As a new game designer in the 1990s, fictional college student Sadie Green, co-protagonist of Gabrielle Zevin’s new novel. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (2022), created a ridiculous transmission of 8-bit teaching tools called the Oregon Trail Generation. In the book, the game is called EmilyBlaster and urges players to recreate Emily Dickinson’s starkish, rhyming prose by shooting moving words from a specific point, Missile Command-style.
Zevin’s novel deals with the less -than -romantic two friends who are “usually in love, but not in love” who collaborate on video game design, and to support the book’s release, Knopf designed and launched a working version of EmilyBlaster that real life users can play from the comfort of their real life computers.
“I like to be a little subversive in making a game where the goal is to shoot poetry, and I think Emily Dickinson’s compact verse style and memorable phrases make for perfect targets, ”Zevin told the Literary Hub. Each level offers a verse as a prompt and leaves the player to try it again on the field of play from memory. Dickinson’s poem ‘That Love Is All There Is,’ for example, is featured on the first level of EmilyBlasterand it also provides the epigraph for the novel.
Successfully composing short pieces of prose requires short -term memory and hand -eye coordination – and even with a sufficient number of both, the game is challenging. Unpredictable words are like autumn leaves, with the occasional interloper that is absent from the original text, and capturing the entire stanza is almost impossible. However, the mistakes made are self-satisfying, turning Dickinson’s smooth verses into Gertrude Stein-esque word loops and random thoughts about worms and trucks.
“When I played the game for the first time, it was kind of shocking,” Zevin said. “It felt very close to what I described in the book, and it brought me back to the fun of the first computer games.”
In all, EmilyBlaster sits in the hot center of a Venn diagram that overlaps ’90s nostalgia, literary luster, and marketing tactics of genius. Practice makes perfect, but even failure allows one to live, as its name suggests, with possibility.