A recent attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya killed one American ambassador and three other diplomats, including information management officer Sean Smith. While the event was reported on by major media outlets like the BBC and New York Times, the first people to learn of Smith's death were his fellow EVE Online players. According to infamous EVE Online player Alex "The Mittani" Gianturco, Smith — who played under the handle "Vile Rat" — would regularly play the game while stationed abroad. In fact, he was chatting to his fellow players on Jabber when the attack happened.

"This time he... disconnected and never returned."

"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," says Gianturco. "This time he said ‘FUCK' and ‘GUNFIRE' and then disconnected and never returned." Gianturco describes Smith as "the single most influential diplomat in the history of EVE, or perhaps of any online game," explaining that he had a major influence on crafting the virtual world — "pretty much the shape of the galaxy today was his doing" he tweeted.

Meanwhile, the response from the game's community has been swift — the Spacemonkey Alliance created a memorial video, a number of in-game space stations have been renamed in Smith's honor, and EVE developer CCP even issued a statement about the tragedy. "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," CCP's Ned Coker told Eurogamer. A fundraiser is expected to launch shortly to help support Smith's surviving family.

Update: the fundraiser is now live.