When My Ship Comes In


The arrival of a long-awaited ship can sig­nify the ful­fill­ment of a great many promises: the return of an expe­di­tion, a trade mis­sion, or of loved ones. The incom­ing ves­sel bridges the vast divide of the ocean, if only momen­tar­ily. A moment full of poten­tial.

That poten­tial is full of uncer­tainty. We think we have an idea of how events will play out, but we are not sure of any­thing in life. We have to make do with that limit to our con­trol, how­ever much we may dis­like or fear it.


On August 11, A Ship Sailed into Port, a recent game by Cameron Kunzelman, is about mak­ing do. The tit­u­lar ship gen­tly approaches the har­bour of a city, accom­pa­nied by a bit­ter­sweet piano score by Jack de Quidt, who also worked on Castles in the Sky. The music bobs along with the ship on the waves. We don’t con­trol the ship. We just wait for it to come in.

In the mean time, we go about our job: edit­ing an online news pub­li­ca­tion. There’s only so many resources to go around, and we have to decide which fea­tures to run promi­nently. Celebrity gos­sip will prob­a­bly draw in the most clicks and ad rev­enue, but some of the more seri­ous news items per­haps war­rant our atten­tion as well. After all, isn’t that our duty as jour­nal­ists? These deci­sions can be tough, and we don’t know how they will pay off in the long run. Do we sac­ri­fice jour­nal­is­tic integrity in order to make rent? These are the real­i­ties of the online pub­lish­ing busi­ness.


This aspect of the game vibrates at the same fre­quency as the themes of labour and cap­i­tal­ism in Cart Life or Kentucky Route Zero, for exam­ple. We’re see­ing more games about peo­ple try­ing to make do. It’s some­times dif­fi­cult to bear, because the theme of ‘sink or swim’ is famil­iar to many of us. Ultimately, though, these are real­i­ties that need to find artis­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tion in games. Contemporary trou­bles in a con­tem­po­rary medium.

Near the end of On August 11, A Ship Sailed into Port, our jour­nal­ists dis­cover news of the worst kind. An impend­ing dis­as­ter threat­ens the city. This is our chance to do some­thing before it is too late.

But it’s already too late. While the ever so gen­tle music keeps flow­ing, peo­ple die. Could the dis­as­ter have been averted? Did any of our choices really mat­ter? We don’t know.


The arrival of a ship can spell a doom that no one expects. An empty ship glides along the quays of Delft, with­out a crew to dock it. The helms­man is dead at the wheel. People ashore won­der what hap­pened to this ghastly ship, as the ves­sel is con­nected to the shore. Instead of wares, rats swarm across the divide, and the ship brings but one lover: that final one.


When all is lost, when the time of choices is behind us, we are finally free. We cel­e­brate and make the most of the time we have been given. We feast and dance on the mar­ket square, thank­ful for the lit­tle things. This work by Kunzelman and De Quidt is small, but I am thank­ful for it. It offers us a hand, an invi­ta­tion to accept our lim­its.

Film stills from Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1978).

Oscar Strik

About Oscar Strik

Oscar Strik is editor-in-chief of The Ontological Geek. He is also a linguist from the Netherlands. He occasionally writes in other places, such as his own blog Sub Specie. You can read his innermost secrets on Twitter @oscarstrik.