The life and death of EVE Online's first all-woman pirate gang

EVE Online isn't just a boy's club. It's a boy's universe. The first time Mynxee spoke over voice comms to her corpmates, that reality sunk in. She was nearly 50 years old at the time and had spent her entire life on a farm. The silence that followed as heads spun with the realization that there was a woman in their midst might have been off-putting. Mynxee found it hilarious. "When you're bossing 1,500 pound animals around for most of your life, you don't really consider people much of a challenge," she says, laughing. 

In an MMO that was reported in 2013 to be 96 percent male, players like Mynxee are rare. Undaunted by this fact, she decided to find that other 4 percent and help them take on the galaxy. For two years back in 2008, Mynxee ran EVE's first band of raucous pirate women, all searching for the thrill of a kill in hostile low-sec space.

A pirate's life 

If there's one defining moment in every EVE Online pilot's career, it's the first time they spill another player's blood. If you're not in the captain's chair, the sensation is impossible to grasp. Behind the overly complex user interface and hopelessly abstract graphics (ships often appear as just an icon on your heads-up display) is one of the most adrenaline-pumping experiences in videogames. "I had absolute heart palpitations," Mynxee says. "It was very intense emotionally. I think part of it is that it's like completing a really complex, time sensitive puzzle, and getting it right."

Or, to put it more simply: It's like defusing a bomb.

You micromanage your ship, cycling repair modules while eyeing your capacitor levels and maneuvering to stay within your guns' optimal range while trying to avoid the optimal range of your enemy. And God help you if the transversal velocity of the enemy ship (how fast it moves in a direct line across your screen) exceeds the rate at which your guns can automatically track it. It's the paralzying realization that you're risking your ship—potentially months of hard work—against another player and not knowing if you'll come out alive. It's the sensation that told Mynxee it was time to break bad.

I was flying into low-sec. I jumped in and there was a gatecamp, and I was immediately blown up.

Mynxee

"Before then, I was just a little carebear," Mynxee laughs. She tells me about her second day in the virtual galaxy of New Eden and how terrified she was to jump through a stargate because she thought players on the other end might yell at her as if she just waltzed straight into someone's living room. But as she slowly adjusted to life in space, she did what most new players did: she mined, she hauled goods between player-run markets, and she saved up for an expensive ship that she couldn't afford to replace.

And then Mynxee learned that her initial fears about stargates weren't actually misplaced. "I had purchased this new Thorax and I was so proud of it," she tells me. "I was flying into low-sec. I jumped in and there was a gatecamp, and I was immediately blown up." 

Players will often camp at the far end of a stargate and ambush anyone who comes through.

Mynxee has just had her first encounter with EVE Online's most nefarious players: pirates. Beyond the safety of high-security space, where an omnipotent computer-controlled police force imposes law, are the frontier systems of low-sec. These pockets of space are infamously full of pirates, gankers, and travelers heading toward the vast swathes of null-sec, where player-run empires battle for sovereignty over star systems. Pirates in EVE mimic our romanticized versions of real-world pirates a great deal. They're silver-tongued rogues who will never pass up an opportunity to thieve and kill, but they're not without their own code of honor.

Fortunately, EVE Online's pilots are physically located inside of 'pods' that sit inside the ships they control. When a ship is destroyed, their pod emerges undamaged and has a brief moment to escape. If not, the enemies might set their guns on you and properly end your life, giving you a quick trip back to the medical bay of some distant starbase. Mynxee managed to escape just in time. "I was stunned and I didn't even know what happened. And when I came to my senses seconds later, I went to the station and docked up. I was mad, too."

After conversing with the low-sec locals, Mynxee decided it was time for a career change. She created a new character from scratch (called Mynxee, which became her main identity), began the laboriously long training regimen to bring her PvP skills up to snuff, and then applied to a local pirate band called Death of Virtue. It was with them that Mynxee had her first true kill, a helpless miner. It wasn't much of a prize, but Mynxee didn't care. "It was amazing," she says. "I felt awesome, like I was unstoppable."

In that moment, Mynxee became a true pirate.

