Blackbeard left all mortal men quivering in terror. Captain Hook scared the bejeezus out of kids and fairies alike. The Dread Pirate Roberts was, well, dreaded. But what of that little known predator of the seven seas, Cap’n likeboobsalot?

Let’s rewind. One busy day a few weeks ago I awoke to an email from Plarium, the developer behind Pirates: Tides of Fortune, a clickfest free-to-play browser game you’ve never heard of. I’d signed up for an account, apparently. (No I hadn’t). I’d selected the username ‘likeboobsalot’. (No, but fair enough). By playing I could “win bonus packs, free gifts, and other pirate booty!” (I’m listening…)

Naturally enough, I completely ignored this. But the emails kept on coming. “Ahoy Captain likeboobsalot !” one read. “Avast, Cap’n likeboobsalot !” came another. “Ahoy there, Captain likeboobsalot !” read the third. Every man has his limit, and this was mine. I couldn’t bear another of these strange emails, stilted pirate greetings and confusing spacing and all, without trying this game for myself.

A quick aside: to whichever anonymous stranger signed me up for Pirates: Tides of Fortune (or, P:ToF as those of us in the know probably call it), fuck you very much. This is all your fault.

Look at that sexy lady pirate. Doesn't she make you want to play the game?

Look at that sexy lady pirate. Doesn’t she make you want to play the game?

Day 1: It’s 9 a.m., I should be doing real work, and instead I’m logging into my new account for a frankly awful looking browser game. What am I doing with my life? I haven’t even finished my first cup of coffee yet, and I’m feeling distinctly un-piratical.

Thankfully, so is the game, which seems primarily interested in admin and construction. I’ve got to go about such tasks as naming my pirate haven (‘boobs’, naturally — I like them a lot, you know) and building, well everything. First a rum distillery. Then a gold mine and lumber yard. A stronghold, an observatory, a market, a lighthouse, a wall, a crow’s nest (on an island? Don’t they go on boats?) and all sorts of shit I didn’t know pirates needed. Shouldn’t I be out pillaging or something?

The game itself even feels faintly apologetic about it all, admitting that pirates are better known for stealing than building, but never really explaining why that isn’t what this game is about. After I achieve some basic task it tells me that I’m ‘Smart as paint’ and I don’t know what to think. It slowly dawns on me that I’m basically playing FarmVille with a nautical skin, and I feel dirty inside.

Day 2: I’ve kept the P:ToF tab open all day. It’s now a constant distraction of work, tempting me in with its complex array of timers. In order to maximize my piratical efficiency, I’m trying to constantly have at least one building being constructed or upgraded at a time and one discovery being researched. There are also daily quests (which, despite the name, refresh every 6 hours) and the most piratical stuff yet: my occasional raids on nearby islands to secure valuable loot. Cap’n likeboobsalot is an opportunist at heart, so I’m exclusively targeting players who look even weaker and newer to the game than me.

I’ve also decided to embrace the ‘social’ side of the game. It keeps harassing me to invite my friends to sign up, which I briefly consider before remembering that I don’t actually want all my friends to hate me. Instead, I follow the game’s advice and join a Brotherhood of fellow pirates. I’m now a proud member of the Rouge Pirates, because I find the typo irresistible, but am disheartened to discover that I can’t reap the full benefits until I’ve been a member for at least 7 days. I’m afraid I won’t last that long in the game. I’m more afraid that I will.

This sort of screen is what you look at most of the time in P:ToF. You grow to quietly loathe it.

This sort of screen is what you look at most of the time in P:ToF. You grow to quietly loathe it.

Day 3: Things are heating up in the Rouge Pirates. Apparently ‘deathn8’ hasn’t been around for a couple of days, but he popped into chat to let us all know why. “hello world,” he began, like an adorably basic computer program or British intelligence agency. “me crazy ex slashed all my fuking tires thur. so me was stick in st.louis for 2 days”

“did ye shoot her?” replied ‘DammitLar Hairy…’, asking the question we were all thinking. “cuz that’s the least she deserved… I got two x’s, n if I still had anything with tires on it, they wouldn’t slash ‘em cuz they know I’m off center…”

These are clearly my people. It’s hard to know what I love more, their endearing attempts to type like pirates, all ‘me’ and ‘ye’, or the willingness to just casually let complete strangers on the internet know that you’re mentally unhinged and have probably been physically abusive in the past. Or maybe just that this is happening while we’re all separately sitting around, clicking and watching timers, waiting for nothing in particular to happen.

Day 4: The game is beginning to get to me. I keep running out of rum, and it’s stressing me out. I was thinking about solutions to the rum shortage at the gym. I was considering my options when I should have been working. I lay awake at night worrying about the most efficient way to upgrade my distilleries and resolve the crisis.

