Elegy for a Dead World is writing prompt wrapped up in a darkly gorgeous world of speculative fiction.
Within seconds of booting up Elegy for a Dead World, you’re controlling a lone astronaut f loating in space. You can hear the explorer’s steady breathing as you scoot around the glowing void with the help of a jetpack. You start to hear radio transmissions, faint, but growing stronger, as you head toward the middle of the galaxy. You find the central portal where you find the main menu. And you’re forgiven for thinking you are Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar.
Elegy, from Dejobaan Games, is a side-scrolling game with no objective other than writing a short story. You accomplish this by moving your astronaut through a world of about 10 city-, space-, and landscapes. Along the way you’re given writing prompts, such as: “They say everything comes to an end. Here, in the sand, their first colony,” and “The settlers of Byron’s World formed their settlement far below ground, initially because.” Finish the sentences with whatever comes to mind. Type one word; type a page. When you’re done, make your way through the ruined world until another prompt appears.
Aurally, Elegy is serious. The empty world hums with reverb- drenched drones. They can grow discordant, with cricket-like swells of intensity. They further the tone of austerity and bleakness—we are tasked with recounting the history of a dead civilization, after all. Your breathing and footsteps barely register. There isn’t any emotional bandwidth available for precious melody, and the creators are tactful enough to avoid heavy-handed dirges.
The various ‘scapes are flat but saturated in color; they’re gorgeous, somehow minimal while suggesting infinite, brooding possibility. Silhouettes of structures and lengths of pipe and scaffolding are interspersed between faint geometric outlines. You duck into buildings with phantasmagorical pieces of machinery and look up at blacked-out suns. Mountains and stars stand silent in the far, almost washed- out background. You can fly around with your jetpack for a quicker pace, but finding the patience to walk slowly tis worth it. The effect is meditative and solemn.
The game intends to be specific enough juices f lowing without giving you too many narrative crutches. There are no animations or flashes of light or color to spike your blood pressure. All told, the game is limited in that there is only one world to explore, and it’s not particularly large. You can select one of seven prompt themes, as well as a grammar exercise (don’t forget about learning!) or have a go at prompt-less free writing. The game’s possibilities for expansion seem endless. The thought is enough to seriously excite this poet and video game lover. There is hope yet for a poetic, artful, writerly approach to gaming that is hard to find.
Elegy is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign that ended last October. It maintains the spirit of open communities by allowing you to publish your stories for others to read and recommend. Some of the most popular are gorgeous pieces of speculative fiction—minimal and extravagant, poems and funny yarns. With solid to great ratings from Steam, Metacritic, and Eurogamer), the game appears to be a modest, important success.
A traditional elegy is a poem of loss, of mourning the dead. Elegy takes that form and transmutes it, with the help of image and sound, into a living, interactive entity. Regardless if your story is one of hope or sadness, carnage or folly, that you wrote it down means you gave life to something.