So, today I’m going to talk about a great new game (or at least new to me) that any writer should get. Elegy for a Dead World, which is available through Steam, is an independent game from Dejobaan Games that combines video games and writing. That might sound a little odd, or if you’re like me, completely awesome! The player travels to three world inspired by the poets Keats, Byron, and Shelley and “record” (create) the history or ruins of these dead worlds. It is a wonderful tool to help improve writing, think about world building, or simply break through some writer’s block by working with prompts.
Visually, it is breathtaking. The artwork is detailed, expansive, alluring, and melancholic all at once. As you wander through the halls or wastelands left of these worlds, inspiration is close at hand for all your writing, and each world is unique. Pair that with the minimalistic background noise, you can imagine being there with your character, exploring and writing down the last bits of a lost civilization.
But the visuals are only a part of the game. As a tool for your creativity, it is accessible for any level of writing skill. In each world you can choose from a number of writing options. You can work with prompts or choose to free write. It has choices of poetry, prose, traditional styles, letter, even musicals. It also offers a number of tools to help improve your writing skills, such as grammar exercises.
What’s intriguing to me is the intent of the game not simply to get you writing, but to get you thinking about how to create worlds. Even with prompts, very little information is given to sway how you decide their civilization grew, thrived, and ultimately died. While world-building often ends up a sprawling series of ideas and details coming together over time, the simplicity of the prompts and artwork allows you to think about world-building—from settlement to demise—in a grand scale, creating a unique culture without the nitty-gritty of singular characters and moving plots. The plot you create is the civilization itself.
I started in Byron’s world working with the main choice prompts. It was interesting to go through the first few prompts, imagining what kind of people lived in this sand-strewn, sun-burnt planet, only to have a later prompt contradict some of what I’d written. I took up the challenge to figure out how to make both facts work, and in the process expanded the civilization in was I hadn’t imaged through those first prompts. The entire process was fun, engaging, and just a little bit meditative, though that last one could be true of writing in general for me.
In addition to writing your own work, you can also share you stories with other players and read what others wrote. It can be as social or as personal as you want it to be.
I highly recommend the $15 investment in this game for any writer. How often are games catered to us?
If you’re curious, you can read my first creation through Byron’s world below. I’ve left it broken into the prompted pieces to let you see what it is like to write this.
Red Sand under a Green Moon
They say everything comes to an end. Here, in the sand, their first colony flourished. An oasis amidst the unending death surrounding them. The sun that beat down the rest of the planet breathed life into their colony. It heated the water, filled their energy stores, and reached down to feed the hungry plants below.
The settlers of Byron’s World formed their settlement far below ground, initially because the oppressing sun took years to tame. Beneath the sand, though, were caverns. Cool in the worst of summer and filled with the rivers that had escaped demise by retreating from the sun.
They brought things from Earth that reflected their values. They were a people who strove to learn, always searching for more, but never did they forget what they’d already learned at such great cost. Why they left Earth. Why they risked all to find a new world, even one more terrible than the last. This they remembered. This is why they longed to know all.
This is all that is left of the First Settlement of Byron’s World. Their biggest mistake: growing. They planned for everything except the price of success. They harnessed the sun, grew crops from sand, brought the water us from beneath the ground but this world had died once before, and it was not yet ready to live again. They became too much and the world offered too little.
Moving closer to the surface, they started anew. A new society; with hope that rivaled the star they soared through and a dedication to move beyond the constraints this new planet tried to place on them.
The buildings and roads reflect this new generation. The rooms soar high with arches as smooth and clean as the unbroken moon that hovers ever visible next to the sun. The roads continue on and on, extending out into the desert so that the city can follow. Even now the roads continue, though much of the city has fallen around them.
If you listen closely here, you can hear sand tapping against the glass window in the center of the dome. They say when the sun goes down and the moon shines a pale green glow over the city, the blowing sands glitter in the air like moving starlight. The people would move the tables back and tell stories while they watched the red sands dance above them.
The Third Settlement began as challenge, built to oppose the older generations belief that they needed to conserve and maintain in order to survive. Youth wants to grow, and the young demand expansion. They had harnessed the sun, tapped the waters beneath, and survived on a dying planet. What could they not do?
That opposition more evident here, where searched for ways to bring life back to the barren sands. Decades of research lay unused now, all fruitless but ever striving to do the impossible. To recreate the world in their image.
But everything comes to an end: they failed. The deserts never turned green as the moon. The sun never stopped burning, and the waters they drew up from the heart of the planet began to dry. They could not consume the world, so the world began to consume them.
The Fourth Settlement must have been planned for years before anyone found a location habitable enough to call home. So far from the others, they were pioneers anew, braving the world without the support of the other settlements, but that saved them. They existed with the planet instead of in competition with it. For a time, at least.
This snowman was a stark contrast to bitter deserts of the other settlements. With the dark sun in the distance, the southern continents had frozen instead of burned. Water was not the concern of this settlement, warmth was. Yet even in danger, there is still a feeling of life, of beauty, trapped forever in an icy painting.
But must everything come to an end? They created a device. It was meant to create balance across the planet. No more scorching deserts or freezing glaciers. A planet of green eternally graced with a warm spring breeze. It was meant to save them all.
When activated, it would `reflect some of the burning sun through the atmosphere to reach the frozen land on the southern pole. There the other half of the device would absorb the heat and disperse it evenly into the land and air. The deserts would cool and the arctic would warm. It was the culmination of generations of work.
Finally, at the end of it all, they underestimated the planet. The planet was already in balance, as it needed to be, and it didn’t appreciate being driven from its nature. The frozen lands rebelled as they melted, flooding the settlement into extinction. And without the terrible heat to dry the deserts, the sands they had once spent years leaning to build on turned to sifting mud that toppled their buildings and trapped those foolish enough to leave the roads. Their device did bring balance back to the planet. It ended their interference. It ended them.