The struggle to maintain EVE Online's only graveyard

The Molea Cemetery, surrounded by thousands of "graves."

Deep in EVE Online, in the backwater system of Molea, you'll find something unlike anything else in all of its virtual galaxy. Orbiting the first moon of Molea II is a player-owned starbase, and floating around that starbase are over a thousand graves. Some hold the corpse of a player’s character who died, and many others hold no corpse at all, tributes to real people who passed away. 

“Here Lies Jelica Zajc, 1929-2017, Loved Grandmother - RIP,” reads one of the markers.

“Here Lies Choronzon Eaterofworls RIP 1977-2017 I’m devistated,” reads another.

This is EVE Online’s first and only cemetery. It might not be stunning to look at, but it’s the product of nine years of effort by just one pilot. Their name is Azia Burgi, and they’re the only gravekeeper in EVE Online.

Keeper for the dead 

For almost a decade, Azia has been working with a small group of players to maintain and protect the site. Originally, the EVE Cemetery was a place where Azia would bury the corpses left behind when EVE players die in combat, but more recently it has become a place for players to leave some small marker for those they’ve lost in real life. “It still stuns me,” Azia tells me on Steam. They never expected their little hobby would become a celebrated and revered landmark in EVE. “It was just something that nobody else seemed to be doing so I thought I'd have a go and see what happened.”

I press a little harder, and Azia admits they don’t really know why they started the site. Back in EVE’s earlier years, there was a cathedral-like object that CCP placed in the system of Kor Azor. Azia decided that, like all good churches, it should have its own gravesite. And so they set about scooping up random corpses left behind by pirates and EVE’s other ruffians. “Kor Azor was a couple of jumps from [low security space], and few of us would go jump into there for mining and we'd scoop the remains from player pirate fights,” they write.

Later, due to changes CCP made to how long objects can be stored in space, Azia decided to move the cemetery to Molea. A few friends from major player alliances decided to donate some of the corpses they had stored up, and then word spread of Azia’s mission. “Suddenly I was the person who collected corpses.”

There is no such thing as a proper grave in EVE Online, so Azia makes due. Each corpse is placed into a cargo container named after the deceased clone and jettisoned into space surrounding the cemetery’s starbase. The sight of a thousand corpses floating in tin cans around a blue forcefield is as beautiful as it is strange.

One the earlier screenshots of the cemetery circa 2009.

In a sandbox MMO, where players can be anything from propagandists to scammers, Azia’s career choice is unique. For one, there’s no material reward. Azia isn’t making money from the countless hours they’ve dedicated to maintaining the site. And, what’s more perplexing, is that death in EVE Online isn’t permanent. Characters leave behind a corpse, sure, but their consciousness is instantly transferred into an identical clone. Dying can still be devastating, as the ship you’re flying, the cargo you’re carrying, and the implants hardwired into your clone are often big investments that vanish in a heartbeat. But a corpse? Few characters care about these.

But for some reason Azia does. As more corpses were donated to the cemetery, Azia’s workload became more and more daunting. In true EVE Online fashion, they even set up a website and spreadsheet to track all of the burials. To date, there are about 1,746 graves, though some have been destroyed or disappeared. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg: 25,000 corpses remain in storage that they have yet to bury. Azia says that, several years ago when they were most active, interning bodies would eat up hours of every night.

When Azia decided to advertise their project on the EVE forums almost a decade ago, players began to take interest and started pilgrimages from all over New Eden to see it. And before long, the cemetery became one of the top tourist destinations in EVE. 

But EVE being EVE, not everyone has come with pure intentions.

Desecration 

Few things are permanent in EVE Online. Massive player alliances can crumble to dust in hours and longstanding starbases are eventually razed by enemies. To manage server lag, CCP Games created rules where most objects will despawn after a certain number of days unless they’re within proximity of a player-owned starbase. The celestial bodies of New Eden are the only permanent, static objects in the universe. Azia’s cemetery remaining where it has for a decade is almost a miracle—but that’s not for a lack of anyone trying to dismantle it.

