Lost in space-fiction
Back in school we’d get creative writing prompts—dumb stuff like Bulwer-Lytton’s "It was a dark and stormy night"—and I’d just bang my head against a blank sheet of ruled paper until I wanted to cry. I hated writing prompts. I second-guessed every word I wrote.
So I wrote nonsense that usually involved Garfield or Carl Winslow from Family Matters. The stupider the story, the less anyone could ask me to defend it without looking like a fool. Being a clown is easier than being sincere. My grades probably reflected that.
I had hoped that Elegy for a Dead World, an interactive writing-prompter, would be to my creative writing ability what the camera obscura was to Renaissance artists' drawing ability. Sadly not. It’s an odd game—or I guess I should say ‘interactive art thing’ to avoid an argument—to follow up Dejobaan’s A Reckless Disregard for Gravity and Drunken Robot Pornography: three 2D sci-fi worlds to float through and write about. You can write freeform, stopping wherever you like to add a passage, or work with writing prompts. Some prompts are from poets Byron, Keats, and Shelley, others are simple story outlines.
I don’t need a computer to play Mad Libs, so the key thing is the world to explore: parallax-scrolling illustrations of dead space civilizations. They’re meant to inspire, but instead I made a game out of the idea that I was an archaeologist deciphering the workings of these civilizations. The art and sound don’t divulge enough to make that worthwhile, though. All the pipes everywhere don't reveal any kind of infrastructure—they just look cool. It’s a prompt. I’m meant to write the story, not decipher a story built into the world. So that didn't work, and I was a little disappointed: it still felt like I was banging my head against a blank page.
I did learn that I'm trained to look for clues in games, ignoring the culture of the places I visit to observe the structure. I’m not used to looking at statues and trying to guess at what the artist was thinking about; I’m used to trying to figure out which one opens the hidden door. If nothing else, Elegy for a Dead World helped me recognize one of my flaws as an observer of game worlds. But I’m still an awful creative writer.
Just like in school, any sincere attempt at meaningful fiction I make crumbles into frustrated nonsense within a couple sentences. But I gave it a shot—flip through the gallery above for my story. Other players' stories can be browsed in the game, and I assure you many of them are much better.
"Fifty thousand years ago, this was home to a giant guitar player named Topher. He labeled all his giant guitar picks so that other giant guitar players wouldn't steal them, but it was for nothing, as he was the only giant guitar player in the universe. When he played the guitar solo from Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb, the world wept. Blood. It wept the blood of everyone crushed by the violent sonic eruption of pure rock emotion. The colonists looked to the Genesis Project (post-Peter Gabriel) to kill the giant—his picks now stand to honor the lives lost during the bloody battle of Prog Rock."
"They were fools. Topher's wailing was destructive, but also kept the world in balance. Without his elite guitar skills, the soil began to rise in to the air, and the crops failed."
"For millennia, the colony's chicken tikka masala was unmatched. Space travelers came from around the galaxy to taste it—until they discovered that it wasn't chicken at all, but the flesh of a giant guitar player, chopped up and preserved by the planet's strange atmosphere."
"Towering buildings once housed the colony's stores of giant meat, as well as its collection of plastic garbage from Earth: namely Amiibo figures they bought from eBay-16 and Andromezon."
"The heart of their pathetic, anti-prog rock, Giant-eating (basically cannibalism, only bigger), Amiibo-collecting society was the Great Stone. They worshiped it, though all it did was make an obnoxious humming noise. It was rather like much of the internet in that way."
"In dark corners and private rooms, however, a new culture emerged. They smashed the guitar picks that stood in honor of ancient soldiers, they ate paneer butter masala, they rejected the Great Stone. They called themselves Punk."
"Food was scarce. The Giant meat was used up."
"There was a fall: civil war, and more blood to feed the red sun. When fatigue finally ended the fighting, they walked away from the ruins to start again. They forgot about the giant. They forgot about the Great Stone. Guitar fundamentals were lost, too, and their masala recipies were abandoned."
An echo thousands of years later, they built new monuments to Topher, the great Prog Rock Giant, but all context was lost. They had forgotten the sacrifice of their ancestors... and their sins.
"And in the end, despite their struggles and their passion, the colony's legacy was nü metal and pop punk. Some say that the red sun and its beard of clouds is Topher himself, forever watching the children who betrayed him and consumed his flesh, forever amused by their graves bearing his initial. His revenge is complete."