Ultima creator and Explorer's Club president Richard Garriott has issued a public statement mourning the deaths of the Titan sub passengers. Two members of the ill-fated expedition to visit the underwater remains of the Titanic, Hamish Harding and Paul-Henri Nargeolet, were part of the nearly 120-year-old professional society.
With Deepest Condolences - Loss of the Titan pic.twitter.com/Jj3KnujtV9June 22, 2023
In the statement, Gariott thanked the US Coast Guard for its rescue efforts and reminisced about his personal friendship with Harding, as well as Nargeolet's expertise on the Titanic wreck. Garriott also called OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush a friend of the Explorer's Club, and praised Shahzada and Suleman Dawood's "desire to explore."
The Explorer's Club was chartered in 1904 by a confederation of academics, journalists, and expedition leaders. It has a distinct "Victorian gentleman" twang to its founding, contemporaneous with the so-called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, but it would go on to be associated with many triumphs of exploration in the 20th century and beyond. Endurance expedition leader Ernest Shackleton and Mt. Everest climber Edmund Hillary were both members, and multiple Apollo missions carried miniature Explorer's Club flags onboard.
Richard Garriott is best known to gamers as the creator of the Ultima series, a common ancestor of modern CRPGs, JRPGs (Dragon Quest creator Yuji Hori cited it as an inspiration), immersive sims (through Ultima Underworld), and MMOs (through Ultima Online). He is also the son of astronaut Owen Garriott, and space tourism and other forms of exploration have been a late-career passion of the developer. Garriott famously traveled to the International Space Station (and smuggled the ashes of Star Trek actor James Doohan on board) and has also been to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Garriott was elected president of the Explorer's Club in 2021.
Unlike Garriott, another member of the association, Avatar and, well, Titanic director James Cameron, has not held back in criticizing deceased OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush. In addition to moviemaking, Cameron is a legitimate deep sea explorer, having completed 33 dives to the Titanic's remains, as well as one to the Challenger Deep at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. "I was very suspect of the technology they were using," Cameron told the BBC. "I wouldn't have gotten on that sub.
"We now have another wreck that is based on unfortunately the same principles of not heeding warnings. OceanGate were warned."
While off-the-shelf videogame controllers are often repurposed to operate deep sea and aerospace vehicles (like drones) due to their intuitive, familiar layout, an image of Stockton Rush demonstrating a $30 Logitech F710 gamepad used to pilot an OceanGate submersible has drawn ridicule on social media.
The proverbial "your friend's weird player two Mad Catz controller" being used to pilot an OceanGate rig makes for a convenient, absurdist shorthand for more serious corners alleged to have been cut by the company. Others in the deep sea exploration industry were critical of Rush's refusal to have his vehicles certified by independent organizations.
"We have heard the baseless cries of 'you are going to kill someone' way too often," Rush wrote in an email to Rob McCallum, the owner of another submersible expedition company. "I take this as a serious personal insult."
The OceanGate catastrophe has been suffused with surreal connections to gaming. Dusk and Iron Lung developer David Szymansky expressed disbelief and discomfort at the increased interest in his sci-fi submarine horror game as the Titan disaster grabbed headlines.