“Poetry is everywhere; it just needs editing.”
– James Tate
The marriage between poetry and technology has been a historically fruitful one. No one embodies that marriage more than Ada Lovelace, the exceptionally gifted mathematician who also happened to be the daughter of legendary poet Lord Byron. When Ada Lovelace was introduced to a revolutionary calculating machine by her mentor Charles Babbage, she saw far beyond its mathematical capabilities.
In pursuit of what she called the “poetical sciences,” Ada Lovelace envisioned a calculating machine that could process not only numbers but all sorts of symbols—from music to art to text. By marrying technology with her poetic sensibilities, Ada Lovelace in essence dreamed up the modern computer all the way back in the 19th century.
In gaming, there’s been a shift in designers turning away from pure feats of technology to something closer to the “poetical sciences.” Technology may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of poetry, but there’s a mutually beneficial relationship to be had between the two. Swedish-based studio Ozma Games is taking on that challenge with Words of Oz, a game bringing poetry to the online social gaming template.
Words of Oz uses the format of Words with Friends to facilitate a creative writing exchange between two people. After choosing to play with either someone you know or a random co-creator, you’re given a bank of 20 words to piece together into lines of poetry.
The challenge is to come up with phrases that sound less disjointed than a fridge magnet, while also aiming to get the highest score. There are certain challenges to up your points, like incorporating difficult words or using specific themes. After filling out your stanza together, you choose a photo to place in the background of your poem, and can share your collaborated masterpiece across social media.
There’s a beta version for you to try out yourself. In the Kickstarter video, the creators boast about how playing the beta with family members helped them communicate and play in a whole new way together.
So, I tried it out with my sister (AKA the guinea pig for all my multiplayer gaming needs). Watching our collaboration turn into a melancholic ode to childhood (viewable below) was beyond heartwarming. To me, the poem read like a thank you to a big sister (that’s the guinea pig) who always encouraged her little sister to follow her sense of wonder and imagination. To my sister, the poem spoke to an unbreakable bond formed at the twilight of childhood, when all the scariness of adolescence is rearing its ugly head.
“We created this game because we believe lots of people long to make beautiful things” says Words of Oz producer Karin Ryding. “We believe that the unexpected poetry you get this way, can help free your imagination.” Game designer Bobbi A. Sand says they “are often surprised by the poems and phrases that come out of the game. Some of them turn out really weird and funny, but quite often there is a phrase or two that really sticks with you.”
Though I found Words of Oz to be a wonderfully enjoyable way to marry gaming and poetry, there’s definitely room for improvement. For one, the game calls your co-writer an “opponent,” which seems counterintuitive to the collaborative atmosphere it tries to create. I also hope to see the formatting expand, to perhaps incorporate different kinds of poetic structure—perhaps even as a challenge.
There’s a lot of potential here, and it would be a shame to watch it go unrealized. So be sure to check out Words of Oz on Kickstarter yourself to help the Ozma team get funded by March 31st.