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game, game, game and again game

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Jason Nelson’s “game, game, game and again game” is a Flash-based poem, which, as its title insists, is also a game. Organized around thirteen amateurishly hand-drawn levels, each of which requires readers to progress through crude landscapes, avoid obstacles, and unlock bits of video and text, Nelson’s piece is notable for where it takes its readers (and, perhaps, where it takes them from).

Considered within the conventions of poetry, “game” certainly contains poetic elements, particularly in its innovative use of language. As one progresses through the game, bursts of poetic text greet the reader. And though these passages are marked for their absurdity, these points are the clearest expressions of Nelson’s voice throughout the piece. Written, arranged, positioned, and edited by Nelson the poet, these stanzas could conceivably exist as standalone texts. Take for instance, the first burst of text revealed in the game’s first level: "This began as this alone and nothing began as this, as this is the first and only first of truths. Just in case you misunderstood or understood the very idea that this is what was ordained, written, created, told, increased and suggested, to be the utmost ultimate truth. Believe this as much as you could in all futures and pasts because we have read what others possibly wrote about this very thing that you are reading which tells us, because it is written that we are the following the complete and entire truth." Here the language, though a parody of religious language, is as clear an expression as any poetic text can be. Aside from its obvious parody of the fundamentalist’s assertion of the absolute authority of the text, it functions as an assertion of its own authority as a text. In other words, an attentive reader can also appreciate the irony of Nelson telling us, as readers, to believe what he has written.

Yet the authority of this text collapses upon itself in a number of ways, the first of which is the apparent editorial marks that conspire to alter the meaning of the text before us. In addition to the crossed out words, Nelson also adds emphasis and connective marks to the key phrases: “ordained, written, created, told” and “entire truth.” Readers are thus required to choose which version of the poem to accept as the truth. In one fell swoop, the game disturbs popular notions of poetry. It subverts notions of authorial intention. It involves the reader in the construction of meaning.

But the deeper play taking place here has little to do with the richly layered ironies of the alphabetic text and the conventions of poetry. Rather, the question is the insertion of the poetic text itself into the larger milieu of New Media itself. Most “readers” of this text approach it as its title insists: It’s a game! A game! A game! A game. And, in case you weren’t certain, a game! As a reference to Stuart Moulthrop’s Reagan Library, which declares, “This is not a game” and “This is not not a game,” Nelson’s work does position itself within the history of electronic literature. But given the piece’s wide reception, primarily through gaming sites, it is entirely possible that the playability of the piece itself subverts any close attention to the poetic games played by the text. If considered first as a poem, one must grapple with a number of expectations like language, meter, genre, and style.

If considered first as a video game, one must face different expectations like genre, graphics, and playability. Each vantage point brings different priorities, but the movement one must make, for the gamer discovering the poem, or the reader discovering the game, rearranges these priorities, exposing readers to the potential of electronic literature to engage in meaningful dialogue with both the literary and the electronic.

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