Blasting Words Away: Poetry as Video Game in Jim Andrews’ Arteroids

“Arteroids,” a work of electronic poetry by prominent digital author Jim Andrews, is an original fusion of media that exhibits the merits and necessity of electronically produced works. A Canadian “web artist,” Andrews is known for producing projects that utilize technology’s potential for expression and “Arteroids” is no exception.

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 The piece is based on the classic “Asteroids” video game created in 1979, a product which helped solidify the accessibility of gaming and influenced many programmers. The main objectives in both games is to shoot and destroy objects appearing on the screen before they reach the player. Once the player is hit, the game is over. Like “Asteroids,” the player is anchored to the center of the screen and is limited to two actions: aiming and shooting, a simple formula that makes “Arteroids” immersive and easy to play. However, instead of shooting encroaching asteroids, the player takes aim at a variety of words and phrases. The most interesting aspect of “Arteroids” can be seen through its presentation of poetry.  In tinkering with the “Asteroids” formula, Andrews has made the player the author of their very own poem, with the player choosing which words and phrases to shoot. When the words are shot, they explode into various symbols, letters, and shapes, a feature which gives the game more depth as pieces of broken words start to produce interesting patterns.

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“Arteroids” has a “game mode” and a “play mode,” with “game mode” existing as a more challenging, score based experience and “play mode” operating with an emphasis on shooting interesting words. Both modes were fun, but I enjoyed “play mode” a bit more due to a wider variety of words and the ability to play without worrying about dying.

In “game mode,” the words on screen get faster and faster as levels progress, creating an intense barrage of letters and symbols. This change in pace made the game interesting as I stopped being picky about words I chose to shoot and began to focus on survival.

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Though broad and impossible to classify, electronic literature does not receive the attention that it deserves, a trend that is challenged by accessible and thought-provoking works like “Arteroids.”

Play “Arteroids” here

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