Last week when the UK team played Sea of Thieves, only three of us had the time to take part, meaning we were assigned random players as a fourth crewmember. This happened twice, and in both cases we locked the additional player in the brig—one case in which we felt justified to do so, and another where we might've made a terrible error, letting the player out shortly after. In any case, the brig proved to be the source of some fun stories. But did we abuse our power? And is the brig a positive element in the game? Tom and Sam discuss it below.
Samuel Roberts: The brig in Sea of Thieves lets you vote to lock one player up in the basement level (that's what sailors call it, right?) of your ship. You can then vote again to let them out or just leave them there. You could argue it's just a tool for griefing, but the idea of one player misbehaving and being punished for it is fundamentally funny, and has a lot of potential for different player-generated stories.
The brig is not perfect in Sea of Thieves—some tweaking may be needed. VentureBeat's Jeff Grubb was locked in there for 80 minutes by his crew, seemingly with no end in sight. At that point you're an actual prisoner, and that's rubbish, really, unless you're somehow into roleplaying that. A five-minute limit seems sensible to me.
Here's how we used the brig, then. In the first instance, a player was ringing the ship's bell over and over again while the rest of us were trying to sail, and it was incredibly annoying. We locked this player in the brig. I went down to visit them in their cell, they said sorry, then they tried to shoot me with their pistol and left the game. Fine. I can live with myself, there.
Second time was a bit less straightforward—we were on an island exploring, and the fourth player started raising the anchor without warning. I assumed they were trying to abandon us on the island for a laugh—but we let them out after a short time because we think we might've misjudged their intentions. They may have been trying to get the boat closer to the island in order to pick us up.
Tom Senior: It’s kind of an elaborate kicking system with an element of bullying to it that I find hilarious in spite of myself. If a bunch of strangers have locked you in the brig, it’s fair to assume you’re not wanted in the game, so you just log off. Or you can spend 80 minutes in there and make a video, I guess. Whatever shivers your timbers.
I think the brig highlights how easy it is to misunderstand strangers in your game. There’s a massive communication deficit between a bunch of us on comms and one poor player limited to text chat, and maybe some local audio if we choose to use push-to-talk. We brigged our first rando because they were ringing a bell nonstop for days. The thing is it feels easier to chuck someone in the brig than to politely ask them to stop. Though the second option is much more mature, it's way less funny. Seriously, though, if a game gives you an easy way to mess with other players, and it only takes a three-person vote, players are going to use that a lot.
Maybe the real lesson I should take away from the brig is that I’m a bad person who should stop locking strangers in rooms for making too much noise. Our second prisoner started moving our ship while we were all on an island trying to get a quest. We locked them up instantly, but then Phil pointed out that they might have been moving the boat closer so that we didn’t have to swim back past a load of hungry sharks. That player messaged us a few minutes later asking us to let them out, which we did. Now I recount that story, I do feel a bit bad about it.
I’d totally keep the brig, though. There are a few ways you could improve it. A limit on the amount of time you can be locked up seems like an easy one. You should also be able to scratch “[username] woz ‘ere” in the floor and scribble prison poetry on scraps of paper. You should be able to level up in prisoner skills until you reach the point where you can whittle a pipe and play mournful tunes that the rest of the crew can hear, muffled, from the top deck. Oh, and if you actually want to forcibly kick someone from the game, you should be able to walk them off the plank at cutlass point. A pirate’s life is a tough life.
Samuel Roberts: I suppose it does have to be classed as light bullying in the second case, and yes, it can be attributed to a lack of voice chat depending on the player. This thread notes something similar—you need to be able to know why players are acting a certain way. Letting that second person out seemed like a good thing to do. They then helped us finish the quest. In the first case, though, that seems like how the brig should be used. You don't help, you annoy other players, in you go. Boat justice.
I felt particularly bad when PCG editor Phil Savage crashed our boat into a dock and the ship filled with water as that second crew member was helplessly imprisoned. In that instance, we should've really locked Phil in the brig for his terrible steering and bad captaining. If he does it again, that's where he's going. And that's maybe when the brig should be used. For comic effect, and not as an actual prison for random players.
Like you say, leaving a carving in the brig would be amazing—it could give your ship a real sense of history, as different players leave their own messages scratched in there. I'm sure most people would just scratch pictures of genitals into the wood, of course. As mean as the potential applications are, I'm sure Rare added this featuring knowing exactly what it would be used for. Let's face it, online bullying is bad, but in this case it at least creates some interesting stories.
Tom Senior: I demand a public enquiry into the Savage incident that might result in brig-time once the facts have been ascertained. Pirate justice is a really interesting topic, some crews were run quite democratically, so it’s interesting to see how players choose to organise themselves in that co-operative context in a game. We ran a sort-of democracy where everyone had a say except the guy who wasn’t on our Skype call.
I think we did okay though, overall. We fell into a system where everyone tended a bit of the ship they fancied doing, and we muddled on quite successfully once we let the second guy out. He started contributing to our little society and we made some gold out of it. I’d consider that mitigating circumstances in our defence, because that period in the brig proved remedial, and the guy didn’t reoffend.
I rest my case, I guess. I’m not entirely convinced by our defence to be honest, but what do you think Sam, should we brig ourselves for bad behaviour?
Samuel Roberts: Yes, Tom, let's publicly denounce ourselves for the second case, but the brig seems a bit harsh. We've learned our lesson. No one goes in the brig now unless they ring that bloody bell.
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Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.