The Games That Made Us Gamers: Sid Meier’s Pirates!

“The Games That Made Us Gamers” is a series of special-edition retrospectives running throughout the week of this year’s Celebration of Games. The BnB team and fellow guest contributors are sharing their origin stories as they look back and remember the interactive experiences that turned them to the world of joysticks and keyboards.

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Living the Life

I would have done anything for Mother England...

In 2005, I was merely a foolish and awkward thirteen year old boy, trying to make his way through the early stages of life without any serious mishaps. I had several hobbies at that time – I was very much into reading, which was unusual to most of my friends, and I was also interested in videogames as a pastime, something that my friends could grasp slightly more easily.

I had got through the original PlayStation, the original Xbox, and was now living with a PlayStation 2, which rarely came into contact with me. Feeling robbed of my then-favourite game, Halo, I doubted that any Sony attempt could satisfy me. So I did something that is rare for teenage boys – I went outside. It was through going outside that I met some of the most important friends I’ve ever made, both IRL and my gaming life.

But obviously, Mother Britannia was not going to let me give up on gaming so soon. Rain buffeted me, and my best friend and I were banished to his house by the powers that be. It was this imprisonment that led us on one dull afternoon to dig out a copy of Sid Meier’s Pirates! on PC.

All Hands on Deck

The premise of the game was very simple – as a young boy, you witness your family being kidnapped by an unidentified tyrant, and you spend the rest of the game raping, pillaging and plundering the Caribbean in order to get them back. Just without the raping.

Most of the gameplay is divided into three very simple sections; the main and yet most dull section is the sailing, in which you direct your single ship or fleet to and from important destinations made famous in Pirates of the Caribbean. Examples of these include Tortuga and Port Royale, neither of which, I can tell you, were accurately portrayed in the film (I spent some time searching in futility for Keira Knightley). The second, and definitely most fun part of the gameplay is the swashbuckling swordfights, which can occur either when you stop in a port and are not welcome, or when you decide that you like the look of another boat, and you want it. The third and final (main) section of gameplay is coming onto land, where you can either bombard or enter a port, visit taverns and chat up maidens, speak with the governor and chat up his daughter, or trade with a merchant, where normally no chatting up is done.

Regrettably, Pirates! taught me everything I know about women.

When I played this game, it was with my good friend Sam, and we would both huddle around his computer and take it in turns to guide the ship around, cut down a scallywag, or recruit some new crew on land. The only part of the game I rarely experienced was the instances where you were invited to the ball by a governor’s daughter – I was never good at dancing on or off the computer. But by splitting up the gameplay and enjoying the company of my best friend, I found that there could be a very social side to gaming too. In other multiplayer games I had experienced, there was little strategy involved, and so there was little communication. But with Pirates!, I found myself getting to know my friend better (turns out he likes to loot prosperous ports).

The game, needless to say, dominated my 2005, especially as I felt left behind, considering it had been released in 1987 and 2004. I would frequently meet up with Sam to continue where we had left off, recovering family members or finding buried treasure. It really was the life, and I certainly wouldn’t be the gamer I was today, and probably not the person, if not for the copious amounts of time I spent watching Sam navigate the ocean, waiting for my turn to attack a ship. Sid Meier’s Pirates! not only forged one of the most important and persistent friendships I’ve ever known, but it also got me back with a screen in front of me, a keyboard and mouse at hand, and my little mind-cogs clicking into place as I witnessed the magnificence that I had foolishly left behind to go outside and play.

Set the Sails

The game was easy to play, but challenging enough that it made it all worthwhile. It was fun enough to just roam around and attack places with no consequences, but there was also a storyline that could be followed at your leisure. And if you got stuck, well, I found the game fun enough that if I got stuck, I could start all over again, perhaps changing my attitude towards the French or Spanish or Dutch, maybe attacking less places or more places as I felt like it, and coming up with a new and ever more pompous name for my character, e.g. Reginald or Carlton.

These days, I can get through a swordfight in four seconds flat.

The game had so much replay value, to the point that we had about five different saved games that we were playing all at once. If we got to a point where we thought the story was getting boring, or we didn’t quite know what to do next, we’d load one of our other characters, attack some places, make some money, then go back and figure it out with refreshed vigor.

Even now, the game plays a part in my life – I recently bought an iPad, and it was among the first wave of apps I bought for it. Pirates! is on the top row of my iPad apps, simply because I don’t want to have to scroll very far to get to it. It’s an easy game to get into, but hard to ignore once you’ve been sucked in.

It certainly wasn’t the first game I ever played, and it isn’t my favourite game ever, but it is certainly the game that made me a gamer – it took me away from the great outdoors and fresh air, and turned me into the bedroom-dwelling stereotype that I am today.

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