No country for old women 

Over the next several months, Mynxee made a name for herself among the low-sec systems that she haunted. She hopped around from corporation to corporation, hoping to find one that offered her that same thrill she felt murdering that first miner. While she enjoyed those she flew with, she often felt like they set their sights too low. Some pirates gangs wouldn't do much more than take "opportunity kills," waiting at a gate and popping any weak ships that came through. They were vultures, and she wanted to fly with hawks. She began roaming low-sec by herself, looking for fights. 

The more Mynxee traveled the dangerous reaches of low-sec, the more she came to understand the people who lived there. "It's a raucous crowd," she says affectionately. "When you're on comms, it was the typical frat boy behavior—very sexual, jokey behavior. But I'm as good at that as anybody. I'll step up to the table, I'm not shy. I grew up as a punk rocker. I'm no prude."

Mynxee's reputation as a loud-mouthed pirate also began to spread. But she tells me that while her demeanor made her a good match for the raunchy pirate gangs of low-sec, not every woman fit in so well. "I just never made a secret of [my gender] because I just didn't really care," Mynxee explains. "And so people would tell other women new players to reach out to me. EVE Online also has a large transgender community, as far as I could tell. Over time I got to know a few women who were newer players in the game and who were not comfortable in that environment."

After her restless wandering, Mynxee saw a solution: She would form her own gang of women and do things her way. Enter Hellcats.

"My real goal was to provide a place where women felt comfortable talking about girl stuff without guys who just sit there in sort of polite, sort of annoyed silence wondering when the subject is going to turn into something more interesting." The idea was that Hellcats could be an incubator for new players who identified as women and were interested in being outlaws. Under Mynxee's tutelage, they could learn to hold their own in low-sec like she did.

We were who we were. It wasn't about fitting in, it was about having fun and having our own self-identifying group and culture.

Mynxee

In its first few months, Hellcats made a splash in New Eden. Word spread quickly of a gang of badasses roaming through pockets of low-sec like a Mad Max-style biker gang. But in a universe dominated by men, the fact that a few 'yarr girls' had banded together to cause chaos was met with a more 'that's cute' attitude than actual respect—or so Mynxee believes. "I think they just thought we were a novelty," she speculates. "We had some respectable kills, flew respectable ships, and we were pretty skilled. But I don't really know because I didn't ask or care. We were who we were. It wasn't about fitting in, it was about having fun and having our own self-identifying group and culture."

But Hellcats did have respect in some circles. Being a niche within a niche, the corporation only mustered around 30 pilots—hardly enough to field impressive fleets. To compensate, the yarr girls often flew beside famous pirate gangs like The Bastards and The Tuskers. It was a time when EVE Online felt more like a wild frontier. Though the game had been out for nearly five years in 2008, it was still incredibly niche and player density was sparse. It was the kind of time when your name and the reputation associated with it really meant something. Today, with the option to play for free, EVE is a very different kind of game. "We went on roams and I had a few women who were hilariously fearless," Mynxee says. "Me and my one friend, Venom Orchid, and another guy named Hallen Turik would bust down a low-sec [highway] in our Rifters and just be crazy. We'd take impossible fights." 

Rifters are a favorite in EVE Online PVP. They're rickety, sure, but reliable frigates.

The low-sec pirates of EVE might seem intimidating if you've got a cargo hold full of precious goods, but they're also a community that respect one another. "The pirate corps were competitive and would kill each other, but when there was something big to take down, then we would rally. There was sort of a camaraderie in those days that I don't know even exists anymore."

Mynxee recalls one particular moment when a local pirate managed to get the jump on an Aeon-class supercarrier tucked away in a hiding spot. These behemoths are worth tens of billions of ISK and are rarely on their own without backup. This one was. Like sharks drawn to the scent of blood, pirates flocked to it. "He rallied all the low-sec pirates in the area to come and help kill it," she says.

It was a good time to be a woman and a pirate, Mynxee says. And without boys in their gang to dampen things, each Hellcat could let their personality shine. "We were all kind of randy in nature," Mynxee laughs. "But there was more of an expectation that you were going to be more respectful of your fellow members and not cause drama. I'd seen enough drama in other corporations that I just wanted nothing to do with it."

Drama, drama 

During the two years that Hellcats were active, the corporation never grew beyond a few dozen members. While Mynxee admits she never had grandiose plans of a women warband burning low-sec mercantile routes to the ground, it was still a disappointment. Her dream of turning newbies into barbarous outlaws had become a massive drain on resources and effort for little return. What few brand new recruits she did get often left for greener pastures or promptly decided that, yup, EVE Online was definitely not for them. "It was very small, and it's very hard to keep activity up with a group that size," Mynxee says sadly. "That's why we started flying with The Bastards and The Tuskers. We needed to have some action going on because we just didn't have enough members."