Just four days in, and P:ToF is now nothing but a stressor in my life. I’m breaking my day up into chunks that fit neatly around its various timers, trying to plan my schedule around when I can be back at the PC, ready to click a few things, start a new timer, and move on. I don’t know when the fun is supposed to happen, but I’m confident that it should have started by now. I don’t hate the game, but I don’t love it. I don’t even enjoy it. It’s just routine. It’s the first tab I open and the last one I shut each day, and a near-constant presence in my mind. I long ago muted the jaunty sea shanties it blasts on loop. It’s now causing browser crashes every now and then, but I can’t stay mad at it. There’s always another timer nearing its end.

Research! Pirates love research, right?

Research! Pirates love research, right?

Day 6: The Rouge Pirates have waged war against a rival Brotherhood, the Sea Devils. Most of the Sea Devils seem to be so far away from my island that it would literally take my ships days to reach them. Except one, who promptly attacked me before I could do anything. This isn’t working out well so far, and I’m not sure being one of the Rouges has really worked out all that well for me.

Clearly that’s not how everyone else sees it though, and my in-game inbox is quickly bombarded with group messages about picking targets and changing battle plans. One stands out.

“Ahoy hoy fellow pirates Old Cronos got himself in a little trouble and went to court today and lets just say…I go for sentencing next month. You all we know how it went this time next month if you don’t hear from me…Haha…So for the next month i will be enjoying livations and attacking rival pirates like a madmen. Know lets get out there and whoop those sea devils!!!……ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

“…Haha…”

Has there ever been a sorrier ‘Haha’ exchanged on an online pirate videogame message board than that one? This is a man who knows — really knows — that he’s probably going to jail for some undisclosed crime. He may only have a month left as a free man, and he’s decided to spend it playing P:ToF, whiling away his hours clicking, watching timers, and listening to tinny, looping sea shanties. Maybe he’s even going to spend some of his money buying in-game upgrades now — can’t use it in prison, right? Might as well spend it shaving 20 minutes off this Lumber Yard upgrade timer so that he can start the next one that bit sooner.

I feel intensely sad.

Day 9: I’m now a full member of the Rouge Pirates, and I can visit our ‘Bastion’, the headquarters of our ‘Presidio’. I have no idea what either of those words mean, and I don’t seem to be able to do anything about them anyway. I realize I’ve fallen into the game’s trap. I’ve just waited through a 7-day timer and — shockingly enough — there was nothing at all at the end of it. Just more timers, forever counting down, teasing the next brief, flickering chance to actually interact with the game.

I’ve started looking ahead at what’s to come, and I realise that if there’s one thing P:ToF doesn’t lack, it’s depth. I mean, as long as by ‘depth’ you mean ‘lots of timers to click on and watch and wait for’. There are enough research and upgrade trees to put Civilization VI to shame, and in my week and a half in-game I’ve barely scratched the surface. My pirates have finally mastered Mathematics, but there’s still Banking, Metallurgy, Electroplating, Hydrodynamics, and more. I can only imagine it would take months, if not years, to complete, and I worry for ‘Cronos’ and the other players committing themselves to this unbearable time sink.

There is, of course, a shortcut: Rubies, one of the games many currencies, can be purchased for real money. The ‘Best Value’ offer nets me 142,400 Rubies for just $660 — bargain, right?

I try to imagine everything I could do with 142,400 Rubies, and am reassured to find not even the slightest pull. It would just be more fucking timers and I feel faintly nauseous even contemplating it.

I swear to God, the game never got even remotely this cool looking.

I swear to God, the game never got even remotely this cool looking.

Day 13: P:ToF is slowly losing its grip on me. The Rouge Pirates have won our war against the Sea Devils, no thanks to me. I’m now facing two, even three-hour waits every time I try to upgrade or research, and without the game pulling me back in every few minutes I find its sway over me lessening. I can write whole articles without checking the game midway through, watch Game of Thrones without worrying that my Harbor upgrade is due.

I’ve played for almost two weeks, having expected to drop in for a day. I want to tell myself I did it for the article, because I’m a serious Professional Videogame Journalist, but I know better. I was fleetingly, horrifyingly hooked, but I got better.

I hope ‘deathn8’ works it out with his ex (or at least gets her to pay for the tires). I’ll be thinking of ‘DammitLar Hairy…’, who clearly has some issues to work out. I might even drop in next month to hear how ‘Cronos’s court date went. Can you get free-to-play browser games in prison? Maybe for good behavior.

Cap’n likeboobsalot may be settling down on boobs, putting his pillaging days behind him. But he’ll always be a Rouge Pirate at heart. Now please excuse me while I unsubscribe from those bloody emails.