“and from these languages comes another language”
–a greeting on the opening panel of the game/poem/animation
After a frustrating twenty minutes of clicking, dragging, and guessing, I finally began to appreciate Jason Nelson’s creation of this interactive digital poem. My frustration came not from an inability to maneuver the project, but rather by attempting to find justification to classify such a thing as poetry. I struggled to find any literary value in the actual text, however the fashion in which it is presented to the reader, or in this case the player, categorizes the experience as nothing short of intriguing and perplexing.
The poem is presented as an interactive game in which the reader controls the movement of the cursor through a labyrinth of obstacles, checkpoints, and words. At each checkpoint, an explosion occurs on screen followed by an image, a short animation, or box of some sort that proposes a new subset of text. The text only appears on screen for a limited amount of time. At several points throughout the game, I had to revisit the same checkpoint several times to read the entirety of the flash of text.
At first, I rejected this whimsical explanation. Perhaps the text truly derives from a treasure box discovered under layers of glacial ice. But more likely, it is another radical poem, an extension of the experience of the larger game. It is another way for the author to challenge the definition of literature. The list of “wondrous evidence” at the bottom of box provides a satirical ah-ha moment for the game. What makes this pop-up box, as is the entirety of the text, such a vital part of the poem is the way it is presented. The pop-up was a result of an accidental slip of a pointer finger onto a hyperlinked icon in the upper corner. It is entirely possible for the reader to complete the game without reading that piece of text. I felt that I was in control of the text. The animation and pop-ups depended on my active participation and willingness to play the game.
However, I had no control at all. As the game player and willing reader, I was a the subject on manipulation, not the text. Words are not simply given to the reader, but parceled out as a reward as the reader progresses to higher levels of the game. The author has complete control over how the reader reads, while the reader feels that he or she is in control of the game –an unprecedented expression of poetic metaphor.
By entering a new level of the game, the reader commits to moving forward through the poem. There is not a “back” option to re-play the previous level or return to the home screen. As the reader, I must constantly be alert and conscious of my moves, as each one permanently changes the experience of the game.
I have yet to discover the purpose or meaning of the repetitive animated explosions. But one thing I am sure of is that I hold on tighter to my Shel Silverstein collection as the category of poetry stretches to make room for interactive, digital, verbal games.