Thus the curious origins of Rodger’s performance poem Rock, Star, North – a Romantic travelogue in the tradition of Basho, William Wordsworth and Nan Shepherd, but transported to the environs of Los Santos. It is, as you might have deduced, a project with tongue lodged firmly in cheek – “a high-concept parody,” as Rodger tells us, aimed both at GTA’s “point-scoring, objective-based mentality” and the figure of the poet grandiosely gleaning holy truths from the wilderness. But there’s an earnestness to the poem, too. “That project was a way to subvert or undercut those aspects [of poetry and games] but ultimately to kind of celebrate them,” Rodger says. “What I’m aiming for is something which is at once sublime and ridiculous, or could potentially be either sublime or ridiculous with just a slight shift of perspective.” As such, Rock, Star, North was also a way of playing with Rodger’s own “hard-baked” yet wistful atheism, with GTAV serving as both a catalyst for inspiration and a means of bringing everything back down to earth. It allowed him to roleplay as a mystic, wrestling with the divine in nature, but “with a kind of get-out clause, which is that it’s just a game!”
Judged in terms of age, audience demographics, economic stature and supporting technologies, videogames and poetry may seem lightyears apart. Certainly, you’d never guess they have much in common from the average newspaper arts and culture section. Dig just a little beneath the surface, however, and you’ll discover a universe of brilliant crossovers which, like Rock, Star, North, use each medium to illuminate the other. There are poetry pamphlets modelled on adventure gamebooks and TTRPG handbooks, such as James Knight’s Rites & Passages and Godefroy Dronsart’s The Manual. There are poems based on Dragon Age or Ghost Of Tsushima, and vivid smaller texts on Itch.io such as Cecile Richard’s Novena and VEXTRO’s My Bones Will Grow A Forest.
Poetry and video games have more in common than you might at first imagine. They are, after all, both artforms which centre the act of play, whether it’s playing upon words or with tools. By extension, they are both deeply and visibly defined by rules, ways of structuring language, environments, objects and creatures, that can be embraced or messed with, bent or broken. They’re also both cultural pariahs, in very different ways. “There’s a lot of misconceptions around both mediums,” Matt Haigh, co-editor of Broken Sleep’s new videogame poetry anthology, Hit Points, tells us. “Games are obviously painted as violent. Poetry is painted as irrelevant or stuffy.”
Available in Pokémon-style duelling editions, each with a different running order and version-exclusive pieces from Haigh and Broken Sleep founder Aaron Kent, Hit Points is an attempt to set the record straight. It covers a wide spectrum of themes and approaches: from more familiar, ‘lyric’ pieces about childhoods spent in front of an N64 to ‘visual’ or ‘concrete’ verse that blurs the line between word and image. Some poems are key-like in their compactness: consider Mark Ward’s curt distillation of The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – “Princeless, a blow-in. / I can be the boy I’ve been threatening / to be. No one knowing.” Others are more experimental, taking compositional cues from the design of the games they describe. Maria Picone’s Four Lists From King’s Quest V, for example, takes the form of an inventory of cultural artefacts and abuses – “some items: pimp cloak, / rotting fish (probably cultural) / heart-shaped golden heart, custard pie”.
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