Cartridge Lit is a wonderful new lit mag that’s devoted exclusively to publishing new literature about video games. Back in June, they published three of my poems that didn’t make it into But Our Princess, largely because they were (heaven forefend) lineated, not in prose. They also explore characteristics common to many games, rather than any particular title: invincibility, extra lives, and levels.
It’s great to see video game lit starting to attract a larger audience, and more legitimacy as a subgenre of sorts. There have been others before us, though, and while it’s weird to think there are “classics” in video game lit, it seems important to recognize some key literary texts that choose video games as their theme. As I worked on But Our Princess, I kept returning to two:
Blue Wizard is about to Die! by Seth Flynn Barkan (2004). Notable for being the first book of video game poetry. Blue Wizard has a strong small-press vibe to it. The poems are uneven and are often carried by the author’s energy than any literary merit. Still, there’s something genuine about the ethos here. “No matter what, my premise while writing this book was to portray these games as being something other than the insipid and pointless rot-your-brain-ruin-your-eyes-waste-your-life-away-whydontcha entertainments that many of the adults of my youth saw them as, but as the works of art that they truly are,” Barkan writes in the introduction, and he’s committed to that premise throughout.
Lucky Wander Boy by D.B. Weiss (2003). A novel about the protagonist’s quest to track down the titular video game which allegedly has hallucinogenic, psychoseizural properties. I’m not sure the book has aged well, as it’s firmly set in the late ’90s dot-com boom era. (Hey, remember ICQ? Anyone? Anyone?) But the protagonist’s nostalgia for the early days of the arcade, as well as home systems like Atari and Intellivision, is well-rendered, as are the dangers of such nostalgia.
Obviously there are others out there, but these two served as my vade mecums for Princess, which I begin writing in late 2004.
And the subject continues to grow. I’m excited to read Leave Luck to Heaven by Brian Oliu, a collection of lyric essays about a range of NES games. And Cartridge Lit has just released its first digital chapbook: Prepare to Die by Jess Jenkins.
To end on a personal note, Princess received a recognition of legitimacy of sorts as well. I’m honored to have it chosen by the Wisconsin Library Association as an Outstanding Achievement in Poetry award for 2014.