Journal of Writing & Environment

Web Rove: Video Game Subculture Meets Poetry

By Elizabeth A. Giorgi

Recently, I was working on a poem about playing video games, and it got me thinking. The literary arts—particularly those genres, like poems and flash fiction, that thrive in lit mags more than they do in bookstores—sometimes fend off accusations of being too obscure, of pushing style over substance and reaching for metaphors so solipsistic they become inaccessible. Meanwhile, more and more of our actual lives seem to take place in the nebulous spaces where social engagement and technology merge, where a love of a particular genre—Japanese horror films, comics, video games—gives entrée to a subculture that rarely meets in any physical space.

Why don’t more poets engage with this culture, with the entertainments and imaginary worlds where we spend so much of our modern lives? The following poems and flash prose pieces do just that, engaging with popular culture in surprising ways: sometimes playful, and sometimes to surprisingly poignant effect.

Sestina: For King Kong” by Curtis X. Meyer (from Interrobang?!)
With its tightly controlled, intricate form, a well-done sestina can’t help but be clever. But Meyer’s poem, which takes on the plot and pathos of King Kong, adds a layer of pop culture commentary that takes that cleverness to new heights. Meyer addresses the giant ape directly in his surprisingly tender ode: “More than beauty,” he writes, “you were killed by the age.”

Short-Lived Children’s Game Shows” by Alex McElroy, and
My Wife Doesn’t Get Just How Good I Am at Call of Duty” by Thad Kenner (both from Monkey Bicycle)
Not quite flash fiction, not quite list poem, McElroy’s wry commentary on shallow TV entertainment includes such potential children’s game shows as “The Quiet Game,” “CHOREZ!” and “Meet Your Real Dad.”
Meanwhile, Kenner’s flash fiction satirizes the all-encompassing nature of online role playing games with a surprisingly deft hand, as the narrator wonders why his wife isn’t more supportive of a hobby that is isolating him from his relationship.

Batman Stops for Some Quick Chinese Food” by Lauren Shimulunas (from Paper Darts)
“Batman/has been feeling a little down/lately, and Chinese food helps.” Shimulunas wrings surprising poignancy from the Dark Knight’s thwarted attempts to assuage his postmodern, urban ennui with disposable takeout food.

The Taxonomy of the Role-Playing Game Performance” recommended by Parke Cooper, from a book by Daniel Mackay (from Diagram)
The Diagram finds poetry in descriptions of the forms and power dynamics of the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons.

Kinky” and “Buddhist Barbie” by Denise Duhamel (from Poets)
Finally, Denise Duhamel explores the complicated nature of modern sexual relationships and spirituality from the perspective of Barbie, the sometimes-vapid, sometimes-celebrated toy icon, in these two poems from her classic collection Kinky, reprinted here by the Academy of American Poets.