The ship is on the fire. Again.
In fact, now I’m on fire. It’s bad. We’re roughly an hour into a three hour loot Sea of Thieves and death has come to my door for the umpteenth time. I should, as the game indicates, offer my soul to the passer, but luckily my teammate revives me (again) and we resume our painful efforts not to sink. It would be less embarrassing if it weren’t broadcast live on Tic, but being mortified in front of your friends has always been half the fun of the game. (Law?)
This is also what happens when you haven’t played a video game for ten years or so. I loved games – and I always feed a Mario kart habit – but it hasn’t been part of my media feed for a long time. Yet recently he called me again. Maybe it was an advanced stage Covid-19 lockdown discomfort, but like in a real mermaid song, the game called me here, on the deck of a digital ship, hoping to revive itself.
It all started in January. I had recently been caught in the TikTok Sea Chantey Craze and apparently didn’t know when to shut up about it. Somehow, I became the go-to person on Slack when someone wanted to talk about 19th century seafaring songs. Eventually my hype fell on the ears of Games Editor Saira Mueller and she suggested it would be fun if we asked the UK group a cappella. Longest Johns join us on Twitch to play Sea of Thieves and sing a few songs. “Sure!” I said, knowing full well that I could only do one of these things for sure. I walked forward thinking the Johns were far away.
The group sent me an email in an hour: “Yes, we would love to.” Oh. At this point, I started to panic. Not only did I know nothing about the game Sea of Thieves, I didn’t own a PC either. Or an Xbox. Or anything to play on. Or know how to stream. I have one Razer Blade 15, charge Xbox Game Pass, and tried not to let my sweaty palms smear the laptop’s shimmering rainbow keyboard.
The learning curve on Sea of Thieves took about four days to overcome. (The damage to my dignity took a lot longer to heal.) Half of it was just learning the strikes and commands; the other half were familiar with using a PC after 16 years of using a Mac. Did you know that the two-finger swipe that lets you scroll down on a Mac will get your sword out on Sea of Thieves? I’m doing it now! He will also collect your pistol. (My apologies to the various traders I accidentally shot.) I found myself googling “How to eat a banana, Sea of Thieves“, And once, frantically,” swimming video game ?! The latter did not produce the expected results. But, like a pirate who sees a duplicate in the sand, I picked it up.
I was not, however, ready to play for three hours with seasoned players. I know it now. Still, when I jumped online to stream with The Longest Johns, that’s exactly what we did. Fortunately, they took pity. Jonathan “JD” Darley channeled instructions on how to use the buckets when the ship was flooded and tossed my slumped corpse more times than I could count. We’ve unearthed treasures, made sales, and wiped out Flameheart’s ghost ships.
We also sang. Back when the craze for songs by the sea took off, the Longest Johns gained attention because in 2018 they had recorded a version of “Soon May the Wellerman Come”, which was the track. most people on TikTok were singing. During our Twitch stream, we sang this one and many more, including a song I had never heard called ‘Here’s a Health for the Business’, which, in a somewhat poetic twist, is about enjoying the moments before they pass. “Let’s drink and be merry, all sorrow that we abstain,” said the choir, “for we might or might never see each other here again. It was, says Darley, “a dedication to the uniqueness of every time you sing and hang out with people.”
The game has changed so much since I quit playing that I have often worried that it has long exceeded my skill level. I can’t play like Saira, or even the average teenager, but I’m glad it hasn’t been impossible to come back to the button crush years after my last attempt. And to realize that sometimes, in the last days of a pandemic, it helps to appreciate where you are because you will never go back there again.