If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that pirates are awesome. My fascination with the Golden Age of Piracy (1650 until around 1726) really began when I was at university and decided to write an independent study on the wreck of Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. I found the subject of piracy so interesting that I chose to write my final year dissertation on the pirate port of Port Royal, Jamaica.
Golden Age pirates were without a doubt criminals, and many were bloodthirsty murderers, but there is something about their lives of freedom on the Seven Seas that people have found captivating ever since Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. This book is also responsible, however, for popularising a whole host of pirate cliches that still dominate our perceptions of these figures today. Buried treasure sure is an alluring concept, though in reality it was a rare practice, and as cool as plank-walking might seem, the single recorded incidence of it wasn’t carried out by pirates. Talk Like A Pirate Day may be a fun diversion on 19th September, but of course real pirates didn’t actually talk like pirates at all.
I’m sorry if it disappoints you to learn that pirates weren’t as yar-har-fiddle-di-dee as you might have previously thought, but the reality of piracy is far more enthralling than a couple of swashbuckling types with stripy shirts, eye patches, peg legs and hook hands.
Did you know, for example, that Blackbeard never killed a single person before the battle that ended his life? He instead created a terrifying persona, growing a huge, monstrous black beard, lighting fuses in his hair and spreading stories about how he was the Devil incarnate. He was known to take some of the men down to the hold, close all the hatches and set fire to gunpowder, filling the space with thick smoke for a game of last man standing. He would always be the last man, sat calmly in the corner, breathing in the smoke like a beast from hell:
‘Let us make a hell of our own, and try how long we can bear it.’
As mothers tucked their children into their beds, they would say ‘beware Blackbeard, for he will take your soul’, telling them horrific stories of the man called Edward Teach in order to scare them into being good boys and girls. Even Blackbeard’s own crew swore he had supernatural attributes, reportedly seeing strange shadows and ghostly apparitions on the ship.
As you probably assumed, Teach was not a demon, but simply a very clever man. He knew the power of reputation, spreading the Blackbeard myth to instill a crippling fear into anyone who might come across him. If you saw a ship approaching yours flying the Jolly Roger of Satan himself, a dark man standing on the deck with smoke billowing out of his flaming head, you would give him what he wanted. Blackbeard never killed anyone because he didn’t need to.
With pirates being as awesome as they are, they’re a natural fit for video games. That said, I feel that to this date the ultimate pirate game still doesn’t exist. The wildly successful Sid Meier’s Pirates! came close for many (regrettably I am still yet to play it), though most modern gamers will be familiar with pirating through the lauded Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
AC IV puts players into the fancy boots of pirate Edward Kenway, who in series tradition joins the ever-present Assassin Order to war with the equally ever-present Templars. The game gives you command over a ship, The Jackdaw, and a shanty-loving crew and allows you to sail the Caribbean, battling and plundering other vessels on the high seas. It was barrels of rum – uh, I mean – fun, but it was still emphatically an Assassin’s Creed game rather than a straight pirate game, requiring you to progress through Edward’s linear story rather than experiencing the true freedom of piracy.
Edward Kenway in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
It is with this in mind that I have come up with the features that I would have in my dream pirate game. If this were to be made, it would be the pirate game to end all pirate games, the holy grail of virtual sea doggery. Without sacrificing fun and exciting gameplay, it would be an accurate representation of piratical life and allow muggins in his mum’s basement to experience the immersive thrills of being a savvy, scurvy-ridden lad with a cutlass and a rag-tag band of drunk, toothless cutthroats at his side. This is the past. This is the future. This is the past colliding with the future. This is the… puture. Ahem. Full sail ahead. (more…)