There are a number of topics that, when addressed by video games even to the minutest degree, make me want to hide uselessly under my desk.
Despite what I consider to be a steady maturation, there’s still a tendency for video games to shy away from social or political issues. Sure, we can explore fabulously detailed fantasy economies and cultures in an escapist kind of way—we can even, for instance, connect the philosophical subtleties of trade in the Civilization series or exploration and conquest in Might & Magic to the real-world systems and histories from which they borrow.
But it’s rare that a game engages directly with topical socio-economic issues. Rarely does a game–one that isn’t a humorlessly sanctimonious “serious game”–direct its focus to contemporary relevancies like corporatism, lobbyism, political corruption, disenfranchisement and poverty.
Jonas Kyratzes’ The Sea Will Claim Everything places a primacy on, specifically, the global recession resulting from fraud, greed and recklessness. But these themes aren’t buried in the background, or used as obtuse backdrops for half-related gameplay. Kyratzes nestles the issue in a fantastical story—quite in the enchanted vein of his Lands of Dream universe—framing the themes in a way that makes them recognizable, and, most importantly, resonant.
The Sea Will Claim Everything is a point-and-click which begins by opening a “window” to the game world. The biotechnical window—a kind of musing on the harmonization of technology and nature—is opened by a druid named The, whose personal story will run undercurrent for the rest of the game.
It is The who tells you that his family estate, a living, growing entity called Underhome, has been ransacked by government goons under the false presumption that debt is owed to them. The game opens in a state of disarray, and as you begin to repair and investigate the rattled Underhome, you learn that its plight represents only a fraction of the economic woes plaguing the three major isles you explore throughout the game.
You learn about the Isles of the Sun, Moon and Stars. Their towns have been impoverished and abandoned, while land has been polluted, city coffers have been pilfered, rebellious minds have been snuffed out.
There is a lot to read in The Sea Will Claim Everything. You might be tempted to call it a “text dump,” but it would be wrong to consider it so unbalanced. Nothing is without a place; everything is connected; everything has meaning. Books—both real and fictional—that you click on one-by-one in overfilled libraries are not necessary to your progress, but reading their titles illuminates something about theme, or character. You notice that everything colored red in the game is described as being a Communist–even mushrooms. Even the save files are designed to be memorable: rather than numbered slots, they have been individually named. I, for one, went with the “Nipple” save slot
There is a fair amount of humor in The Sea Will Claim Everything. The jokes make the world and characters feel alive. You begin to empathize with them. You begin to become attached to the world. You understand that the humor comes from anger; the injustice and degradation done to such a beautifully hand-drawn world full of mellifluous music and good-natured people make you angry too.
There is a fair amount of tragedy in The Sea Will Claim Everything. There is far too much unneeded suffering performed at the dispassionate hands of politicians, demanding austerity measures while making no sacrifices of their own—and, in fact, securing profit from it. They serve the looming but unseen force of Lord Urizen, William Blake’s mythological personification of conventional wisdom and law. In a U-Boat circling the islands, a vaguely-German industrialist (which is, admittedly, far too close to traditional stereotyping) stretches the invisible hand of his influence over the politics of each land. There is more than one reference made to both objectivism and fascism.
As you learn all of this, so do the people of the Isles. As you bring this information to them, they become more galvanized. They mobilize. Your contribution to them isn’t that you solve all of their problems like a heroic demigod: instead, you make those problems clearer. You inform them, like the Fourth Estate is supposed to, until they feel ready to take on Lord Urizen and to fight for a better future.
The Sea Will Claim Everything doesn’t end on certain terms. Social revolution is never certain. But it also doesn’t shy away from its message. In a way, the game is a manifesto: it’s not coy or indirect. It’s proud and forthright, but not without being formally refined—a matter of artistic expression Kyratzes has written about before. It delicately shovels the weight of social responsibility onto the shoulders of the player.
The Sea Will Claim Everything made me want to hide uselessly under my desk, but for being a game that dared to engage with this kind of subject matter in powerful and persuasive ways. It was not half-hearted; it did not feel like a lecture. It felt authentic, in ways so delightfully evocative it’s frightening.
The Sea Will Claim Everything is a headline title in its genre
This review based on a PC copy of the game provided by the developer
About the Author:
Lana Polansky is a game critic and writer peddling her wares at Kill Screen, Gameranx, Medium Difficulty and here at Bit Creature. Also, a ludonarrative disco-dancer.