In the throes of nautical ennui, some turn to books to pass the time, others to movies, and others to video games. Once dominated by the younger generation but now demographically diverse, this article looks at the trials and tribulations of playing video games while underway.
Max (12) and Kyle Bethke (16), the sons of their game developer father Erik, have had plenty of experience with onboard video games. Max is interested in coding and plans to make games of his own someday, a desire that the difficulty of playing them on a boat clearly has not diminished. The brothers have been full-time liveaboards for almost two years and have sailed with their father on the family’s 45ft Lagoon catamaran, Ad Astra, to Europe and several island countries. They are fans of first-person shooters (primarily Counter-Strike: Global Offensive) which they play on their Macbooks, as well as mobile apps. However, playing such games online has proven to be difficult whilst offshore due to the relative scarcity of reliable Wi-Fi.
Aran Rhodes, another teenage cruiser and a connoisseur of narrative-driven single-player games, is no stranger to Internet starvation either. “In the States, while we prepared the boat, our marina Internet was fairly strong, and could support online play through the use of a Wi-Fi booster. But later on, online play became impossible due to lack of reliable Internet,” says Rhodes. Lack of Wi-Fi is an inherent issue for any online player choosing to sail long distances on the Internet-less ocean. However, there are workarounds for just this type of situation, as we are about to discover.
Although the Bethkes enjoy first-person shooters, their respective tastes in gaming diverge from there, with Max preferring real-time strategy games and Kyle gravitating towards mobile games. Their favorite mobile titles don’t require a Wi-Fi signal.
“Nowadays I find myself usually playing app games on my iPhone such as Clash Royale, Infinity Blade 3 and Last Day on Earth,” says Kyle. He adds, “Getting cell service is a much easier task, and playing those games still gives me the player-vs-player rush I enjoy,”
Max says he is able to play games underway when Steam (a popular PC gaming service) has an offline mode.
The Bethkes use an inverter to provide power whenever necessary, without which their computers only last a relatively short time before needing to charge.
Aran Rhodes noted similar problems. “Any game that needed connection to play was only really usable if you were staying in a marina with a private connection,” he said,
Powering their electronic devices on Ad Astra has never been a problem thanks to a massive solar array that keeps the family reasonably self-sufficient offshore.
Both Kyle and Max, however, mentioned seasickness as being a bigger issue than anything related to gaming or electricity. Aran likewise has minor issues with the motion of his family’s 50-foot Beneteau Cyclades, YaRiKa.
In addition, not all online games are created equal and some, according to Kyle, are more reliant on having a good connection than others. “Games like World of Warcraft don’t take as much internet connection and are much more forgiving than say Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in which lagging a bit could lose you the round.”
Max noted that setting up game consoles is quite difficult to do on a boat due to the fact that they are usually quite bulky and difficult to carry around, so he didn’t go to the trouble of bringing any onboard. He didn’t mention handheld systems such as the Nintendo Switch (the gaming giant’s most recent system, which can be used as both a home console and a handheld), but it is worth noting the practicality of using them as an alternative to consoles while underway.
Aran, on the other hand, has had substantial experience in playing consoles on his travels and preferred them to computer-based games on his trip through the Caribbean Windward Islands.
“In regards to setting up any sort of PC on the boat, it’s pretty difficult. For the entire duration of the trip, I had a PlayStation 3 that I was playing games on, but near the end I bought a gaming laptop made by MSI, and could only ever play when the generator was running. Otherwise, the outlets lacked the right power to play comfortably,” he says. According to Aran, the PlayStation 3 has a safety mechanism that allows it to circumvent power ‘flickering’ by staying on for a few extra seconds if such an event occurs.
With technology progressing at a rapid pace, video games become ever more accessible, even at sea. No longer are lovers of both sailing and gaming forced to choose one or the other, both can exist in harmony.
Eric Neuman is a 21-year-old freelance journalist who has a passion for video games and hopes to one day have a career in the gaming industry.