You might imagine that being in a dark, underground interview room with three crimson-robed men and their leader who claims to be a revolutionary intergalactic pontiff would be an uncomfortable experience. And yet all who’ve met the Space Pope know that he’s not to be feared. To the contrary, Charles White, NASA scientist x EVE superstar, is one of the warmest, funniest, and most sincere people I’ve had the pleasure to interview.
He has an innate skill for steering conversations from the lighthearted to the deeply emotional and back again in a way that would be jarring were it not for his fatherly yet mischievous aura. Within the community, he’s well known for conducting EVE player weddings, reaching out to isolated players with the Sixth Empire, and getting up to various hijinks as head of a faith.
Along with his disciples, he was joined by his wife this year. We asked you, the veteran Just About EVE community, to send us your questions for his holiness and had the chance to put them to him at Fanfest 2023, although - as audiences with his holiness often do - the conversation at times found its own path.
Just About: Our first question comes from your good friend Rixx Javix. How far do you believe we need to go to ensure that EVE is a safe and welcoming community of players, both in game and out, without losing the elements of EVE that make it unique?
Charles ‘Space Pope’ White: “I call it the poker face solution. When you’re playing poker, a bunch of mates come to your house and you play for a pot. You deceive each other until the end of the evening when somebody walks out with all the money. They don’t steal from you. They don’t stab you. But they do take your money. Then, after a while, you go out and get beers together again.”
And that’s the environment that EVE needs to be?
“Exactly. I shoot Stuart over there nods at one of his robed disciples right in his face because he betrayed me in the game. But out of the game, we’re friends. We travel to each other’s houses. I’ve had players from Germany stay in my bedroom.”
“The extra bedroom!” his wife clarifies.
“Yes, the extra bedroom. Best to be clear about that. Long story short, EVE needs to be a safe space on the outside, but on the inside…right in the face!”
The next question comes from Keacte: what’s your favourite ship and why?
“I have two. First up, the Abaddon. BECAUSE IT LOOKS SO AWESOME. If CCP changes the Abaddon, I’m going to be so mad because it’s a classic bulk starship, and I absolutely love it. Functionally though, I love the Paladin, because I do a lot of missions in the Paladin. When you go into its triage mode, it’s just a real tank! So the Paladin is operationally my favourite, whereas the Abaddon is emotionally my favourite.”
“Wait, I thought of a third. The Amarr Apostle is just so unique. Chribba and I are the only two capital ship owners in the Amarrian system. So when I undock the Apostle, this giant capital ship, people are like ‘Say whaaaat?’ But CCP allows it. I have a licence to fly an Apostle. I bring it out for the New Year celebrations.”
Talking of your Apostle, Brother Grimoire wants to know if you’d ever consider blowing up your popemobile for a good cause?
“Possibly. I have considered it, but I’m not ready - it’s still so much fun. When I get close to retirement, I would work with CCP to try to do a fundraiser for say AbleGamers. That would be my papal sacrifice. But I’m not done yet!”
Great choice. Kane Carnifex asks whether you have experienced the gaming community becoming colder? Have we lost the ‘we’re all gamers’ mindset?
“I haven’t experienced that. We will always see the disgruntled few. And they will always make the biggest noise and stink. But we’ll always fart that out.”
The empty kettle makes the most noise, as my grandmother says.
“There you go. You know, in my position as pope, I hear stories that others don’t. I hardly play EVE anymore, but it’s this community that keeps me going worldwide. I may be going to London next year, maybe Amsterdam, maybe Germany, and maybe even Australia. I’m travelling with my diocese, just listening to these stories. It’s amazing. So we may hear more of the stink, but we also hear more of the kindness. The stink will always be there, but my faith is still within the kindness of the poker players.”
How do you plan on bringing Minmatar within the faith and the fold? That’s a question from Squizz Caphinator.
“Easy. So we’re talking about the Sixth Empire. I’m the co-founder, and the other co-founder is Minmatar. So in the lore, Max found forgiveness of the Minmatar that killed his wife. His ahem in-game wife. He came to the conclusion that it’s the empires trying to manipulate the capsuleers into endlessly dying. So I’m all about trying to free the Minmatar slaves.
“The whole concept of the name Sixth Empire is because there were five empires in EVE, with Jove being the fifth. Well, I maintain that we as capsuleers should rise up. We’re immortal; we could take control of the entire cluster and do away with the empires and their slavery.
“If we fight for resources, that fight should be among us. We can give massive rewards to those who fly with us. According to lore, human crews who fly with me only fly for ten missions, and then they can retire for life if they survive - which they probably won’t because I kind of suck.”
Maybe it’s your robes, but I’m feeling the need to confess that this next question from Salartarium pushes the boundaries of my EVE lore knowledge. Could a warclone such as the Imperial Paladin “Templar One” be brought back into communion with the Amarr Church? What of the other laymen who fought planetside in the name of the throne?
“Oh wow, yeah, that’s an impressively advanced lore topic. That’s a question for Amarr, and I don’t speak for Amarr. But they’re welcome within the Sixth Empire. Long question; short answer.”
