We created Elegy so that everyone can write. As you explore, the game helps you create the narrative.
As a child I wandered alone through strange lands littered with machines and structures whose purpose was unknown to me. Most of the time I was just trying to survive, but I did have time to wonder about the history of those lands. I would ask myself over and over, “Who built this place, and why?”
Some places had answers. Oil Ocean from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, for example, made perfect sense as a world devoted to fueling Dr. Robotnik’s robot army (which of course would run on fossil fuels). A small island in Final Fantasy VI’s overworld populated mostly by Tyrannosaurus Rex supported a Jurassic Park-like narrative that fit well with FFVI’s technomagical apocalypse. Other worlds were too mysterious to even try to explain – who was pulling the strings in the semi-autonomous puppet show of Dynamite Headdy? But it didn’t matter. Wondering was more fun than answering.
I confess a certain nostalgia for the days when questions about a fictional world could be entertained for hours, without even the possibility of being answered. Many contemporary games with big budgets are jammed with more “lore” than most players care to seek out. On top of that, even the most obscure trivia of the most obscure media can be sought and found in a matter of minutes thanks to increasibly ubiquitous internet access. Mystery and awe are not inherent to the act of playing a video game, but they can be designed for. Elegy for a Dead World is built on that fact.
Marketed as “a game about writing,” Elegy for a Dead World consists of three worlds that can be explored by the player’s avatar, a faceless cosmonaut with no abilities beyond exploring and recording. Look around. Use your imagination. Those two acts alone were all I wanted from Elegy, but it doesn’t stop there. Using prompts provided in-game, or going completely freeform, you can create your own fictional works based on your imaginative wanderings. Write a story, or a poem, or a song or some tweets or a letter to the lover you left behind on Earth who knows she’ll never see you again because even at light speed the trip home will take a hundred years, and you’ll be preserved in stasis but she’ll almost certainly be long gone, and that’s assuming you make it back at all…
You can share your works with other players, and read theirs. For the most part they’re not great stories – though I was lucky enough to find some pieces by well-known interactive fiction author Emily Short – but they’re worth reading just to peek into someone else’s mind. Other players notice things you didn’t. They interpret things differently. As you imagine the histories of these strange and beautiful worlds, you are not finding The Truth but offering one of many truths, none of which supercede the other.
Interactive fiction is always a collaboration between author-creator and author-player, but rarely is the player given so much freedom to contribute.
It’s worth nothing that Elegy’s worlds are each based on a poem from the British Romantic era: Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Darkness by Lord Byron, and When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be by John Keats. You may notice a recurring theme. All three project individual existential anxieties onto a broader story of the rise and fall of civilizations. Those themes are inspiring, but also limiting. Still, the stories I wrote and encountered included everything from humour (the sarcastic travelogues of a bored tourist) to horror (a series of dry scientific reports that slowly reveal a descent into madness). The diversity of stories will likely bloom as more player-authors join in.
Though it touched a certain nostalgia in me, Elegy for a Dead World represents something truly new. Interactive fiction is always a collaboration between author-creator and author-player, but rarely is the player given so much freedom to contribute. The creators of Elegy offer much and demand little; you don’t need to publish anything you write. You don’t even need to write at all, if you don’t want to. Your adventures can exist purely for you, in your own imagination.