Sid Meier’s Pirates: A swashbuckling visit to the Spanish Main
By Ben Hathaway
I spent the summer of 1993 anticipating the mysteries of secondary school. They were innocent, halcyon days, a summer or two too early to be tempted by the succulent embrace of Colt 45 cider or lighting a cigarette via a magnifying glass, and I was focused on two things alone; attempting to replicate the Dutch maestros of AC Milan in the park and sailing ships around the Spanish Main courtesy of Sid Meier’s Pirates.
Playing Pirates in those stolen weeks of childhood was a history lesson in itself. I recall choosing the name, nationality, the era and, effectively, a career choice. This was many moons prior to the horrors of actual career choices! Long before weltschmerz would take its grip, here I was with this blank canvas of swashbuckling adventure. Sid allowed you to navigate a vast arena and be whoever you wanted to be. Choose violence, choose diplomacy, choose trade, choose f***ing it all up and rotting in a French jail on a tinpot Caribbean island.
“Choose violence, choose trade, choose diplomacy, choose f***ing it all up and rotting in a French jail”
You found yourself marauding around Hispaniola and the Yucatan Peninsula, in search of power, fame, money and love. Some men wanted to join your crew and others came with news of long-lost treasure maps that were hidden at the end of the earth (usually Bermuda, to be honest). There was so much to do in this wonderous world of yesteryear, so many plates to juggle as you turned the Spanish navy against you whilst earning commendations from the Dutch. This adult experience for a non-adult gleamed doubloons and cutlass strokes, crashing barques into pinnacles. It allowed you to build a movie star existence for the Tyler Durden of 1680.
It was all so grand and psychologically engaging but needed to be with doses of several hours a day. Other games at the time appeared to be homogenising, converging on each other in a race to fire guns at one another’s faces in an orgy of bloodshed. There was a time and a place for this but nothing felt quite like sailing due south and running into an enemy Frigate, these baroque beasts of the sea with cannons and flags. The adrenaline pumped as you hunted them down whilst avoiding their howitzers which hummed black, pixelated cannonballs towards your humble sloop.
“It was all so grand and psychologically enhahing but needed to be with doses of several hours a day”
After plundering the frigate I sailed onto Trinidad where I sold the bounty to merchants for cold hard cash. I entered the tavern to recruit men, gossip and catch the eye of the local wench, be she the governor’s daughter, resplendent in glittering jewels, or the tavernkeeper’s daughter. This was the only way it could be. In 1993, I was Captain Van Basten of Cartagena; English baron, Dutch marquess and scourge of the Spanish and French. As an eleven years old, it was some life.