The loss of the RMS Titanic in the early hours of April 15, 1912 has captivated popular culture for more than a century. Widely billed as an unsinkable ocean liner, she was lost on her maiden voyage. Now, one team is working on a game that takes place on the historic Titanic — and they’ve released a real-time video of her sinking that bills itself as the most historically accurate recreation ever released.
Disclosure: I’m a long-time Titanic buff and have followed research into the vessel since I was in middle-school.
The real-time video of the liner’s descent into the cold Atlantic starts off slowly, just as the real thing did. The surviving passengers and crew testified that the ship’s brush with an iceberg was gentle enough that many passengers didn’t realize anything was amiss at all. Cooks in the galley thought the telltale shudder that ran through the hull was a sign that the Titanic had dropped a propeller; one unknown steward was heard to say “Another Belfast trip!” (Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland).
While I can’t claim to have watched the entire 2hr 40 minute video in real time, the team working on Titanic: Honor and Glory made some smart choices for their recreation. There’s no animated passengers in the video and no musical accompaniment — but the ambient soundtrack, which starts off nearly silent, gradually fills in sounds of flooding and the accompanying groan of metal pushed far beyond its design tolerance.
In some ways, the ship’s descent into the depths of the Atlantic is modeled more accurately than James Cameron’s movie — and Cameron went to great lengths to accurately capture the ship and its crew. The film is an obvious work of fiction, but the Titanic herself is extremely well-detailed — yet Cameron’s ship doesn’t develop the list to port that, when combined with the angle of the ship’s deck, made it increasingly difficult to load and launch the lifeboats.
The loss of the Titanic has gripped the public imagination for over a century, long after most disasters have receded from public consciousness. The sinking of the RMS Lusitania is remembered in textbooks as an event that turned public opinion in the United States towards entering World War I, but the loss of the Lusitania itself has not held the public’s eye the way Titanic has. Titanic’s sister ship, Britannic, was similarly lost in WWI, but only fans of the Titanic herself are aware that the great liner had two sister-ships at all. (One, Olympic, was in service for decades, from 1911 – 1935.)
My personal theory is that the story of Titanic holds our attention because it neatly captures both the triumph of the human spirit and the colossal folly of human arrogance. On the one hand, it’s true that Titanic didn’t carry nearly enough life boats for her passengers and crew, some boats were launched nearly empty, and first and second class passengers were more likely to survive than third class (62% of first-class passengers survived, compared to 41% of second-class and 25% of third). Dig into the Titanic’s story, and you’ll find mistakes — iceberg warnings that may or may not have been delivered, binoculars mistakenly left in-port, and a hundred other issues, some minor, some that might have changed the course of history.
Dig just a little farther, and you’ll find astonishing heroism. The “women and children first” policy associated with the ship’s loss is historically accurate; 51% of the children, 74% of the women, and just 20% of the men onboard the RMS Titanic survived the sinking. Macy’s owner Isidor Straus and his wife Ida were offered the opportunity to claim seats on a lifeboat; she refused to leave him and he refused to go before the other men. Industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim assisted with loading women and children on to the lifeboats before retiring with his valet to sip brandy and smoke a cigar; his last words were “We’ve dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.”
From the band, which remained on deck and playing until the very end to the wireless operators that chose to man their stations until the last possible instant, to the coal stokers and firemen who manned the boilers and kept the lights on until the last possible instant, the Titanic disaster captured both the best and worst of what humanity has to offer.
I don’t know if Titanic: Honor and Glory will be a decent game or not — but the deftness with which this video is handled gives me hope that it might capture the essence of the source material and build something meaningful around it rather than exploiting it.