Make/Play/Watch/Read: A Pirate’s Life for Me

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A few themes seem to never go out of fashion, one of them being the ever-popular PIRATES. Of course, this is helped along by recent news like game updates or new movies. And yet there is something everlasting about the nature of pirates. We have heard tall tales and survival stories for many ships and their crews. What is it that fascinates us so much? Why do we cheer for the bad guys so much? And could there really be treasure out there for us to MAKE/PLAY/WATCH/READ? I suppose it all depends on the type of map you have.

Make: A Pirate’s Treasure Birthday Cake

The eldest spawnling recently celebrated his birthday. We have a tradition in our family of making birthday cakes to fit a theme for the birthday star. Each year, the spawnlings set me a new challenge, and, bless their land-lubber hearts, they enjoy it when I completely fail too. The now-15-year-old especially. Lucky for me, I noticed his loose interest in pirates over the last couple of weeks and took a punt. Even luckier, he loved it. 

Photo of Pirate inspired birthday cake
Photo of my pirate-treasure-island-inspired birthday cake.

Making a “treasure island” cake is a pretty simple activity with a few extra tips. Our treasure island cake is a regular plain cake sitting in blue jelly. I won’t give you a full recipe for this one because you can find the cakes everywhere, but I will give you a few tips for decorating.

  • Allow yourself three (3) days to make this cake. I wish someone had told me this! One day to make the cake and allow it to totally cool, one day to ice and make the initial jelly, and one day for the jelly to set. Three Days.
  • Once you have made the cake, chill it in the fridge for an hour or so. It will make it a lot easier to carve into shape (if you so wish) and a lot easier for the initial icing.
  • Cover the cake with fondant icing. I chose white chocolate fondant icing using Caramilk chocolate melts. Caramilk is a Cadbury chocolate available in Australia, but you can also add a touch of caramel or yellow coloring to your fondant mix.
  • Allow the iced cake to set while you are making the jelly.
  • You can make your own jelly, but it is a little difficult to get the ratio right because you want to be able to slice the jelly with the cake. Best to buy a ready-to-make blue Jell-O packet and add 1-teaspoon of gelatine to firm it up a bit more.
  • Best Tip of All: Don’t stress about the cake! This is neither my best nor my worst cake. And the kids still love it because we have a lot of fun doing it.

Play: King of Seas (available on Steam/Switch/PS4/Xbox One)

King of Sea, a pirate game

Part of the reason for this new interest in pirates comes from the game Sea of Thieves, a video game available for a few years now. However, the game has a few… issues. To be fair, it is visually one of the most amazing open-world games you can play—especially on the high seas! There is a lot to be said for commanding your own ship across the water for adventure and treasure. HOWEVER, it has some serious issues in the PvP area and a lot of it comes down to “people peopling.”

There is already plenty of discussions online about the toxicity of the game. One of these is dependent on what I consider a horrible mechanic in the game: the inability to save the game at sea or secure your loot away from the port. Almost every game played in our house ends with another ship waiting to snipe the loot as we head into port. The gameplay, adventure, and storytelling are amazing. But it loses everything when you have another player sulking around the port waiting to attack any wounded ship as it comes in. I really don’t care if you think this is “pirate behavior” (despite historic records indicating it was not), this player behavior is one example of ruining the vibe of an otherwise enjoyable game. The worst part is, the developers know this and they know it could be an easy fix and they choose not to because they want this environment.

Screenshot from King of Seas
Screenshot from King of Seas

Well, there is a better game to play: King of Seas. It is the same expansive open-world experience as a Sea of Thieves, but it has a more enjoyable play mechanic with a really strong storyline and adventure thrill. You are the son/daughter of the King of Seas, recently betrayed by the British Navy in an attempt to steal power from your father. Your father has been killed and you are framed for his murder. Your only chance of survival and recovery is to work with the local pirates and earn enough booty to “thank” them for saving your life. Your ship is your avatar, with upgrades and crew available in various ports. The adventure comes from completing various missions to receive gold and status points. There are also battle scenes as you rob other ships and escape the Navy who are determined to remove any threats to their power.

