Very chuffed to have some work appearing in this anthology of poetry inspired by computer games, covering everything from Pacman and Zelda to Altered Beast, Resident Evil and Bioshock. In an inspired move, each set of poems is arranged into a Sonice The Hedgehog style “stage”, with an end-of-level boss poem to top it off. It’s difficult to describe just how lovely the book looks in reality, so hopefully this picture will suffice:
As you can (just about) see, the book comes in two different versions – a black and a white, much like Pokemon! But the cover art is only the start – everything inside is exquisitely produced, from the pixellated contributors right down to the arcade-style rendered typography. Editor Jon Stone’s introduction about the relationship between poetry and computer games always makes very interesting, illuminating reading.
As well as my own poem about Shadow of the Colossus, I collaborated with poet John Clegg on a few poems inspired by Final Fantasy-style RPGs, in which a party of characters (though not always human) is amassed. Very excited to have my work appearing in a book for the first time!
In the wake of the Coin Opera 2 Kickstarter project, I wanted to try to articulate, maybe through a couple of posts, what it is I find so wonderful about games in general.
It’s difficult to tell people who see games as a frivolous waste of time exactly what it is about games that have the capacity to be so enthrallingly beautiful. I suppose if it could be surmised in a sentence, it wouldn’t be so special; the best things in life seem to inhabit spaces whose periphery words can only seem to settle on like little moths, but never penetrate. Hence, why a whole book of poetry about the subject is such a good idea.
In my mind, a really well-crafted game is a kind of modern ancient artefact, a self-contained pocket world. It’s like spying through a keyhole and finding a forest on the other side of the door. It’s a dream that you can interact with and inhabit at your leisure and make sense of. It’s the beauty of ice caverns and palaces in the snow and spooky woods and mysterious monoliths and everlasting sunsets. It’s the ability to visit a favourite moment and re-live it over and over.
I’m not talking about the types of games that gain all the publicity. Games in which you are a soldier trudging through some war-torn village hurling grenades into houses and shooting everything in sight, to me, are not the true spirit of gaming. They are devoid of imagination. They have no tools to set your heart on fire or make your insides leap with the exhilaration of wonder, as they are simply grim renditions of the already grim world they replicate. The kind of games I have in mind can make you cry with their atmosphere, soundtracks and stories.
Take for instance the fairly recent indie game, Journey. You play a cloaked figure that awakes in a sprawling desert. The game does not tell you anything. You simply wake up, the camera tilts in the direction of a distant mountain on the horizon emitting a brilliant light from its summit, and you assume, without words, that this is where you’re supposed to go. And so you ski and leap and twirl through the sparkling dunes, occasionally meeting other cloaked figures along the way.
These figures are controlled by other people currently playing the game online. You have no way to communicate in any known language with each other, but you can each emit a series of musical bleeps and trumpet calls and gibbers. The two of you may set off together, side by side, frolicking as you journey like a pair of love-struck budgies.
The final segment sees your character caught in the flow of a constant up-draught, your scarf and cloak billowing as you soar higher and higher up the mountain, all about you a confetti of similar cloaked figures being buffeted up through the azure sky, as the orchestral music sweeps you along in its majestic arms. It’s as if you’re ascending toward heaven.
With cinema increasingly churning out the same stories and ideas re-packaged, with little choice between superhero movies and uninspired horror, it really is in computer games that the beauty of dream and vision is starting to find its wings.
As readers of this blog will know, hopefully, I have contributed to the brilliant Coin Opera 2, a bumper book of poetry inspired by computer games, from some of the UK’s (and farther afield) finest poets. The only stalling point now is raising funds so that the book can be printed. The editors are in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign, so please consider backing if you have either an interest in computer games, poetry, both, or neither but want to read something dazzlingly creative!
All of the contributors have been rendered as Neo Geo pixel characters, and appear in this stunning image:
My own sprite is below. As my poem is to do with Shadow of the Colossus, I’m equipped with a bow and arrow (which, quite coincidentally, would be my preferred weapon of choice were I an intrepid adventurer/ hunter type character). I’ll be posting more about Colossus and computer games in general over the coming days, but in the meantime, do consider donating whatever you can afford to the Kickstarter campaign!
