Risk and space combat in EVE aren't the same thing and I can think of a numerous examples where the two aren't even related. This may seem pretty obvious to you, but sometimes I get the impression it isn't so obvious to everyone.
Recent blogs by Rixx Javix, Arianne Stone and Ripard Teg touched on the issue once again. Before I get into this any further I'll quickly outline my one position on the subject;
I think nobody should ever be forced to PvP in EVE and I also be believe everyone should always be at risk in EVE.
If people don't want to PvP I don't think there's any problem with that. You can't (and shouldn't want to) force people to do things they don't enjoy in their leisure time, like when say they're playing EVE. Furthermore trying to run away is a completely valid choice when spaceship PvP does occur. Any PvP'ers that want to deny that are welcome to do so, but I would ask that you never ever undock a kiting ship ever again or be branded a massive a hypocrite. Your nano's and overdrives on those kiting ships serve at least in part the same function as warp core stabs on a carebears industrial, they allow you to attempt to leave an encounter with another player on your terms.
What makes EVE unique however and what makes EVE, well EVE, is that it's a harsh cold and unforgiving universe where at any given time anything you own that isn't in a station can be destroyed by other players. And for as far as I'm concerned you accepted that risk when you chose to play an 'always on PvP' game. It's not like CCP hides this fact in their advertising of the game, quite the opposite even.
Once you've logged in you are under permanent threat in New Eden, regardless of whether you undocked in 0.0, lowsec, empire space or didn't even undock at all. The day that changes is the day EVE loses its way and ceases to be EVE. Risk in EVE should never be a choice, it should always be a fact of life in New Eden.
This ever present threat (risk) is not however necessarily related to
(non-)consensual player combat involving spaceships. Risk in EVE comes
in many other guises among them are theft, contract scams, margin trade
scams, the charging of 'protection money', outright blackmail and numerous other interactions that we would in our real lives likely consider to be some form of crime.
On the sandbox and types of gameplay
EVE maybe a 'PvP always on' game it is not however just a 'PvP game'. EVE is a sandbox game and besides PvP offers many other modes of gameplay. It has what is easily the richest and most complex crafting gameplay of any mmorpg in existence, EVE's players call it industry and it's the primary (or even only) activity of many of New Edens residents. And then there's also a questing system in the shape of missions, exploration, wormhole sleeper sites and incursions (EVE's equivalent of raid content).
Almost everybody somewhat competent at EVE, be they raving carebear, hardened PvP'er or a mixture of both tends to go through some amount effort to try and reduce the amount of risk involved in whatever game activity they are involved with at the time, it is intrinsic to the 'feel' of EVE.
PvP'ers tend to gather as much intel as they can on their opponents, by scouting them out in space, looking at their killboards, scrutinizing their fits from previous losses or even attempting to place outright spies in an enemies PvP organization. I could come up with many other examples of actions they take to try and maximize their chances of winning and minimizing the risk involved in engaging other players.
Industrialists likewise minimize risk, they make sure they read contracts four times before accepting them, compare market data snapshots from various points in time to make sure nobody is manipulating the price of a product. They equip cloaking devices stabs and agility tanks to their haulers, they check the activity times of the local PvP'ers and try to avoid those hours for moving stuff. They make sure they don't place their research POS'es on moons with valuable minerals or near highly territorial PvP'ers. And I can name numerous other things that I myself and most other industrialists have done in the past to minimize the risks to assets and activities.
Mission runners, explorers, wormholers and incursion runners religiously read the wealth of websites related those activities, develop communities to increase the availability of skilled fleet mates, minimize 'downtime' and in the case of non-empire incursion runners and wormholers develop an uncanny ability for sneakiness in combination with some (or even significant) PvP skills of their own in order to be successful.
Risk != PvP
When I read rants by fellow PvP'ers (for I count myself primarily amongst their ranks) about the perceived risk averseness of their intended targets I always frown and sometimes even cringe a little.
When an industrialist jumps his transport ship into lowsec or 0.0, he did not consent to PvP (he is almost certainly hoping to not get involved in it most likely) he consented to the increased risk of loss and destruction of his assets however as compared to hisec. Much the same is true of players in faction warfare who run the plexes but have no intention of engaging other players. They probably have some other equally legitimate motivation (like making ISK or roleplaying). By going into space where they are more likely to encounter PvP'ers and are not under CONCORD protection they again consented to an increase in risk.
What neither of these players in my examples agreed to however is being willing participants in space combat with other players. And they are for as far as I am concerned well within their rights to adjust their behaviour and to equip their ships in such a manner as to optimise them for being able to avoid combat, if that best suits their goals. Just being in a dangerous environment even if you are there by choice, still isn't quite the same as consenting to being a willing victim of, or participant in violence and the possible destruction of your assets.
The opposite is also true however, a PvP'er that can manage to catch an industrialist or fw plexer is well within his/her right to explode them. New Eden isn't the kind of place where anybody gives a fuck about whether or not you consented to violence after all, and if you do get caught you're probably going to get exploded. That too is part of the sandbox.
It is the threat of player induced loss be it in ships or otherwise, anywhere at any time that makes EVE great. It is that threat that makes you worry a little every time you jump a hauler into Uedama. It is that threat that makes you feel relieved your barge is still there every time you look up from your book. It is that threat that makes you feel mildly uncomfortable flying your blingy Vargur in 0.5 space. It is that threat that makes you feel happy that neutral in local didn't turn out to be your opponents Falcon alt after all. It is that very sense of danger and unpredictability that makes EVE so addictive and worth logging into over other mmorps.
We should be on guard to make sure that sense of danger never goes away from EVE, because when it does EVE will no longer be EVE. We should also however keenly remember that we should not want to try and dictate what acceptable gameplay is to other players in the sandbox. Provided they accept a certain minimum amount of risk. They don't log in for our amusement after all, but for their own.