University professor schools us on writing good video game poetry

Golden Axe

Best has kindly shared a selection of poems with us, which you can read below. Can you guess what video games served as the inspiration for each? Look below for the answers.

(Hint: The image above is a clue to one of the poems.)

Game 1

They are coming in very well-organized rows. They bring knowledge of socialism, red airships, rock and roll, and the squiggle.

Children, quick! Only you can save suburbia! We will give you science classes, automobiles with ridiculous appendages, and countries in southeastern Asia.

Today the rain sifted through the lilacs. The sky was gray and fine as a dying man’s hair. The wind told quiet stories.

We will give you an insurance middle-management position. We are helping people. We only take a little for ourselves. We will give you a pair of cardboard glasses with cellophane lenses, one red and one blue, so things appear to be in three dimensions.

Game 2

I am journeying because someone has died. In Utah, every steeple bleeds bees. The corners of my suitcase ache. Do not believe me.

The mane of an eagle. A turtle’s scabbed back. The squeakiness of thieves. A serpent eating the tail of a cat eating the tail of a mouse eating the tail of a kite. Do not believe me.

Game 3

We were raised in the decade of crashed spaceships. We’d see them from the school bus: one would be large as a car wreck, coughing purple smoke. Another was small as a crushed can, glinting in the gravel.

Science class was only good for answers. We learned space is a vacuum, blank as a bubble. We guessed licking a nine-volt battery was like tasting champagne. A hawk ate a snake ate a mouse ate some grain. Mars stared at us from page 63, red as a kickball.

It was fall. We were building a fort in the woods, laying out branches like an electrical diagram drawn in crayon. All those leaves. We kept twin imaginary robots that looked like ordinary flashlights. One was named Terror. The other was Fear. The weatherman made frost sound like a mystery, but we learned it was just the natural progression of things—water getting older, harder, more bitter. We had a backpack filled with fruit snacks, beef jerky, and our mothers’ cameras.

We would be ready. We would be ready for when they came.

Game 4

You are driving west at manic speeds. To distill driving to the purity of elements, you say: road, car, desert, sign, scrub. Distant San Francisco is neon phantasms, look how they float. At times, you close your eyes for lengthy stretches, the way a Zen archer shoots at night.

—What are you trying to do? Nothing, man. Just driving.

Game 5

To describe the soul, begin with an empty ocean, and you in the middle of it, small as a sunbeam. Soon enough, other things come along: fish, bubbles in their glittering columns, the sediment of the seabed with its long encyclopedia entry on erosion. But how to grow?

“It’s a god-eat-god world,” says the cynic. “Neither the swimmer nor the shark,” says the sage. “The forecast for Hell is still hot,” says the weatherman. “We only know how to roll,” say the waves.

Seahorses curly as questions.

Ask any third grader: What lunch do fish bring to school? Peanut butter and jellyfish sandwiches. What do crabs use for money? Sand dollars. What fish do you most want to be when you grow up?

God help you if you never said Angel.


Highlight the blank spaces in the text below to reveal the games related to each corresponding poem:

Game 1: Space Invaders, Game 2: Golden Axe, Game 3: Commander Keen, Game 4: Rad Racer, Game 5: Shark! Shark!

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