The Nautilus Pirates

The Pirates represent the biggest break between narrative and mechanics of all the expansion factions. One the one hand, it makes perfect mechanical sense to have a faction that focuses on building water bases – those are a part of the game, and players have probably built one or two of those during their playthroughs. It makes for interesting (and ever so slightly overpowered) gameplay. On the other hand, it can take decades for other factions to build even the smallest of rafts, and the Pirates start out with not only a boat but also an entire aquatic base capable of surviving everything the ocean has to throw at it. On day one.

This is a strangeness that all expansion factions share. All of them (except the aliens) emerged out the already existing factions, and presume that the human presence on Planet has developed to such a degree that they can do their thing. In Arrival, the University transports an alien artifact by boat, and are surprised to find that there are pirates on the high seas coming seemingly out of nowhere (both in terms of a successfully executed ambush, and in terms of not knowing to look out for Pirate ships from experience of earlier attacks); the backstory is ever so sketchy, but it is suggested the faction formed long enough after Planetfall to be able to be a surprise.

All this just goes to show that writing stories for games is hard, as you have to take into account both the things that would make sense in a narrative, and what would make sense in terms of what a player sees on the screen. The two may or may not be the same, which only adds to the difficulty. (Neal Stephenson readers might recall from Reamde the prolific writer for an in-universe online game – which was definitely not World of Warcraft – who wrote extensive books on the lore of the game, but who, as it turns out, had not played it even once during his many years of authoring.) In the case of the Pirates, what we have is a strange disconnect between what we know and what we do. Especially when we consider that the Pirates do not actually do very much in the ways of pirating (other than being at sea), and that in any event the Data Angels are mechanically better at it.

Most of the incongruity surrounding the new factions comes from the fact that they are social rather than ideological. By this, I mean that they are premised on the existence of other factions to justify (and make possible) their ways of being. In order to pirate the shipping lanes of others, there has to be shipping lanes to pirate; in order to establish global datalink superiority, there has to be a global datalink; in order to be a human born on Planet creating a cult to wipe all the other humans out, these other humans need to exist. There are ideological components to these factions, to be sure, but if we took away these external factors, these factions would either fall apart or turn on themselves. If your whole reason for being is pirating – what do you do when you run out of targets to pirate?

The other-directedness of Pirate ideology can be seen in the leader quote:

The sea… vast, mysterious… and full of wealth! And the nations of Planet send their trade across it without a thought. Well, the sea doesn’t care about them, so it lets them pass. But we can give the sea a little hand in teaching the landlubbers a lesson in humility.

– Captain Ulrik Svensgaard, “The Ripple and the Wave”

The use of the word “landlubbers” in the defining quote – one of the few pieces of text afforded to the faction – is significant, in that it immediately establishes the Pirates as, well, pirates. There is us, the sea people, and there is them, the landlubbers. Out of all the possible ideological stances the faction could have assumed, this is the one they ended up with. And this is the biggest flaw of this whole arrangement. Why, after travelling the great interstellar void and by all accounts representing a seventh (or fifth) of everything that remains of humanity – would you settle on being a watered down third-hand caricature of Moby Dick?

Ultimately, it comes down to one single, unescapable thing: the Pirates do not fit in to Alpha Centauri. Not just because all the quotes they should have been given were already written for the Spartans (see especially Doctrine: Initiative), but also because they simply do not make sense. They relate more to Earthly literature than to the ecological realities of Planet, and in the final analysis all they end up being is one great missed opportunity. They could have been ruthlessly pragmatic marine biologists waxing poetic about the nature of Planet and its hidden depths (oceanic and metaphysical), but, alas – landlubbers.

Instead of speculating where a Pirate transcendence would lead us, I will end this section with an exchange from chapter 36 of Moby Dick. Not just because it is thematic for the Pirate faction, but also because it fits all the other factions as well: just how far are you willing to go to follow your convictions? Given that Alpha Centauri is all about ideological convictions, it is a question worth keeping in mind at all times:

“But what’s this long face about, Mr. Starbuck; wilt thou not chase the white whale! art not game for Moby Dick?”

“I am game for his crooked jaw, and for the jaws of Death too, Captain Ahab, if it fairly comes in the way of the business we follow; but I came here to hunt whales, not my commander’s vengeance. How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab? it will not fetch thee much in our Nantucket market.”


2 thoughts on “The Nautilus Pirates

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s