I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game quite like Elegy for a Dead World. The closest I can think of is Lydia Neon’s game Player Two, which invites players to explore their feelings in a safe environment, by responding to open ended questions in a chatbox. Elegy for a Dead World plays similarly, asking for your words in chatboxes, except the scope is much larger, and the prompts more varied.
Eerily pretty, Elegy for a Dead World places you as an astronaut, floating in a vividly bright space, with stars twinkling in the background as you fly along. The central area is surrounded by clouds, and you are meant to fly toward bright, circular portals that will lead you to the worlds written by three famous deceased authors: Lord Byron, John Keats, and Percy Bhysse Shelley. As you explore these worlds, you are tasked with completing writing prompts. Yes, writing prompts. This game wants you to write.
I was instantly sold. Challenges emerge from these worlds, ranging from songs to rhyming couplets. The game asks you to create stories told from the perspectives of people who lived on these worlds. The “gameplay” is fairly simple: you enter one of the worlds and choose a writing prompt. From there, you fly or walk, side-scroller style, until you find more words to help you complete the prompt. You keep going until you reach the end and from there you can re-read your story and edit, and then, if you choose, publish it on Steam Workshop. There, other players can read and “commend” it. If you get enough commendations, you get a Steam achievement (hot diggity).
There’s also a free writing exercise, which lets you drift through the world without a prompt. I went in thinking that I would like this option better, since I consider myself a writer already. I can think of my own prompts! I thought smugly, as I sat down to play it. And then sat there for a few minutes trying to think of what words to put into this bold, colorful universe. Properly chagrined, I selected what seemed like a simple enough prompt, without too many constraints, and blasted through it, enjoying the fuzzy ambient sound. I published it and moved onto another prompt eagerly. This one tasked me to write about a villain who had destroyed a world and write about what had happened. In the middle of my solitary journey through the landscape, it was revealed that I had destroyed the world. Uh-oh. I enjoyed flipping the narrative, though I did have to go back and make some adjustments to my earlier writing.
I’m looking forward to working my way through more of the prompts. As I floated through space and what felt like time as well, I wondered what my younger self would have done with a game like this. I filled up notebooks and notebooks with words when I was younger, mostly fanfiction – which, if you think about it, Elegy for a Dead World sort of feels like, since you’re taking the atmosphere of dead poets’ worlds and springing from those. This is a game that I wish younger me would have had. She would have really enjoyed it.