Elegy for a Dead World review: Scribbles for the sci-fi dead

Karl R. de Mesa

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Elegy for a Dead World review: Scribbles for the sci-fi dead
At its worst, Elegy will make you feel how keenly you lack writing chops. At its best it will inspire you to create narratives about 3 worlds from different perspectives


Genre: Writing and composition 
Suggested for: Students, prose aspirants and dabblers, creatives, English teachers, people who would like to improve writing, people who think they might be poets. 

Available platforms: Steam for PC/Mac/Linux

You can’t play Elegy for a Dead World. It’s not a game.

Well, it kind of IS in the sense of English 202, where the free play of signs and signifiers, the frolic of metaphor and hyperbole, and the dance of language counts as a “game.” But, really, it’s more a set of scenarios and what-if situations that may lead to a spark for creative output. But if you’ve ever fancied yourself a poet or a fictionist, then this very left field construct from developers Dejobaan Games and Popcannibal may well be worth the look.

Again, there’s nothing to shoot here, no “action” to speak of, no cut scenes, or quick-time events, nothing that would suggest this is a game. But, still, it certainly is.

Some context: I write and edit for a living. I’ve been scribbling in one form or another for close to 20 years and have a few books to show for it. When I get home to fire up my console or Steam PC, the last thing I want to do is word process my way to a relaxing, chill night. I don’t even want to touch a mouse if it’s not to blow away aliens or enemy fighters.

I wasn’t really looking forward to reviewing this “game.” It sounded like more of my daily grind than an immersion into another world some other guys created for my enjoyment. But, surprisingly, I quite enjoyed my time in the 3 planets of Elegy, which is meaningful in itself – or maybe just a sign that I haven’t written any fiction for some time.

I completed one exercise per world in around 3 hours and declared that a good enough “game” night. I felt refreshed, with creative neurons absent during my work day having been fired, like muscles long unused getting an influx of fresh blood.

All in all, a very good sign that journalists, poets, screenwriters, speechwriters, editors, and other pros of the written word should check this out. Then again, it may seem too much like work if you write prose (you lucky bastard) or short stories or a living.

THE THREE RULERS. Screen shot from the game.

Goodbye to romance

Nominally a side-scroller, you guide your astronaut with the simplest of WASD controls through three different “dead” worlds whose scenery and ruins are based on the works of British Romantic Era poets.

Byron’s World, based on “Darkness” by Lord Byron looks like some post-Chernobyl industrial wreck littered with high technology and underground monuments.

Shelley’s World, based on “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, is a pastoral orange wasteland with tribal dwellings and blasted towers like the remains of a suburban techno park gone awry.

Keats’ World, based on “When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be” by John Keats is an idyllic world full of cavorting sculptures, periwinkle and viridian skies, and sweeping grasslands made all the more elegiac by the inclusion of occasional native fauna.

Since these are dead worlds, there are absolutely no people around. The huge helmet your jetpack-toting astronaut wears also asexualizes him completely, leaving you free to imagine without benefit of gender clues.

Each world includes multiple sets of “writing challenges” that help you create different stories. There’s one where you need to pen a short story about a politician’s farewell address to his people and even one where you need to find a resolution and motive to who committed a long-dead world’s genocide.
These aren’t spoilers, mind, since you need to fill in your own blanks.

Still, a point can surely be made for the variety of exercises available, from the easiest like writing couplets, to the release and pressure of just a blank page for more adept scribblers, that blinking cursor where you can write anything.

As you go through the list of options, tougher challenges can be chosen, like writing puzzles. For instance, one challenge in Elegy has you writing about the beauty of a world and its lost culture, then reveal to you that you’re the one who destroyed it (although you can likely see that twist coming). How do you reconcile your love for the world and your justifications for its destruction? I tackled that one with quite some zest.

When you’ve finished, you can then share it with other players, read their writing, and commend your favorites, via the Steam Workshop.

So you think you can write?

Through this interactive writing tour you may find out that you have the “write stuff” (pun’s all mine), or just see how much you need to improve your composition, spelling, and grammar. The lack of common MS Word tools, like Spellcheck, Thesaurus, and Grammar Check will certainly hobble the less practiced or trained in the literary arts.

There are 27 writing challenges in all and there are no rules when choosing them, nothing to stop you from flitting from one exercise to another or completing them as listed. I found this very liberating.

For Shelley’s World I wrote a quick, insta-world building sci-fi tale about psychic slavers whose bodies fell into starvation when they couldn’t get back quick enough after conquering half the galaxy; all this from the point-of-view of a former slave who’s returned to see what became of his former masters, and maybe spit on some of their holy relics.

Titled “Files Towards a Requiem”, excerpts are below.

SHELLEY'S WORLD. Screen shot from the game.

For Byron’s World I fleshed out a tale of mass murder after a long conflict between two planets, from the point of view of a clone of the terrorist/maryr who detonated a viral bomb, remembering his false memories and coming to grips about why his ultimate Shirely Jacksonesque-fate will be just and why he’ll go to it struggling and fighting.

This one was my most enjoyable and inspired exercise, I reveled in the noir and Dune-like references like a little kid in the spice-laden candy store.

Titled “What Came After the Terror”, excerpts are below.

BYRON'S WORLD. Screen shot from game.

For Keats’s World I chose the exercise about a ruler writing his farewell letter to his people, that is at once a call to end the ongoing war by a mass blitzkrieg and what he considers his most innovative strategic idea: sending in the women and girl teenagers to seduce and kill the invading armies.

Titled “Last Dispatch from the Empire”, excerpts are below.

KEATS' WORLD. Screen shot from game.

If you have Steam, you can find my stories under the username Tzaddi Salazar, and let me know if you think they’re any good or total crap.

Speaker for the Sci-Fi dead

You can probably tell I like this “game.”

I like it not in so much for how it stretches the boundaries and the very definition of gaming itself, but for how it still manages to be both enjoyable, educational, and playfully inspiring. And isn’t that the core of a game? The sensation of being at play, coupled with feelings of enjoyment and accomplishment. Yes and yes. The thing even has the replayability factor down pat.

All that even as it balances between the tight rope of putting too much into a construct that needs to be fuelled mostly by the player’s creativity and of feeling polished, lavished with attention and detail and just the feeling that the developers worked their hearts off to make this. It accomplishes both.

At its worst, Elegy will make you feel how keenly you lack writing chops. At its best it will inspire you to create narratives about the worlds from different perspectives, interlaced with the feeling of being an archaeologist musing on how these dead worlds came to be.

There are no limits, only a palimpsest of the astronaut and your own imagination. – Rappler.com

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