Video games can predict the future

The sea shanty craze? You have video games to thank/blame for that

The modern world sure is strange. I’ve long given up trying to make sense of it. There was a time, now apparently in the distant past, where you could go to bed and have a loose idea of what you’d be waking up to. Breakfast. Shower. Then the mind-numbing tedium of working life. Bed. Lather, repeat, rinse. Now it feels like each day is decided by someone reaching into a tombola drum filed with unlikely scenarios.

Today I woke up to a scientist in the news claiming he believed that someday we would find the remains of dinosaurs on the moon! I’ll be honest, sometimes I actually miss the mind-numbing tedium. And yet I never – not even for one second! – thought that 2021 would usher in a renewed interest in sea shanties.

But here we are. If you’ve spent the last week trapped under a rock, the trend has come about thanks to the efforts of a 26-year-old Scottish postman called Nathan Evans whose renditions of classic shanties have racked up millions and millions of views. At the time of writing there are an astonishing 1.6billion posts on TikTok using #seashanty.

While we certainly live in strange, unprecedented, unpredictable times, I’ve long believed that if there is a way to predict the future, then video games are as good a medium as any to do so. They have form. You may not be aware, since the artwork was unsurprisingly reworked soon after the tragic events of 9/11, but the sleeve for real time strategy game Command & Conquer Red Alert 2, released for PC on October 23, 2000, originally featured a plane seemingly flying into the World Trade Centre. That praise ‘Make America Great Again’ that has dominated the news – and inspired violent insurrections – these past four years? The first time I heard it wasn’t from the outgoing 45th President of The United States, but the villainous Senator Stephen Armstrong, towards the end of 2013’s Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.


Sea Of Thieves
Sea Of Thieves. Credit: Rare

Similarly, if you were paying attention – and I wasn’t, not in the slightest – the current interest in all things sea shanty was perhaps also predicted by our beloved medium of video games. 2018’s open world pirate adventure Sea Of Thieves allowed players to jam along to a tune or two while hunting the Kraken on the open seas. Earlier this week, sensing their games’ position on the cutting edge of the cutlass of modern trends, developers Rare tweeted out a link to a playlist of tunes for players to sing along to. Thanks. Fancy doing something about the games’ toxicity issues too?

And wait, there’s more. Ubisoft solved the problem of what to do at sea in Assassin’s Creed, adding sea shanties to 2013’s Black Flag and keeping them present in 2018’s Odyssey and last November’s Valhalla. And, with the backdrop of the whaling industry being so relevant to the grimy events of 2012’s Dishonored, it was no surprise to hear a version of genre standard ‘Drunken Sailor’ soundtrack the credits of said game. Its particularly sinister tones could be heard in the games’ debut gameplay trailer too.

Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2. Credit: Rockstar Games

Maybe video games didn’t just predict the sea shanty trend – but inspire it. After all, the tune sung by Nathan Evans on TikTok is a centuries-old song called ‘The Wellerman’. The version he’s singing is based on an adaptation by the British folk band The Longest Johns. The Longest Johns came to prominence after streamed sessions on Sea Of Thieves where they’d perform sea shanties with other players. The Bristol based band have actually extended their repertoire lately by recording videos of themselves singing while playing Red Dead Redemption 2 and Raft. At the time of writing, it’s believed that The Longest John’s version of ‘The Wellerman’ will enter the UK Top 40. That drunk dude pulling unlikely scenarios out of the tombola drum? He’s certainly putting in a shift.

And so, as you lay your head on your pillow tonight, as you drift off to sleep, try not to be too alarmed about what madness will greet you when you rise. Maybe aliens will have invaded. Maybe monkeys will have risen up and enslaved us. Maybe you’ll awake inside a birth pod, with a plug inserted into the back of your head, much like in The Matrix. Or maybe a very old, very unfashionable style of music will suddenly be the biggest thing in popular culture. Whatever it is, you can bet that video games predicted it, inspired it, or maybe a combination of both.


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