Coin Opera 2: Fulminare’s Revenge is a sequel to 2009’s Coin Opera, from forward-thinking press Sidekick Books. It’s going to be a bumper book of poems all inspired by computer games. Personally, poetry and games are my two favourite things, so I had to be involved in this.
It will be my first appearance in an anthology, plus I’ve collaborated for the first time with poet John Clegg, too, so I’m extra excited. Lovely editors Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving need £1,500 to contribute toward the printing costs, and you can pledge money at the Kickstarter Website. There are levels of rewards for those who contribute, including the book itself, extra pamphlets, a poster, and a personally tailored poem based on a game of your choice. The project was recently featured on cult website and former article writing-haunt of mine, Den of Geek (thanks guys!).
Anybody who loves gaming and is curious to see their favourite characters/ levels and bosses appearing in literary form, or conversely, anybody into poetry looking for something different, should try this!
Game: Shadow of the Colossus/ Year: 2006/ Colossus #13/ Name: Phalanx
(Taken from Team Ico Wikia)
Phalanx is the thirteenth colossus.
By far the largest colossus in the game, Phalanx is over twice the length of Hydrus or Dirge. To put Phalanx’s sheer size into perspective, each of its wings are over 60 ft long, with the rear-half of Phalanx’s back matching the width of a four-lane highway.
However, Phalanx is also the most peaceful of all the colossi that Wander fights. It does not try to attack him regardless of what he does. It does not even pay him any mind unless Wander climbs onto its back.
When I first set about writing poetry, about three years ago now, I mostly only knew about the prolific magazines. These publications were vital for breaking me in to the poetry world, but I soon got bored of all the poems about relationships and death that seemed to clog their pages. My hackles are involuntarily raised by that which is too twee, too samey, or trying too hard to be hip. Two discoveries completely reignited my passion for poetry and opened my eyes to its full potential. These were the poet Luke Kennard, and the world of Fuselit magazine and its associated publications from Sidekick books. In these pages I found explosions of creativity, imagination and otherwordly imagery – in short, everything I strive for in my own writing. I believe in conveying feeling; people can write about love and death and relationships, but far too often they leave out what is surely a neccessary component in creative writing – the creativity. It’s this that separates a poem from a diary entry, I feel.
So! Coin Opera, then. A little volume concerned with computer game poetry. I adore computer games. I adore poetry. What could go wrong? The answer is: very little. Let’s start with the design of the book, which features a little pixel wizard on the cover from the days of yore (by which I mean the SNES), together with nifty little touches such as Player 1 – Get Ready splashed across the opening page. The titles of each poem are also rendered in a lovely old school type reminiscent of arcade machines. I admit there were a few references to games I’d never heard of, but that’s hardly a weakness of the collection and more down to my own ignorance.
The points at which the collection dazzles are when the poems richly evoke the feel of those old games, painting as vivid a picture as one could wish of lurching down dingy corridors hulking impossibly giant weapons, or guiding some pink pixel blob loftily over ice cream coloured platform levels. Julie Bird’s For my brother, restlessly, cleverly maps out memories of her brother in little chunks designed to emulate the look of Space Invaders, with a chunk of the bottom rows of text even blown to dust by the finishing line – pretty ingenious! Chrissy Williams’s Goldeneye 007 successfully drew me back through time to the days of rabidly playing the N64’s finest title, so much so in fact that I could almost feel those tense moments of narrowly dodging the blow from a golden gun while glass shattered about me.
If I were to give one criticism, it would simply be that the anthology is a tad short, and I wanted even more poems exploring all the games I remembered from my youth. Some of the choices seemed a little obscure, but then perhaps tackling something like Mario would prove less inspiring. It’s a very minor quibble, in any case. This is a collection for computer game and poetry lovers alike, or for anyone looking to expand exactly what they think poetry is, and where it belongs in our digital world.