By Nichola Groom
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Online gamers around the world took to the web on Wednesday to mourn the death of Sean Smith, an avid gamer who was one of four Americans killed in a U.S. consulate attack in Libya.
Known by the online moniker "Vile Rat," Smith was a major participant in the multi-player role-playing game Eve Online, which has a single online universe where hundreds of thousands of players interact together.
In real life, Smith served as an information technology specialist at the consulate and worked with U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who also was killed in the attack.
Stevens, Smith and two other Americans were killed late Tuesday at the U.S. consulate and a safe house in the southern city of Benghazi, stormed by gunmen who blame America for a film they say insulted the Prophet Mohammad.
Married and a father of two, Smith joined the State Department 10 years ago. He previously held posts in Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal and The Hague, the agency said.
But Smith, highly regarded in the online gaming world, was best known online for his skill making deals and brokering treaties in "Vile Rat."
"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," his friend and fellow Eve Online gamer Alex "The Mittani" Gianturco wrote in a tribute to Smith posted on his web site.
Smith posted in Eve Online forums and communicated with fellow gamers just before his death.
"Assuming we don't die tonight. We saw one of our 'police' that guard the compound taking pictures," Smith wrote to Gianturco, who remembered the roughly 34-year-old as a diplomat both in real life and in the Eve Online community.
"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," Gianturco wrote. "No one focused as relentlessly on using diplomacy as a strategic tool as VR."
So-called massive multi-player games such as "Eve Online" allow thousands of people to play simultaneously over the Internet and interact in an online world in real time.
Smith had played under the character "Vile Rat" since January 2006, according to CCP spokesman Ned Coker, and served as a diplomat for one of the game's largest alliances.
"He was a really well-known in-game personality," Coker said, adding that Smith was elected to serve on a council of players who represent the player base to the game's developers.
The game has about 400,000 subscribers worldwide, and by Wednesday morning dozens of space outposts in its sprawling science fiction world had been renamed in memory of Vile Rat.
Reactions to Smith's death also poured in on social media and on Eve Online forums.
"Really weird to have RL and eve intersect like this. RIP Vile Rat," Twitter user mark726 tweeted.
A tribute video made by members of a rival Eve Online alliance also circulated around the web, displaying text over a recording of Gary Jules' "Mad World."
"If we can put aside our differences in EVE maybe there is hope that one day we can do it in the real world as well. Until then we will miss our comrade our brother ... our friend," the text on the video read.
(Reporting By Nichola Groom; Additional reporting by Liana Baker; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Todd Eastham)