Pirates of the Burning Sea is a game for which I have some very conflicting emotions. I’ve always been a fan of the pirate genre. I even had pictures of Errol Flynn hanging in my bedroom when I was a kid, and I read every book about historical pirates that I could get my hands on.
Unfortunately, Pirates of the Burning Sea (PotBS) doesn’t exactly live up to my expectations of what an online pirate game should entail. Don’t get me wrong – the game’s environments are gorgeous, the writing is superb, and there is a lot of fun to be had. But the actual game play is painfully repetitive. The majority of the game is spent in ship-to-ship combat, which may be a lot of fun when you’re doing open sea PvP port battles with other players, but when completing the game’s PvE missions it gets dull quick.
One unique feature in PotBS is “User Content”. Players can create flag, sail, and even ship designs, that if approved, can be used in the game. When the game first launched, the approval process for the sail and flag designs was rather haphazard. Players would upload their designs to the PotBS website where other players could vote on it. If your design received enough votes, you were allowed to use it in the game. This resulted in a lot of goofy designs that were more than a little anachronistic. Eventually, a “Steering Committee” was created to review all of the player content before it was allowed to be used. At the same time, a lot of previously accepted player content was rejected. This leads to my rather sad mermaid tale.
When the game launched, I created what I thought was a tasteful, attractive and period-appropriate sail design of a mermaid (See ‘Before’ image.) My design was quickly approved and I was happily sailing the high seas in my pink Bermuda Sloop and mermaid-patterned sails. After a few months I quit playing the game and did not return for almost a year. Upon my return I discovered that my character had been moved to another server and my mermaid sail design was nowhere to be found.
Thinking that it was a simple error caused by the server move, I resubmitted my sail design. Which was promptly REJECTED! Flabbergasted, I sent a message to the Steering Committee, asking for an explanation. I was politely told that my design had been rejected because the ‘breasts’ on my mermaid were too ‘vague’. I would need to put a pattern on the design to indicate that my mermaid was wearing a bra, or remove the ‘vaguely breast-like circles’ completely.
WTF? My poor mermaid was deemed ‘offensive’ because her breasts were too ‘vague’?
In a fit of indignation I removed the ‘breast circles’ from the design completely and resubmitted it. My ‘breast-less’ mermaid was approved (See ‘After’ image.), but I lost a lot of respect for the folks at Flying Lab Software as a result of this incident.
I realize that the developers must comply with the ESRB’s standards, which are probably a bit arbitrary at times. But PotBS is not marketing itself as a children’s game. And the game is about PIRATES for cryin’ out loud! How can shooting, stabbing, burning and pillaging be OK, but round ‘breast-like’ circles on a mermaid flag design be considered ‘offensive’? How can we have such a pronounced contradiction in our culture, where violence is more acceptable than anything remotely resembling the naked human body?
I bet Edward Teach would have been amused.