In 2008, the infamous Goonswarm Alliance launched their 'Jihadswarm,' an all-out assault where Goonswarm pilots will attack helpless miners or swarm EVE’s trade hub systems and destroy anyone who tries to enter. But during the 2008 crusade, they had a new target: The Molea Cemetery.

 “It was heartbreaking,” Azia writes.

In order to prevent the cargo canisters from disappearing automatically, they must be jettisoned near the starbase that Azia built and continues to fuel. If the base is destroyed, the canisters will disappear after a number of days. “I'd gone to university and had to wait a week or two for my internet to be installed,” Azia says. “They took that chance to attack. I got an email from a friend saying that Goonswarm had declared war on us. There was not much I could do.”

It was heartbreaking.

Azia Burgi

That day, hundreds of Goonswarm pilots arrived to desecrate the cemetery and destroy the tower. Its automated defenses were powerless to stop the horde. In a public statement, their leader said the desecration was done in the name of religious freedom. “I doubt any of the ‘tenants’ had the opportunity to state their [religious] beliefs before they were dragged into this prison. It is my duty as leader of JihadSwarm to enforce the moral standards of the one true god.”

But in reality, it was merely a bit of rhetoric used to justify cruelly destroying one person’s hard work.

“JihadSwarm pilots [managed] to steal dozens of corpses and desecrate several of the empty caskets with such phrases as ‘xiut was here’ and ‘can’t stop the fofo,’” reads a report published by CPP at the time. “Of the 700 caskets originally anchored, only a hundred or so still remain.”

“There was a period of about three days after the destruction of the starbase where some friends worked in shifts to re-intern about 500 graves,” Azia says.

When Jihadswarm came back a second time, Azia was ready. They rounded up a small squadron of friends and attempted to defend the cemetery against the hundreds of invading Goons. The starbase was destroyed again, but Azia and their gravekeepers managed to save most of the graves from being desecrated.

Peace and quiet 

In the years since, things have been relatively quiet around the cemetery. Azia no longer plays EVE as often, so the responsibility of keeping the starbase fueled and online has largely fallen on the shoulders of Linara Faerin, who has been assisting Azia for years now. Since Linara’s time, word of the Molea Cemetery has spread, and, more recently, it has become a place where pilots leave their own canisters as markers for loved ones who have passed away in the real world. “I guess someone heard about the cemetery and thought, well, why not do the real world memorials there?” Linara tells me over Skype. “They’re more than welcome to continue doing that as long as there’s no fighting go on and people are decent about it.”

I spent the last week in EVE Online waiting at the cemetery in hopes of running into someone leaving a memorial, but these days it’s pretty quiet. I ran into one pirate who I was worried might try and destroy some of the graves as a sick joke, but instead we chatted about the cemetery. He likes to visit it as a place to cool down between acts of skullduggery.

But it’s possible that this site will soon cease to exist and this lonewolf pilot will need to find a new place to hang out. Last year, CCP Games launched the Citadels expansion, introducing a new class of starbase that will, eventually, replace the current model like the Molea Cemetery. The game systems governing these new Citadels are entirely different, however, and both Azia and Linara are worried that this will mean the mausoleum will disappear forever.

The community created the cemetery, so we’ll be reaching out to the groundskeepers to make sure that we do what’s best for the site, its history and its meaning to our players.

Paul Elsy, EVE Online community manager

I spoke with community manager Paul Elsy to see if CCP had any plans to help preserve the cemetery. “With changes coming to infrastructure in EVE, including the retirement of [player-owned starbases], we’re obviously going to have to consider the future of the cemetery and what we can continue to do to support it and preserve the legacy of the site going forward,” Elsy said in an email. “Player history and permanence is a huge part of the narrative of EVE Online, and we want to make sure that we preserve and protect the history and legacy of our players. We’ll be looking to engage with the community and figure out how best to tackle the situation. The community created the cemetery, so we’ll be reaching out to the groundskeepers to make sure that we do what’s best for the site, its history and its meaning to our players.”

Elsy’s statement gives me hope that the cemetery will continue to exist. Staring at the thousands of canisters as they float in space, I realize that this cemetery isn’t just unique to EVE Online but MMOs as a whole. In a galaxy bloodied by murder and betrayal, it’s comforting to know at least a few players are concerned about what comes after.