The Golden Age of Piracy? Why Does It Have Us All Hooked?

Since the dawn of mass media, a few time-honored tales have re-emerged time and time again that seem to prove a hit with the public no matter what. Plenty of examples come to mind. There is the vampire craze that stretches back to the 19th century and was rekindled in the 21st century by the multi-billion-dollar Twilight franchise.

There’s our enduring obsession with the men, women and monuments of Ancient Egypt, with new films, books, and games recapturing the era for new audiences every few years. Another such example is the golden age of piracy, which more specifically refers to Piracy in the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries.

This era gave us the likes of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and Black Sam, as well as timeless evocations of swashbuckling, eyeliner-wearing seafarers with hearts of gold. So, why does the golden age of piracy have us hooked? Let’s take a closer look. 

An instant love affair

It seems that our cultural fascination with this era and the larger-than-life figures that inhabited it began from the moment that news broke of their fearless exploits.

According to this fascinating run-down by the BBC, the early exploits of Caribbean pirates were perfect fodder for some of the earliest best-selling novels, with people in 17th century London lining up around the block to purchase lurid retellings of the exploits of Blackbeard and his gang.

From there came the publication of one of the best-selling novels of all time, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, a white-knuckle thriller detailing the exploits of pirates and adventurers in the Caribbean and Pacific that would cement the popular image of the fearless and fiercely loyal pirate. 

Pirates go global

Pirates would continue to occupy a strong place in our collective cultural consciousness from there on out. There have been countless smash-hit film franchises that have depicted the exploits of the golden age of piracy, none of which have had such as lasting cultural impact as the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which has spawned 5 films, 9 video games, and grossed billions of dollars.

We’ve also had the smash-hit TV series Black Sails, a gritty historical re-telling of the biggest figures of the age, such as Blackbeard, Charles Vane, and Anne Bonny.

The series went on to win numerous Emmy Awards and ran for four seasons, garnering a cult following that continues to celebrate the legacy of the show at various Comic-Con conventions. Then there are the countless other hit-TV shows that mined the pirate genre for content, with the likes of Pirates, Crossbones, and Our Flag Means Death, the latter being one of the top HBO shows that anyone with a penchant for prestige TV should watch.

In the era of interactive gaming, it only makes sense that swashbuckling pirates would offer rich materials for developers. Some of the most successful video games of the past decade are those that have allowed players to step into the shoes of pirates and scour the tropical islands of the Caribbean for treasure.

The most obvious of these is Ubisoft’s 2013 game Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, a massive open-world game where the player can sail their galleon between Nassau, Kingston, and Havana, fighting it out with adversaries in the quest for blood and treasure.

Other popular video games of the genre include Sea of Thieves, Furious Sea, Tropico, and Skulls & Bones. Outside of the video game genre, other media in the digital age are providing popular content to pirate fans across the globe.

New ways to re-live the era

While most of us are aware of the representations of piracy on-screen, what is less well-known is the burgeoning market for pirate-themed content in one of the fastest-growing sectors of entertainment – the online casino sector. One of the most popular real money games in the world right now is online slots, many of which have themes that capitalize on our love for the golden age of piracy.

If we look at the slots library for the popular online casino Betway, we can see a number of pirate-themed real money slots, such as The Adventures of Captian Blackjack, Pirate Plenty, Pirate Gold, and Boom Pirates, all of which allow the player to step into the shoes of a Caribbean pirate hunting for real treasure. This recent example shows us that the pirate genre will be with us for a long time yet. 

Why do we keep coming back?

So, why do we keep resuming our love affair with the golden age of piracy? For one, it’s clear that the figures of the age represent themes that we keep coming back to in all of our cultural productions. Pirates represent a kind of free-spirited adventure that enchants and enthralls us, offering a glimpse into a world where every moment is an adrenaline-fuelled adventure.

Meanwhile, the stunning setting of the Caribbean provides a gorgeous backdrop for the misadventures of our favorite pirates, which is why many of the most famous ports of the era, such as Port Royal, Nassau, and Tortuga, continue to hold such strong connotations. Most of all, the golden age of piracy continues to enchant because of the larger-than-life figures that dominated it, providing protagonists that we seem to never tire of.

So, where next for the pirate genre? While there are no major film or game releases slated among the top films of 2022, you can bet that we’ll be seeing plenty more of the golden age of piracy before long. 

Featured Image Credit: Sergey Semin on Unsplash