Sea of Dreams
It’s been nearly two weeks since Sea of Thieves set sail on Xbox One and PC and it turns out being a pirate is pretty damn fun. But, the pirate life isn’t for everyone. Whilst Sea of Thieves has been tickling the pirate fantasies for some, others are exclaiming that the game is boring. And I have a theory – the game isn’t boring, gamers are. This isn’t some playground riposte, nor do I have enough evidence to back up this lofty claim, so stay with me here.
The very first video games were based largely on real-life activities. Misc. sports were the first to get digital makeovers with the most famous being Pong. With each of these games, there was a definitive winner and loser based on who had the most points. In fact, most of the early games focused on getting a high score to win. Once video game systems became more common in households there was also a shift in creativity. Games were no longer based on real-life mechanics and instead offered up something different. The rise of platform gaming saw a change from competitive gameplay, and the tracking of a score was very much pushed into the background. But platform games still had a definitive goal. Instead of earning points, gamers gained a sense of achievement by making it to the end of a level. These two types of games have coexisted for a long time, exposing us to the idea that games have to have a goal to be a game. Whilst we play games for the enjoyment it feels empty if we aren’t rewarded with high scores, completing levels or beating a friend. We’re so used to this input/output system of play that when a game challenges this method of play we aren’t sure how to handle it.
Enter Sea of Thieves, a game that does exactly that. Its reception hasn’t been favourable with the main negative being that there isn’t much to do. And that’s technically correct if you look at the game in a traditional sense. There’s no narrative, no background for your character and missions are present but bare, if not plentiful. Yet for all its “downfalls” it offers something many games do not. It offers true sandbox gameplay.
Sandbox games are those in which you’re given free reigns of a virtual playground to do whatever you chose. The term itself [sandbox] is a reference to your childhood sandbox, a play zone where you assume the role of creator. If you were like me you’d spend hours playing with action figures, toys and sticks in this metaphorical sandbox (I didn’t have one personally). These playthings barely functioned, save posable limbs or plastic launching mechanics which would become redundant after the first shot due to missing pieces. The joy of playing with them, though, was that you’d be able to craft an adventure from nothing. You could go on epic escapades (usually up and down the stairs) and direct stories and narrative by using the power of your imagination. And this is something that Sea of Thieves wants you to do. It wants you to go back to that child-like mental state of being able to create your own stories. It’s a game that begs to be played from your imagination but because we’re so wrapped up in games needing a “point”, it’s difficult for us to adapt to it. We play games for many reasons but without purpose, it feels like a wasted task.
It all sounds incredibly grandiose, I know that, but there is evidence of this not only from Sea of Thieves but other titles before it. No Man’s Sky is a prime example of this. There were other issues with No Man’s Sky launch that lent to its negative reception but it too was described as being hollow. But that wasn’t the case. In a similar vein to Sea of Thieves, No Man’s Sky gave you a playground, albeit near infinite in size, and it was up to you to find enjoyment in it. The game gave you the opportunity to do whatever you chose. Whether you assumed the role of a pirate, attacking Freighters or kept it low-key as an explorer focusing on zoology or botany, was your choice. There was no following of orders or sticking to a path etched into the game’s design. And this true of Sea of Thieves. There are no rules. You can play exactly how you want to. You can pitch up at an Outpost and offer to help folks for the exchange of treasure. You can decide to sail the seas, plundering all that come across your path. Heck, you can even unwind on the sea and simply relax. The game allows you to do this but it doesn’t force it upon you. We [gamers] need to tap into that child-like state again and dream up these scenarios, but we don’t, because, simply put, we are boring.
It’s difficult to combat something that we’ve become accustomed to but if we cast those ideas [of how a game should be] aside and tap into our meaty think boxes we’ll only find enjoyment. Don’t mistake my half-baked rambling as an excuse for some genuine complaints that gamers have for Sea of Thieves. Instead, see it as an observation of our habits as gamers. I feel that we’re lost without the mechanics that we’ve grown used to in video games and as a result dismiss otherwise genuinely great experiences. Sea of Thieves isn’t the perfect game. It’s the perfect opportunity to embrace your inner child and have fun. Forget what you know about games, set sail and enjoy yourselves. And at the end of the day if you still don’t enjoy it you can go always go back to Call of Duty 26.