How I Became a Legend

I've been sailing the Sea of Thieves since it came out, and it has become one of my favorite games.

It has a special place in my heart, because it carried me through some of the darkest days of my own depression. There was a while last year where I had all but given up on myself, and I struggled daily to find a reason to get out of bed. I wasn't an artist then, just a washed out tech worker who'd taken too many beatings for holding onto old dreams. My closest friends felt me pulling away from the world, and tried to lure me back by buying me a copy of Sea of Thieves. Logging in to learn the game with them those first few nights was so much fun, I could almost forget about the ways the rest of my life were collapsing, if only for a few hours at a time. When I learned that there was a tiny bit of content locked away for players willing to work to the top tier of the game, attaining Pirate Legend status, I became consumed with a desire to get there so I could share in that with my friends. Part of me thought it would be a nice last way to thank my friends for caring about me.

The grind was intense, and due to the pirate nature of the game, there were plenty of frustrating nights where hours of work would be lost to an opportunistic player sinking me. Having lost my job, most of my belongings, all of my money, and a lot of my friends in the real world, losing progress even in a virtual one was a salty burn. The anger I had about my life would boil, and some particularly bad sessions left me fuming, crying, and wondering why I kept logging into a game with such a capacity to hurt me. But after the anger passed, I'd remember. The pain was temporary, fleeting, and a small price to pay to give something back to my friends.

So I kept chasing buried treasure, hunting troublesome wildlife, and blasting skeleton lords with my cannons. If I got there, all the losses would be justified, so I couldn't give up yet. This exposure and immersion approach slowly taught me to adjust my mindset. To cherish the victories, but not to let the losses drag me down. To work with the wind, instead of complain when it won't blow the right way. To accept defeat gracefully so I can get back to trying again without a panic attack. I gained a sense of determination I hadn't felt in myself for longer than I can remember.

Then, one strange August evening, I had a transformative experience.

You can find more details about this in some of my other stories, but the short of it is that I rediscovered parts of my mind that I had long assumed were dead. I went through an intense series of self-examinations, and began to look at all the ways I'd twisted myself up with anxiety and bound myself with fear. After a night of disarming my demons, I woke up renewed. My mind felt free, my creativity was bubbling over for the first time in a decade, and I saw a new future ahead of me. That was the day I came up with my first plan for Complicated Reality, and the day I started learning to make fractal art. However, as eager as I was to start stretching my mental legs again, I still had one task in my mind that I needed to check off my list: I needed to become a Pirate Legend for my friends.

I took to my task with a new vigor. An enthusiasm for gaming that I'd been missing for years. My level of play skyrocketed, as grim determination was replaced with eager optimism. I fine tuned my muscle memory, and to this day I can scavenge an island and stock a sloop faster than anyone I know. I hit a groove, I found the rhythm of the game, and I invented lots of new ways to turn the tables on bad situations. And then, late one night as the morning hours took hold of the day, I completed a voyage wondering just how much was left ahead of me. As I watched the progress bar squeeze ever so close to completion of the last level I had yet to earn, it became clear: one single voyage remained between me and Pirate Legend.

I can't properly explain the emotions I went through as I took my sloop back out one more time.

Every little detail of the game that I'd come to take for granted took on new fascination. The waves crashing against the boat and the aurora illuminating the night time sky over the sea pulled me in. My trained hands plotted the course and managed the ship almost on their own, as I watched myself play out one more trip to Smuggler's Bay. It was almost dream-like, but so visceral and engaging. Before I knew it, I was hauling a handful of treasure back aboard my ship, and I had clear horizons all around. The dawn had given way to a bright, clear day, as if the game itself were clearing the path back to the outpost where my quest would finally be complete. Something happened on that last leg. It wasn't an ambush, or a Kraken, or even a hole to patch, it was something deep inside my soul finally letting go of all the pain and the loss and the frustration I'd put myself through.

For the first time since my reawakening, I was achieving a real goal I'd put serious effort into. Tears streamed down my face, while I shuddered with some hybrid of sobbing and laughter. I could have grabbed the most valuable treasure and crashed into the shore, but instead I made myself savor one last bit of effort to perform a perfect slow down to rest right up next to the dock. Then I peacefully carried my glittering loot to the turn in. I watched the last progress bar fill up, the final number click into place, and I hurried around the island to perform the final trivial steps to attain my long sought title. When the Mysterious Stranger finally gave me a nod of approval and welcomed me into the ranks of the Pirate Legends, the music swelled and every bell and whistle the game had went off to celebrate my goal with me.

Eager to visit the Legend Hideout, I raced over to the special spot, pulled out my hurdy gurdy, and tried to play the new shanty. By fluke, a different shanty came out, one we all know well, "Becalmed". My group would often play it at the end of a session as we sent our ship to rest at the bottom of the sea. I couldn't stop, as excited as I was to see the elusive Pirate Legend hideout, I suddenly had to let Becalmed play out one more time. The lyrics to this song can be found scrawled in a sailor's journal on the beach on one of the islands, and I know them well. It's a slower, somber song, but the emotional core is in those lyrics.

It's a song about how great it will be when the wind picks back up, how fast the boat will sail, how happy the crew will be, and how grand the adventures ahead are, but there's an unspoken shadow.

Those hopes are all for some uncertain future. In the present, the ship is becalmed: windless, and adrift with no sure path ahead. The crew is nervous, and the singer tries to keep spirits up by focusing on the good yet to come. I've always seen it as a poetic allegory for my depression.

As the final bars of the song played out, I reflected on how much it meant to me. I saw the beginning of my art career taking shape around me, I felt a return of energy and creativity within me, and I had hope for my future for the first time in too long. I was no longer becalmed, my wind had returned, and my adventures were waiting for me.

After a few nights of playing the fancy Pirate Legend content with my friends, I finally had my fill of the game, and began focusing on achieving other goals in my life. But I never really stopped playing. Every month or so, my group comes together to knock out a voyage or two. It's become such a comfortable place for us to hang out while we chat about life. The updates keep bringing new reasons to return, and it only takes a voyage or two to hook us back in for a few weeks. The game has grown a lot since those early days, and so have I.

I'm making strides as an artist, I've made significant and positive changes to my diet, medications, and overall health. I wake up excited to tackle new projects, and when I'm lucky I wind down my day with another night on the waves with my buddies. Depression still finds ways to get at me, but I'm getting better at patching the holes without drowning. If I ever really need help with some cathartic release, I log in, sail out to one of my favorite perches, play Becalmed, and let my sorrows sink into the sea with the setting sun.

Thank you, Rare. Your games have always been friends to me, but this one was a fair bit more, and I will always cherish the memories I've made with it.

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