Sea of Thieves: Friendship, Folly, and Freedom

“Playing to win is a loss. Losing for fun is a win.”

Sea of Thieves: Friendship, Folly, and Freedom
Source: Press Kit.

I think that Kenneth Grahame said it best in the opening pages of Wind in the Willows:

“There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.”

Sea of Thieves is a PvE/ PvP action-adventure game first released in the spring of 2018. The game drops crews of 1–4 players onto an open map of over 75 unique islands and many gallons of open ocean. The primary gameplay loop is simple and involves finding loot, taking it back to outposts, and selling for coins and reputation. However, no voyage is guaranteed. Not only can you be sunk and lose all your loot from skeleton NPCs, megalodons, or a heavy storm, but other crews can choose to hunt you down as well and steal your hard-earned booty.

Rare Limited’s Sea of Thieves encapsulates Grahame’s exact sentiment about maritime charm. It explores the mysterious draw of the ocean and collars the foolishness and thievery of pirating scallywags.

Friendship and really bad eggs

“From what I hear of this so-called Sea of Thieves, it’s nothing but cursed crews, the blasted trading companies, and anti-social skeletons.”

Captain Jack Sparrow

A place you can be a pirate and a good man. Source: YouTube.

Somebody handed Jack false information because the Sea of Thieves is far from anti-social. The ship’s management alone calls for the cooperation of a crew, and you can spot the difference between a good and bad team from a distance. Sea battles can be full-tilt pandemonium as you patch holes, bucket water, catch the wind in the sails, steer, shoot cannons, kill boarding pirates, all in an attempt to get away or sink the enemy.

The game has an open mic system and even megaphones to amplify your voice and shout. Of course, you sail into the occasional rager or salty, sarcastic gamer who spits venom like “GG EZ” and other less friendly obscenities. Dealing with these smelly pirates is outweighed by the positive and sometimes silly social interactions. Things like crews donning pirate accents, pursuing ships blaring music at their prey, charming pirate legends who want to lend a hand, and adversaries who at the end of a battle say, “Nice fight, have a good one!”

“Playing to win is a loss. Losing for fun is a win.” Source: YouTube.

Sea of Thieves streamer PhuzzyBond said it exceptionally well, not only as applied to this game but for player vs. player gaming as a whole. Why take it so seriously? Why be malicious to others? Why get bent out of shape by a bunch of pixels? Sea of Thieves, after all,is a place where you can be a pirate and a good man.

For those who have played the game, you’ve heard the idiom “It’s called Sea of Thieves, not Sea of Friends.” While that is true, and I agree (somewhat) with the sentiment, it doesn’t mean you have to destroy every ship you see.

Source: Press Kit.

Drink up me hearties yo ho!

The concept of playing to win vs. losing for fun is an excellent reimagining of the idea of playing to win vs. playing not to lose. I have been in situations with a galleon full of treasure where my crew and I are playing not to lose…and when you do lose in those situations, you can taste the salt of the ocean. But, if you are playing to lose and just having fun, you’ve aimed your expectations elsewhere.

When logging into Sea of Thieves (or any game, really), the objective should be to have an adventure and fun. But, there is something special about this game. It truly captures some of the essences of boating and piracy. Like Grahame said, “there is nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

I had a friend reject playing this game because it “looked goofy.” I think that is part of the charm. It doesn’t take itself too seriously; besides, who would want to be an actual pirate? It’s the fantasy of pirating that draws us, not the realities. And the pirate fantasy is somewhat silly.

Some of my best experiences in this game have been undiluted foolishness. Silly things like firework shows, slaying your teammates, getting too drunk to see straight and puking on each other, playing music together, trying to sneak aboard other ships, and locking each other in the brig for minor offenses.

I am all for winning and competition, but sometimes it’s important to set different pursuits. Having fun is not lowering your goals; it’s just aiming for another target entirely. If you’re logging into Sea of Thieves expecting to succeed at every voyage, then be prepared to be disappointed because you will eventually face Davy Jones’ locker.

What a ship is, is freedom

I’d be hard-pressed to talk about piracy and not mention Pirates of The Caribbean, and since Captain Jack has recently sailed his way into the Sea of Thieves, I feel it’s a perfect reason to do so.

“Now, bring me that horizon.” Source: YouTube.

Perhaps one of the most memorable ad-libbed lines in cinematic history, Johnny Depp demonstrates how well he understands his character and what it is to be a pirate. When at last he is reunited with the wheel of his ship, he whispers to the Black Pearl, Now, bring me that horizon.

When you get past the cannons, the plundering, and the ominous sight of the Jolly Roger, the desire for freedom and the challenging authority are at the core of piracy. In 1695 Privateer Captain William Kidd was given orders by the Crown to seek out and attack pirate vessels. Upon his departure, it is said that this transpires:

“As the Adventure Galley sailed down the Thames, Kidd unaccountably failed to salute a Navy yacht at Greenwich, as custom dictated. The Navy yacht then fired a shot to make him show respect, and Kidd’s crew responded with an astounding display of impudence — by turning and slapping their backsides in [disdain].”

Whether or not Kidd was genuinely guilty of piracy is irrelevant here. The gesture perfectly displays the rowdy sea dogs who took up the hard work of sailing out to sea. Men who lived sailing outside the typical social jurisdictions. They have the freedom of the horizon and the ability to go anywhere they pleased. But also the freedom to create their own social rules.

The Golden Age of Piracy took place before the era of flight, in a time where the corners of the Earth were still uncharted and mysterious. At that time, a ship was the vehicle to freedom. No one owns the sea, and how could you? The sea is too powerful and it goes on forever, it seems. You could chase the sun until every tomorrow and never catch her.

Sea of Thieves offers that same feeling of openness and freedom on a beautifully pixelated platter. It provides so much autonomy that I’m occasionally overwhelmed with wanderlust, and I start sailing in any direction, chasing the skyline. Sea of Thieves captures the glory of both adventure and misadventure. Sink or swim, it welcomes companionship and lightness. Ultimately, for a game about thieves, the only thing this game has stolen is my heart. Thanks, Rare; I treasure this game.


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