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Review: ‘Elegy For a Dead World’ Inspires Writers, May Bore Others

Elegy For a Dead World is one of—if not the—only game to use writer’s block as a game mechanic. As a Grand Finalist for 2015’s Independent Games Festival and GDC’s Experimental Gameplay Workshop, Dejobaan Games asks the player to explore empty, dead worlds and write something about how they got to be that way. It’s that simple, and that hard. Available now for PC and Mac OS, Elegy For a Dead World is a game unlike anything else, giving you a gameplay experience worth exactly what you put into it.

In Elegy For a Dead World, You Tell The Story

The game provides you with minimal story, plopping you right into space with three portals surrounding you, granting you access to three dead worlds named after three of the Romantic era’s most famous poets, Percy Shelley, John Keats, and Lord Byron. As an astronaut, you select a writing prompt from 27 different options, including ones inspired by the poet’s work, or you can just freewrite. As you walk through the scenery, all of it beautiful but decrepit and eerily empty, you will occasionally be prompted to write something. After exploring the world and filling all the prompts, you’re able to title and submit your own work to the Steam Workshop, where others can read and ‘commend’ it, earning you points that have no particular purpose other than encouraging you to keep writing.

It’s simplistic, but that’s because this isn’t a game in the traditional sense of the word. You can’t lose, and you only win by creating a work that satisfies you. Rather than inspiring you through traditional means, Elegy For a Dead World hands you a blank notebook and tells you to write, because what else are you going to do?

This is exactly the kick in the pants some writers need to start churning out something creative, whether it’s something silly and quick or something deep and provocative. If you’ve ever wanted to try writing but find yourself fearing the blank page, this game is the perfect transition between a video game hobby and creative work.

Non-Traditional Gameplay Means Boredom for Some

Unfortunately, for people who aren’t interested in writing, there’s very little fun to be had in Elegy For a Dead World. With a $15 price tag, there just isn’t enough there to hold your attention for long, even if you’re enjoying the writing exercises. While there are plenty of other peoples’ stories to read, with only three worlds to explore the gameplay gets old fast if you’re not dedicated to using the game as a creative tool.

But a few hours of distraction, creativity, and beautiful scenery, Elegy For a Dead World may be a good investment for the right player. It’s visually gorgeous, as each world evokes the mood of the poem that inspired it. It’s more accurate to think of it as a moving, interactive writing prompt than as a true game, but, because the player is the source of the content, there are an unlimited number of things to do with the game, if you have the desire to do them.

For many players, that desire will fade quickly. It’s easy to exhaust the game’s novelty, and with other players’ work being a mixed bag of dirty Mad Libs with the occasional good piece thrown in, the content produced in the game isn’t always worth shuffling through. And reader feedback is pretty rare—it seems like the same few pieces show up to be repeatedly commended, but there’s a significant chance nobody will see your work before you grow tired of the game and stop playing. Publishing your work through Elegy For a Dead World is a lot like writing something and setting it out to sea in a bottle; more likely than not, you’ll never hear anything back about it.

Stellar Visuals and Innovation Make Elegy For a Dead World a Great Game … For Some

Still, it’s a seriously innovative game. For writers looking for that extra boost to get to work, it’s a quick stimulus, but for people who prefer their stories pre-crafted it’s probably going to be a bore. Though the game would benefit from a little more variation (how about a Mary Shelley world to accompany her husband’s? Or an underwater world inspired by Samuel Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’?), its blending of poetry, interactivity, and stunning visuals make it worth playing for the introspective indie fan or those who enjoy the occasional dirty Mad Lib.

Elegy For a Dead World is available now for PC and Mac for $14.99 via Steam or the developer’s website.