Ars Ludicra – Can Games Be Poetry?

After starting to write for GB Studio Central our Managing Editor Emi kindly directed my attention to an interesting website called “Ars Ludicra”. On this website there are several games which are not just games but actually interpretations of poetry texts. I recognized a jumping frog was a visual equivalent of a Japanese Haiku; The sound of water!

The Sound of Water (from the Ars Ludicra Project)

I was interested in the motives and thoughts of the creator of these wonderful experiments and the meaning behind the strange name “Ars Ludicra”. Here is the interview with the creator, author and student of poetry: C.A.Knight.

What does Ars Ludicra mean and why did you choose this name?

‘Ars Ludicra’ is Latin for ‘The Art of the Game’. As I do not know Latin, I must give my sincerest thanks to Professor Roger Rees and Dr. Adrian Gramps at the University of St. Andrews School of Classics for their assistance in translation. The name originally spawned as a riff on Horace’s ‘Ars Poetica’, but, over time, the name took on a more serious role as I started to understand what the project wanted to be.

The four experiences currently featured on the Ars Ludicra website

How do you define poetry, and how can a Game be considered poetry?

Whilst I cannot say definitively what I think poetry is, as I’m still relatively new on the block, I can give what I have learnt so far.

Poetry is, and should be, only two things: simple and honest. It should reflect the deepest corners of your mind, but with only so much detail. You can’t fake an emotion you can’t feel, so why would you want your art to? There is no set form, and you should not limit yourself to one. Anything can be poetry, everything is poetry. Poetry, ultimately, needs to be you – no half measures.

Ludicra stands as a suggestion to poets on how to convey their art within the video game form. The artistic tools of a video game accommodate all forms of the audiovisual, giving an artist a limitless canvas in which to convey their art. Additionally, whilst the vast majority of art exists to be merely observed, in a video game – you are both tourist and local in the universe of the two dimensional. This inherent connection with a video game allows for a deeper level of personalization with the art which simply cannot occur in other forms.

Pine Island (from the Ars Ludicra Project)

What are your favorite examples of GB ROM poems?

When considering GB ROM poems – I can’t give any that aren’t my own. That is a huge problem. Either I am ignorant of where to look, or there’s just not enough out there! If someone is reading this and would like to show me their work – please reach out to me! If you are a poet with an affinity for video games – please make something!

For video game poetry, or video game art as a whole, two particular pieces stick out to me. Firstly, Calum Rodger’s ‘Gotta Eat the Plums! with William Carlos Williams was a huge influence on early Ludicra. Whilst Game Boy styled, this short piece was made in RPG Maker. Before I knew what I was doing with the project – around the time of ‘Pine Island’ – I paid consistent reference to Rodger’s work. Secondly, Ian Bogost’s ‘A Slow Year’ is a critical piece of work when considering the idea of a video game poem. I have found Bogost’s work only recently – much to my dismay – but I find his command of the beauty of video games to be deeply inspiring.

Gotta Eat the Plums! (2020)

What made you want to explore games as a medium/platform for poetry?

For many reasons, video games have been a key component of my life. When I eventually got to the last year of my BA, after years of studying poetry, it had dawned on me that I could try to combine the two. The video game is a form of limitless potential. It is not limited by the constraints of other art forms, because it is a combination of every art form.

If Roger Ebert can invalidate the artistic integrity of a game based on its need to be played, then can this logic not be applied to a film needing to be finished? Take your favorite art form – it can be made into a video game. This is all I have done with poetry.

The home page of the Ars Ludicra website

The Game Boy was key to the creation of this project due to its form factor. When holding a Game Boy, whichever model that may be, it physically feels akin to a book in the hand. Due to it being a handheld, it can be enjoyed everywhere and shared with anyone. Additionally, much like in the classic Pokémon games, the simplistic graphics of the Game Boy give the player just enough for their imaginations to run wild with ‘filling in the gaps’ in the scenes. The Game Boy, and other, similar handhelds, afford the form a certain level of charm as opposed to other consoles.

Also, my first console was a Game Boy Color, and I did the majority of my gaming as a child on handhelds. I love them. This idea was not completely my own, however, and I must shift some of the credit (blame?) onto my mentor Daniele Pantano. Without the guidance of Dan, and the incredible work of the Creative Writers at the University of Lincoln, this project would have never been possible. Oh, also, the idea just seemed really cool to me.

What advice would you give a GB studio creator in their desire to produce a poetic game?

Take no advice. From anyone. Learn your tools, and then do whatever you want. Don’t try and fit into what you think art needs to be. In my experience, one of the biggest hurdles of art is thinking that your ‘stuff’ is bad/weird/unnecessary. It doesn’t have to be huge. It doesn’t have to be on a visual par with Renaissance painters. Just ponder the things which send electricity through your body, and then create! If I could give a piece of advice to anyone – it would be my past self. Stop trying to impress anyone. Your best work is your work.

The Ballad of Lesbos (from the Ars Ludicra Project)

Is there still life in the project and where do you want to take it?

Ludicra is definitely not dead yet. I simply have not had the idea for the second collection yet. I don’t want to release anything just for the sake of doing it. I’m thinking of things all the time for Ludicra, it’s just that I haven’t had any that, I believe, really top the first collection yet. There will be something, just not anything yet. Currently, as an evolution of my work in GB Studio, I am learning Unreal Engine. This includes learning 3D, Blender, and brushing the dust off my limited A-Level Computer Science knowledge. This is also a part of my ongoing work towards an MA in Creative Writing at Lincoln. I have a something in the works right now, but I don’t know how to say what it is yet. This is because I barely know what it is yet. It involves clouds and the color purple, but that’s about it.

In the long term, I would like to consider the work on Ludicra in as many video game forms as possible. GB Studio, Unreal Engine, Ren’Py – it’s all on the table as of right now. I will keep working with GB Studio as I have not exhausted my ideas there yet – and the new features in 3.0 are way too interesting to miss out on – but it would be nice to have a greater spread of implementations. I have also considered having a space on Ludicra to share the work of others interested in the form, but, admittedly, I’m not sure if I have the right to curate the work of other artists yet.

Metro (from the Ars Ludicra Project)

Is there anything you would like to add?

Again, if you are a poet, or an artist of any form, and are interested in video games—make something! Making video games is not as hard as it once may have been, and it certainly isn’t as hard as you think it may be. Take this from the guy who barely scraped by both Mathematics and Computer Science in high school. It comes with its own struggles, sure, but so does anything in this universe.

And when you do make something, send it to me. 🙂

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