Video games and poetry – are they really all that much different?

As dorky as it is, I’ve got to say that I probably get excited when our class is assigned a poem more than any of the other forms of media we have been studying this semester. While we can a gather a ton of insights from any of the works we have looked at so far, picking them apart and analyzing them into the ground, I have always felt like poetry has been the classic and most clear-cut example of how the artist (and yes, I am including game designers in this category as well) uses form to reflect, enhance, or even alter the work’s meaning and content. At the same time, however, we can use this way of looking at poetry’s usage of form and content to think about movies, games, and of course novels to bring out even deeper insights that we might otherwise pass over when thinking about their content alone.

One of the core foci of our course is to look at how different media operate to present their content. Going a bit deeper, even, we can look at the various tools each medium has at its disposal in order to achieve the most effective presentation of its content (or narrative, in the case of most of what we’ve been studying). While I could write a whole paper about how this applies to each of the different works, I’d like to mainly draw parallels between how poems–at their most basic level–and games try to synergize form and content.

In the poem we read most recently, John Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad, we see Keats employ a variety of poetic devices to match the ideas of a sort of grim fading away to his eminent death. He uses a very short line length, expertly placed line breaks, and even small devices like the em dash to convey the kind of rushed fading that the knight (as well as Keats in real life) is experiencing.

On the other hand, video games contain multitudes of devices like this as well, though most of us likely are not accustomed to looking at them through this lens (I know I sure wasn’t when I began the course). But after thinking about them more critically, paying attention to how games operate and try to advance their content, it becomes apparent that nearly every feature of a game works in some way to achieve something (whether or not each feature is effective is, of course, up for debate and why we have game reviewers). Like we discussed in class, everything from camera angle to the presence of a narrator is an inherent part of the game that serves to present its content in some way or another. Tom Bissell discussed this in Extra Lives with his experience playing Resident Evil, maintaining that the perspectives presented in the gameplay played a huge part what made the game so terrifying, along with every other aspect it used to build its scary atmosphere.

Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is that there is an endless amount of crossover and parallel between any of the various media we have studied – not just in their usage of narrative, but also in the way we are able to think about each medium and how it operates to present its content. The effectiveness in doing so, however, will remain for us to decide.

– Logan W