A lot of new players who were women did not want to reveal the fact that they were a woman.

Mynxee

It was an idea that sounded amazing on paper, but the demographics of EVE Online—the four percent of non-male players—just couldn't sustain it. When Mynxee talked to women in other corps to try and recruit them, she found many were happy and weren't looking for a change. But she also ran into something more tragic: There were women in EVE who hated the idea of making their gender public. While it's common to see feminine avatars, like in any MMO, it's also common that those avatars are played by people who identify as men. Being revealed as an anything other than that was, Mynxee suspects, scary to a lot of women. "A lot of new players who were women did not want to reveal the fact that they were a woman," Mynxee says. "I think they were fearful."

And maybe they were right to be. Despite EVE being a partly inclusive community of science fiction nerds (recently the community condemned a player for speaking out against an LGBT meetup), it still has its very ugly downsides (as some of the comments here show). Mynxee tells me from the moment she started Hellcats, the in-game hatemail began streaming in. "Some people thought I was sexist, and some people just hated me. I would get hate mail from people saying 'You just think you're all that because you're a female, but you're an idiot and you don't know what you're doing.' It was totally unsolicited. I'd just read them and delete them—anyone who has the time to write an email like that has bigger problems." 

Part of Hellcats' vision was a culture that would help insulate its players from that kind of harassment, but the far simpler solution was to not wear their gender on their sleeve in the first place. It's a choice that Mynxee sympathizes with despite never being bothered by it personally.

Making matters worse, Hellcats' tight-knit group of women weren't immune to the same faults that plague even the most well-structured corporations. Drama and infighting were becoming more common, and Mynxee says she grew tired of mediating arguments and working fruitlessly to expand the corporation. Hellcats had made its mark on New Eden, but it was becoming apparent she needed a change. And on March 24, 2010—nearly two and a half years after Hellcats was born—Mynxee resigned her role as CEO and left the corp to find her own greener pasture.

I ask Mynxee how it felt to leave her dream behind: "I did feel guilty, yeah," she admits. "But we had dropped a few members and people just weren't very active. They were adults, they had kids and jobs, they just couldn't devote that much time to EVE Online. I felt bad that my idea and my community didn't grow as much as I hoped it would. What I really wanted to create was sort of a pirate incubator with experienced pilots that were women and that would also bring in new players who were women so they could get a good start in the game and that would buffer all of the crap that they would eventually have to deal with. It just didn't work that way. We just didn't have enough people."

Turning leaf 

Mynxee left for Noir, a gang of cutthroat mercenaries who hiked all over New Eden pursuing bounties from their employers. It was a good time, she says, but the lifestyle was too vagrant to suit her needs. Mynxee then went on to serve in EVE's Council of Stellar Management, a taskforce of democratically elected pilots who lobby CCP to make changes according to the wants of their respective constituents. She was the candidate who represented the needs of the treacherous low-sec populus. It was an impossibly hard job that ultimately burned Mynxee out on EVE altogether.

I imagine that the legend grew larger than the facts because I was very visible and a female.

Mynxee

When she returned nearly three and a half years later, she hung up her rogue cloak and started doing some serious good for EVE Online. Today, she is the CEO of Signal Cartel, a band of neutral explorers who chart the fatal pathways of wormhole space to rescue players who might be stranded there. While Signal Cartel is a gender neutral corp, Mynxee has finally found a place to grow a community. "We take in a lot of new players, give them a good start, and then they more often than not gravitate to other play styles and leave us. But we have a fairly large group of pilots who are committed to our cause and have been members for a long time."

Mynxee has also become one of EVE's most celebrated and recognized pilots. She hosts panels at its fan conventions and guest stars on various podcasts. Her days of busting down low-sec highways in a rickety Rifter might be behind her, but her Hellcat reputation still lingers in the community. She finds it baffling. "I'm kind of at a loss why I have this notorious reputation as a pirate," she admits. "My accomplishments as such were honestly fairly mundane. I imagine that the legend grew larger than the facts because I was very visible and a female."