“A Bit Addictive And The Right Amount Hard”: New Video Game Based On Poems By Emily Dickinson | Books


Always wanted to play a computer game based on Emily Dickinson’s poems? Well, now you can with the release of EmilyBlaster, a 1980s themed game in which players must shoot words out of the sky to correctly recreate Dickinson’s verses.

EmilyBlaster is a real-life version of the fictional game that makes a character in Gabrielle Zevin’s novel Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, out next month. Zevin’s book is about Sadie and Sam, who first met as children in a hospital computer room in 1987. Eight years later they are reunited and start developing computer games together.

Among the first games Sadie makes is EmilyBlaster, and now readers can play along after the book’s US publisher, Knopf, recreated it to celebrate Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and the release of Tomorrow.

There are three levels in the game, each with a different poem excerpt: level one is from That Love is all there is, level two is from We spoke like girls, and level three is from Hope is the thing with feathers.

In the novel, Sadie makes EmilyBlaster “out of desperation and almost no time left”: “Poetic fragments fell from the top of the screen and the player had a quill pen that shot ink as he traced the bottom of the screen to photograph the fragments, combined into one of Emily Dickinson’s poems,” Zevin explains in the novel. “And after the player successfully completed the level by shooting several of Emily’s verses, you earned points to decorate a room in Emily’s house in Amherst.”

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. Photo: vintage

Readers are told that Sadie’s class hated it, with one student saying she “thought some of the graphics were nice, but the thing is, the game kind of sucked”.

Zevin told LitHub that the game was inspired not only by Dickinson’s poetry but also by “1980s edutainment games.”

“I liked the slight subversiveness of making a game where the goal was to shoot poetry, and thought Emily Dickinson’s compact verse style and memorable phrasing would make perfect targets,” she said.

Gabrielle Zevin.
Gabrielle Zevin. Photo: vintage

Zevin described EmilyBlaster as “a little bit addictive and just right hard”.

It’s the first time British publisher Vintage has launched a computer game based on a game in a book. The publisher has created a website where people can play EmilyBlaster and create their own 80’s style computer game avatar. And when Zevin tours the UK in July, it will spend a week installing a full book-jacket arcade machine, also featuring Donkey Kong, in Waterstone’s Piccadilly, London.

Zevin is the author of several novels including The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, which will be made into a film starring Lucy Hale, Kunal Nayyar, Christina Hendricks and David Arquette. She has also written children’s books, including Elsewhere, which won the Sheffield Children’s Book Prize for longer novels, the Stockport Schools’ Book Award and was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal.

Although this particular type of game is based on one inside a book is not that common, there have been several games based on books. Successful titles include The Witcher series and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, both of which started out as books. In 2020, the Orwell Estate supported Orwell’s Animal Farm, based on George Orwell’s 1945 novel where players can assign tasks, manage resources and determine which animals would make sacrifices and which would be ‘more equal than others’.

And just released is We Are Not All Alone Unhappy, a short interactive game that asks players to create a pairing between two characters who were given a canonically unhappy ending in Shakespeare’s plays.


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