Vast, Lonely, and Full of Possibility: Oceans in Video Games
I was very excited to see Critical Distance’s Blog of the Round Table theme this month, because (1) I’d been itching to write about Destiny 2 and this gives me the perfect chance and (2) I think this is an absolutely fascinating topic that I hadn’t thought nearly enough about.
Water levels, aquatic power, sunken treasure, mystery and monsters dwelling in another world way, way down. This month we want you to write about how games and play intersect with oceans: either the literal oceans that games physically and culturally cross in their development and distribution or the figurative kind that are traversed in play. What are the water temples that pique your sense of wonder? How do distances shape your feelings about an online match with a friend living abroad? Are there any impassable stretches of sea or calls to adventure that speak to you most particularly? This month tell us all about Oceans.
Oceans have been on my mind lately. In Destiny 2, players go to a world called Titan, that is essentially a series of rigs built over an enormous methane ocean. There is surprisingly little lore (and even fewer pictures) about Titan online, but from what I’ve read, it’s modeled after one of Saturn’s moons. In the game, the moon is littered with ruins of a human civilization. The place is as stunning as it is terrifying. As a player, you’re tasked with navigating these enormous metal structures, where one wrong move means a long fall into the ocean.
The first time I went to Titan I had to stop playing and just take in the scenery (not something I do often, or ever). Destiny 2 has certainly delivered on beautiful landscapes, often haunted by ruins and death, of course. But Titan brings this combination of beauty and terror to another level. The enormous ocean waves continue to pound the broken structures of humanity and you fight enemies around every corner, trying to save your race. Haunting, terrifying, beautiful.
This moon is why I’ve been thinking about oceans in games lately, which got me thinking about my old buddy, World of Warcraft. Oceans fulfilled a practical purpose, it represented the edges of the zone or continent, but they also represented (sometimes hidden) possibility. For example, it’s difficult to get to Azurmyst Isle as horde. But there is a narrow spot you can swim from Rut’theran village, even though technically it’s “deep water.” You will have just enough life to live through the swim until you get to the island’s shallow water.
Maybe it’s not the most exciting revelation of all time, but I think it’s worth contemplating: oceans represent both possibility and death. They have mysteries; you never know if you’ll find an island with untold treasures, new enemies, or nothing at all.
It makes me think of Reepicheep in CS Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In order to break the enchantment that has plagued them, they must sail to the end of the world and leave someone behind. Reepicheep knew his destiny is to find what lies beyond the Eastern ocean. He says,
My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.
Me too, Reepicheep, me too.