The best video games are the most dynamically engaging. The creators of Elegy for a Dead World have found a novel way to elicit creative responses from the player by tasking them with actually writing their own poetry to advance in the game.
Elegy lets players write prose and poetry as they explore distant planets and dead civilizations. The player faces 27 challenges in three worlds, each riffing on a specific British Romance-era poem: “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be” by John Keats, and “Darkness” by Lord Byron.
The different challenges find the player in various roles: an emperor rallying his troops before a doomed battle, for example, or a schoolgirl evacuating a city being bombed. Players travel through beautifully designed backgrounds, while on-screen text narrates the story. But much of the text is left blank—that’s when players tap their inner Wordsworths, finishing the tale with their own imaginations.
Throughout their adventure, players are tasked with using several writing styles: Plugging in blanks in prompts like serious Mad Libs, writing poems in rhyming couplets, or going totally freeform.
Elegy got started one day when Lambe and Scott were sitting at a conference table in their Cambridge, Massachusetts workspace, drawing visual interpretations of poems on long sheets of construction paper. (As you do.)
Afterwards, they called in a buddy and asked him what he thought was happening in their pictures—and found his interpretation was completely different from theirs. That, says Scott, was the eureka moment: “If we could make something that [brought] out people’s stories like that, we’d have something really interesting. We pivoted right there and chased it for the next year.”