Marko Niemi’s interactive game “Stud Poetry” takes the basic premise of five-card stud using words instead of typical card values. The game requires nothing more than a functioning computer screen, a working keyboard, and an Internet connection. The wonders of “Stud Poetry” can be explored by going to the URL listed below. When you enter “Stud Poetry” a pop-up window asks for a name, and then the screen transforms to a scene from a casino. Two cards are dealt to each of six players, and then decisions must be made. Players must decide to either check, fold, raise, or call based on their hand of words. When it comes to poker, players must judge whether or not they have the best hand. For the hands in “Stud Poetry,” it is not that simple. “Stud Poetry” forces users to consider the value of the words on their cards while remaining unaware of each word’s relative value.
During the first few hands, “Stud Poetry” seems extremely confusing, lacking any clear guidelines for players. Without a clear rank of words, I found myself simply going through the motions of a poker game, giving no attention to others’ hands and bets. In the absence of clear understanding, I found myself betting at times that were unnecessary, and calling bets that should have been folded. I was unmotivated because I did not understand all of the rules. In fact, it was not until my second time using “Stud Poetry” that I attempted to learn its meaning. When revisiting “Stud Poetry,” I had a different mindset for the electronic literature. Instead of accepting ignorance and carelessly clicking, I decided to focus on the words on the table.
When contemplating the given words, it was hard to avoid feeling angry yet again. This anger was different, however because it was aimed at the invisible being that forced a strict ranking of words. “Stud Poetry” shines a light on the power of language. It reveals the twisted hierarchy that exists within a language, and drives players to overanalyze their words and the words of other players. Because there are no guidelines, “Stud Poetry” leaves players’ minds in a state of confusion that results in nothing but a desire to challenge authority. With each hand players become faithful to their words, putting all hope behind the possibility of a winning set. If they do win, it is a succulent reminder of the power of luck and poetry, and if they lose, it is a devastating realization that their words are subpar.
For example, the image below shows one of the few hands that I actually won. At the bottom the “dealer” writes, “Danielle Dionne wins with his pair.” Though I did have a two “sweet” cards, three other players had pairs as well. In fact, had the “dealer” not explained that I had won, I would have been unable to correctly identify the winner. As previously mentioned, three other players had pairs. Both Jean Moreas and Gerard de Nerval had a pair of “light.” Arthur Rimbaud had a pair as well, expect his cards had “oboe” written on them. Witnessing such a close game with an unknown hierarchy that declared my victory, I became wary. Who decided that “sweet” was a better word than “light” or “oboe?” It became clear that I would never understand the ranking of each word, and that the game was created to evoke such frustrations.
Because there is no obvious ranking, “Stud Poetry” gets players to pay close attention to each hand, and to challenge the given value. Once a winner is declared for the hand, questions arise on behalf of the losers. The majority of these questions surround the “higher power” that decides which words have more value. Evidently, this interactive work of literature uses a minimalist approach in order to illustrate their purpose. “Stud Poetry” desires to expose the negatives associated with socially constructed hierarchies. Specifically, “Stud Poetry” brings written language into the foreground, and exposes the aggravation that stems from forced failure and success. Comprehensively, “Stud Poetry” is an excellent piece of electronic literature that convinces players to rebel against the “dealer.”
“Stud Poetry” URL:
Danielle Dionne was a student of Dr. Lisa Swanstrom for a course in Literary Theory taught at Florida Atlantic University in the Spring term of 2014.