freaked out and then it turned out that it was my friend of six years who helped build this alliance into what it is today since, the very beginning, starting out as one of my agents and growing to become the single most influential diplomat in the history of Eve, or perhaps of any online game," Gianturco writes.

For those unfamiliar with the world of MMORPG, Gianturco explains that Smith's real-world skills as a State Department official translated to the online game he loved.

The website Eurogamer has posted an interview with Ned Coker of CCP, makers of Eve Online:

"I can tell you that CCP and its employees are overwhelmingly saddened by the news of Sean Smith's passing, as we are when we learn of any player who is tragically lost," Coker said. "Many of us interacted with him professionally and personally and, honestly, it feels like our words are lost adrift--amongst such a tremendous, soul-affirming outpouring from the EVE community. The CSM, of which he is an alumni, will be posting a guest dev blog in his honor."

Smith served as an official diplomat in Eve Online, serving on the Council of Stellar Management, Eve Online's player-elected board.

"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. No one focused as relentlessly on using diplomacy as a strategic tool as VR," Gianturco wrote.

"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.

"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 wrote.

Interestingly, Smith was also a respected debate and discussions moderator on the Something Awful site. Readers there have also been posting testimonials in his honor.

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