I joined a new writing community at the National Writing Project Connect site around gaming, and this interesting project was already being shared by Elyse Eidman-Aadahl. Here, Jason Nelson merges digital poetry with game design (or maybe anti-game design), creating an odd mix for the reader/player around words, movement, gaming and poetry that feels a bit surreal as you play it.
It’s difficult to explain, but it is one of those sites where I felt my brain sliding in a few different directions as I tried to make sense of the game while trying to make sense of the poem, and also trying to make sense of the combined experiences. To be honest, I am not sure what the game really about, nor what the poem is really about, but that didn’t stop from diving in. I could sense a different kind of experience as the reader/player.
This is how Nelson somewhat explains what he is up to:
Video games are a language, a grammar or linguistics of various texts. The sounds, the movement, the graphics, the rules or lack of rules, everything about a video game is a component of language. …..
A digital poetry game must combine all these elements, strange and interactive stanzas, crossed out and obstructed lines, sounds and texts triggered and lost during the play. Indeed the game interface becomes a road to inhabiting the digital poem, to coaxing the reader/player into living and creating within the game/poetry space.
You really have to experience it to get a sense of it.
And I wondered: how in the world do you design something like that? I suppose the tools for doing so are beyond me at this point in time, but I wonder if there is a way to do a smaller version, something poetic but in game form?
I realized after I bought Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson that it was a sequel of sorts to the book Chains (which I have not yet read but now think I need to go backwards.) Both books (Chains was a National Book Award finalist) tell the stories of slaves during the American Revolution, at a time when our country’s fathers were fighting for their own freedom even as they owned their own slaves, too. This terrible irony is made all to clear when the main character of Forge, Curzon, enlists in the fight against the British only to be brought back into slavery by his old master.
And none of the commanding officers intervene, or find it odd. Only Curzon’s fellow soldiers, off in the background of the story, formulate a plan to help their fellow soldier out and find ways to show solidarity with the situation, even though they are mostly powerless to do anything about it as enlisted soldiers.
But the fire of freedom burns bright in Curzon, particularly when he once again meets Isabel, one of the main characters from Chains (I believe) and someone he has dreamed about for much of the book for the way they parted, and he is determined to not only survive, but to help both of them break free and find a better life together. Anderson brings us right inside the head of Curzon, and so we see not only the bravery of friendship in difficult times, but also the fierce independent streak in the former slaves as they fight for their country and themselves. Forge is a reference to the historical Valley Forge, where much of the story takes place as General Washington prepares his soldiers for the oncoming battle against British forces and the dreadful winter that challenges every soldier with survival. And racism works in partnership with winter to create a very harsh climate indeed.
Forge is a powerful book, and a great example of historical fiction that is told with truth about the bonds of slavery and the will to live, and how strong the heart can be in the most difficult of situations.
As one of the editors and writers in Teaching the New Writing, I thought it might be time to step back and reflect a bit on how the book is holding up against time. In other words, do the chapters by classroom teachers writing about how technology may or may not be changing their teaching of writing (in a culture of standardized testing and assessment) still hold relevance for teachers?
I know such reflection is a bit self-serving, given my role as an editor and writer, but I genuinely wondered about it. So I perused the book once more and decided to just start talking as a video reflection.
In the end, I conclude that there are some chapters that still can be very important to teachers considering or using technology. A few pieces don’t quite stand the test of time. And I think the question of what does writing look like in a digital age is still up for grabs. Is technology changing the way we write, and therefore, the way we teach writing?