If you are after the open sea with the highly volatile first-person experience, Sea of Thieves will still end up being your game of choice. However, if you are looking for a slightly more relaxed and less toxic play environment, play King of Seas.

Watch: Pirates of the Caribbean (Disney+)

Pirates of the Caribbean

Can we really have a pirate theme without mentioning Pirates of the Caribbean? Of course not. You might have noticed the news out E3 about Pirates of the Caribbean being included in the latest Sea of Thieves upgrade as well. Naturally, this leads to a revisit to the film and the eventual franchise.

Pirates of the Caribbean (the movie) is based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at the Disney theme parks. (If you have never been on the ride, check out this awesome GeekFamily DIY.) There are five (5) films in the franchise, each more “swashbuckling” than the next. The star of each is Captain Jack Sparrow, a drunk and incorrigible rogue who has more luck than skill in… well, everything. Though, that is what makes the movies so entertaining. Sparrow is played by Johnny Depp, who has made the character his own. He is accompanied by his long-suffering mate, Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally) who, I swear, is the only person who knows how to manage Sparrow.

Captain Jack Sparrow, ultimate pirate
Captain Jack Sparrow, ultimate pirate

If you are new to the franchise, start at the beginning with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) and then watch them in chronological order. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) are more like a two-part movie, and the first three movies have the same main characters to continue the story. The fourth in the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), is the first break-away from the original story and characters. The fifth, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, returns (in part) to the original cast.

There is still talk of a sixth movie to be made, however, it is now looking to be a reboot. There’s also a possible spin-off film but we will have to wait for more news.

Read: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Artist impression of "Treasure Island" by Lorenzo Nuti
Artist Impression of Treasure Island by Lorenzo Nuti – found here.

Of all the pirate stories I have read, nothing beats Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is a classic, unparalleled in its storytelling and adventure. It reels you in like a fish, building with anticipation and then crashing like waves onto the ship as the characters spring forth from the page. Every scene is described with the perfect amount of detail, enough to give you the true feel of the environment but not so much as to pull you out of the action. EG Dad has enjoyed reading this aloud with each spawnling, and I have to confess, I can always find an excuse to be within the “listening circle.”

Many of us will be familiar with the storyline though we may never have read the book—thanks to the Muppet version (and Tim Curry). However, the book is far more gripping than any movie. This is the original. This is the beginning of Long John Silver, treasure maps marked with X, and the infamous “Black Spot.” It starts with an old sailor, Billy Bones, who meets an innkeeper’s son, Jim Hawkins. Bones tells young Jim to look out for a one-legged seafaring man. A former shipmate of Bones soon arrives and confronts him with a fight. Though Bones wins the fight, he is then visited by another colleague, a blind beggar named Pew, who gives Bones the Black Spot—a summons to share a map leading to buried treasure. Alas, Bones doesn’t make it, so Pew and his accomplices attack the Inn, with Jim and his mother escaping with a small amount of money and a mysterious packet from Bones’ sea chest. Inside the packet is a map of an island. Jim shows the map to a trusted physician and thus begins an adventure to search for the hidden treasure.

Treasure Island has continued to inspire storytellers and artists for many years. One of my favorites is Italian artist Lorenzo Nuti. You can see Nuti’s artwork here, with a collection of 33 illustrations to pay tribute to Stevenson’s story. They are all gorgeous, and they capture the stirring nature of the story in a beautifully evocative way. Worth checking out for any pirate-themed day.

Artist impression of pirate from Treasure Island
Artist impression of a pirate from Treasure Island – Lorenzo Nuti

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what the appeal is about pirates. They’re not exactly the role models we want for our kids, yet there is something irresistible about their adventures, lives, and secrets. Let’s just sail with it and see where it takes us. 

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