Corey Milne stands at the intersection of gaming and world history to see what he can see.
As I’ve gotten older and felt the weariness soak into my very bones, I’ve become much more appreciative of quiet adventures. Like the time I was a little drunk and left my passport on a train. I then had to explain to my boss the next day that I couldn’t go into work because I had to travel to Dundee in order to pick up my passport, which I had somehow misplaced. The hour and a half train ride through a sunny Scottish countryside was spent in relaxed contemplation. To top it all off, once I had claimed my errant identification in this strange new city, I got to spend the day exploring the RRS Discovery, which was moored in the harbor. All in all, the trip was a roaring success. After which I hopped on another train and returned to Glasgow and reality.
Burly Men At Sea is a 2016 game, from developers Brain&Brain, which bills itself as a quiet adventure. With its minimalist, colorful art style and a cappella sound effects, it’s really lovely. And very quiet. Loosely based around Scandinavian folklore, it tells the tales of three bearded brothers who kind of just meander into adventures.
There’s no right or wrong way to play Burly Men At Sea. Its many strands unfold naturally, like any good folk tale.
“Useless sea chart,” grumbles the hasty one. “Nothing on it but our own island!”
“A map cast to sea without purpose? Must be more to it,” argues the steady one.
The brave one brightens. “A mystery! Aye!”
Folklore is a living thing. It takes root in a place and is given life by the people telling the tales. Details shift and change, but it remains a part of the landscape. Tales of strange shapes moving in the forest. Daily rituals to bring a household good fortune. A drunk, foolish enough to disturb a fairy ring. What are stories but another way to make sense of the world?
“The familiar has a way of making itself new when ye look at it sideways.”
In my version of Burly Men At Sea, it doesn’t take long for the Brothers Beard to sail into trouble, wasting no time in being swallowed, boat and all, by a whale. There’s some creative usage of barrels, a trip to the afterlife and concerns about the trustworthiness of will-o’-wisps.
There are paths untrod. I could, if I wanted, consider this to be the true telling of the story. As far as I know.
“Aye, it’s a worthwhile adventure that begins with the unknown. This map has tales yet to tell.”
Here’s to more quiet adventures.
Corey Milne is an Irish freelance writer who likes to poke at that strange intersection where games meet history. A roundup of his writing can be found at coreymilne.com. You can join his Rad-Lands motorcycle bandit gang on Twitter @Corey_Milne.