Schadsquatch asks, when can we expect to see the second coming of Bob for the faithful?
“The second coming of Bob for the faithful. Gosh. Soon™. Sorry Schadsquatch, that was the shortest answer ever. Poor guy.”
How did your Fanfest talk go?
“Oh my god, it was off the scale. It was a ten out of ten. We were ready five minutes early, killing time when someone yelled ‘tell a joke’. So I told a pope joke, and I think it really warmed up the audience. There was just so much laughter and lightheartedness throughout. We also talked about some heavier issues. People were tearing up and crying. It was very touching.
“They wouldn’t let me leave afterwards. CCP was shoving us out of the door, but there were so many comments and questions. I can’t wait to see the video because when I’m in the zone, who knows what I’ve said. I remember at one point shouting, ‘God dammit, why are we all here? We’re on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic for a three-day infomercial!’ I’m curious to see if CCP edits that out.”
“It’s always amazing to hear the stories of how the community has helped save people’s lives. There are many stories like this, as we discussed last time we met. But the story that comes to mind is that of a woman called Julia.
“Without the community, she would have passed 12 years ago, because a doctor told her she had an inoperable brain tumour. She was actually saying goodbye to everybody in the game. Then one of the guys said, ‘That’s bull! Drive 900 kilometres to my neurosurgeon. He will save you.’ And she did. And he did. So there I was on stage telling this story, and I had the pleasure of saying ‘Julia, stand up. This is Julia everybody.’”
“And I also told Rixx Javix’s story. Because he was knocked down to the ground; he lost everything. He had a $200m company filled with some 40 employees who had become his friends. When he lost the company, he had to lay off those friends. There were legal complications surrounding his separation with his wife at the same time, and then his computer crashed cutting him off from his EVE lifeline, artwork, and important files.
“So he launched a GoFundMe campaign, and there was a little backlash at first, with players claiming that he was trying to profit off it all. But he really wasn’t, he was just trying to get back on his feet. They’d repossessed his car, everything. The community realised that, they rallied, and they came through for him. Within 24 hours, he’d met his funding goal to get a new computer, and ever since he’s been paying it back ten times over. He’s been hosting EVE events, he’s part of game design, all sorts. And he’s beloved.
“EVE changed his life. EVE changed Julia’s life. EVE changed Reload’s life over there. And it changed mine. All of these things, they’re beyond pixels. And that was the title of my talk. EVE is beyond pixels. It changes us.”
Our next question is by Swagger Olacar, and it’s simply ‘What is your wisdom?’
“Oof, that’s good. Data is ones and zeros. That has to be interpreted to become information. Information has to be interpreted to become knowledge. But knowledge is not enough. That too has to be interpreted to become wisdom. And so that’s the pyramid that I live by. That goes for my professional role too, it’s in my title. I was the deputy chief knowledge officer when you interviewed me last year. Now I’m a senior knowledge analyst.
“Wisdom is banking on knowledge that has to be validated through truthful information that comes from bits and bytes. That’s true wherever those bits and bytes reside, even in the analogue world. So that’s my wisdom. But it can all be boiled down to being humble, taking advantage of opportunities when you can, and recognising that there’s always a bit of luck.
“It seems sometimes the four-word questions lead to the longest answers, and the longest questions to the shortest answers.”
I have one final question from the community. And maybe I’ll be verbose in its asking so as to prompt a short answer. This one is from Wadd Enderas who I suspect was also in a mischievous mood when he asked it. I’m a bit embarrassed to ask this, but I’m naught but a servant to our bounty system: What is your honest opinion of Alex as an interviewer?
“I made him cry. So therefore he must be a good soul.”
A space pope’s blessing! Those are all of our community questions, so maybe we could finish by just talking about how things are with you. How has your year been?
“Actually, the last year was hard for me. I had temporary blindness for over a month due to a medical condition. There was a good chance it was going to be permanent. It was very hard to deal with; I’d lost sight in one eye. There was maybe a 10% chance I’d be able to see again. But luckily it came back.
“Plus, last year at Fanfest, I caught COVID. This year has been full of long-COVID based feelings. The muscles in both of my legs, it’s as if they’ve been stretched like a rubber band. No matter how much exercise I do, I can’t rebuild them. So just walking has been a challenge.
“So health challenges, even at 63, just emphasise the value of being kind, you know? I take that wisdom and try to get more people to understand that ‘Your clock’s ticking too. You have the ability to be an angel or a demon in this present heaven now, so choose wisely. I choose as best I can to be an angel.
“I feel blessed. Not by any entity, I feel blessed by the cosmos. At NASA, we put rovers on Mars and spaceships through the A and B rings of Saturn. Yet the human body is so complex that doctors practise medicine while I do science on planets. So when a doctor says to me ‘You’ve lost your eyesight forever’, I’m like ‘No. No I haven’t. It’s a best guess for you, and I won’t lose hope.’”
Some questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. You can find the original questions at the bounty post.
We’re currently in talks with his holiness concerning a Space Pope’s bounty. Stay tuned.