Back before people knew games had to have points, narratives and guns to be proper games, the surrealist movement was using games as a method of creating and engaging with art. Surrealist games were designed to remove the player’s creation and ideas from conscious control. The game’s system and play would create the art and the player would then divine meaning from it. Surrealists repeatedly used games to dismantle and remantle pop-culture and political ideals. By adapting a few surrealist games, and using others as inspiration to create new games, I’d like to show you how you can use your favorite Pokemon cartridge to create poetry.
This first game, called Poetry in Moves, requires the player(s) to choose a route, gym or trainer to battle. This can be decided randomly. A player enters a pokemon battle and plays normally. After each turn has passed, before the player with the game continues the battle, all the players write down a single line starting with the name of the move the enemy pokemon used. This continues at the end of each turn until the pokemon battle is over. At the end, each player should have a complete poem.
This game can also be done as a “daisy chain” or “exquisite corpse” poem. In this version, each player writes only one line of the poem. At the end of the turn, a player writes a single line starting with the name of the enemy’s move. They then fold their line backwards so that the next players cannot read it. At the end, the poem is unfolded and read aloud.
Here is a sample done by a group of players. It is based on the moves used in a battle with Diantha in Pokemon Y:
Poison jabs me when I hear your voice Swords dance across the room Reflect on your actions Fire blasts everyone I see Trick or treat, it is all the same choice Seed bombs across the city, set them off, bring it all down Moonblast it all, this is a hard one Shadow Ball, a masquerade of lingering ghosts Psychic residue of memories forgotten
None of the players knew what had previously been written, and yet we the reader can draw connections between the lines. The intention of the poem is not in the creation, but in the reading, forcing us to engage with ideas and text we may not have considered had we set out to write a specific poem on our own.
Another game uses pokemon as a tool to discover random, but remarkable, facts. One player writes down six questions and numbers them. Another player writes down six answers and numbers them. Both the questions and the answers are concealed from all other players. The two players then select their pokemon teams, and assign each pokemon a number as well. When battling, each player matches one pokemon with another (no switching pokemon, no pokemon used twice until all pokemon have been used). Player 1’s pokemon’s number corresponds with the first question revealed, while Player 2’s pokemon’s number sorresponds with the first answer revealed. Continue until all questions have been matched with answers and view the results.
What is friendship? An octopus dancing on a table forever. What is the universe? The sound of a baby crying. What is love? A thousand falling wine glasses.
Essentially you are using the pokemon to “shuffle” the questions and answers. Aside from questions, you can also play this game with conditionals. Player 1 writes down an “if” or “when” statement, and Player 2 writes down a sentence in the conditional or future tense. For example a result we got was: “If we didn’t need to sleep / then Twitter would set us free”. The results of these games can either stand alone or be used as a basis for larger, more intentional works.
Not all poetry created through pokemon needs to be written down. You can also create interesting conversations and dialogues using the pokemon. In Biographical Pokemon the players create a list of six concepts or ideals. Each player then chooses a team of six pokemon which they feel represent each of these concepts. These teams are not shared among each other until the battle begins. The players must play their pokemon in the order of the questions. While the players battle normally, the outcome of the battle is not necessarily important. Instead the idea is to compare your answers and consider what the other players’ choices say about both them and your own choices. A fun variation is to choose a famous or historical figure and have every player create a biography team of that person. Then compare your answers through battle. Here is a collection of teams created when I asked people to do this for Sigmund Freud:
|Date and Place of Birth||Aegislash||Pidgey|
More complex conversations and debates can emerge from pokemon battles. In Dialectic Battle each player is assigned one side of two differing points of view or opposing concepts (ie Mind/Body, Freedom/Slavery, Capitalism/Socialism). Each player creates a team of pokemon they feel represents their assigned side. The player does not need to believe their side is “better” nor do the players even need to believe that the opposing concepts are a simple binary in reality. The idea is to choose two concepts that society or history consider opposed. Also, the players should be less concerned about creating a mechanically strong team and more about which pokemon and moves visually or metaphorically represent their understanding of the concept. Once the teams are created, the players battle normally. Other players observe the battle, the icons selected by each player, and the moves used. These are used as a method of drawing new ideas and concepts to discuss. The “winner” is not determined by the result of the battle or the players’ skill, but rather from the synthesis of ideas and icons. Again, since neither player is aware of what team the other player is building, surprising truths may emerge.
I believe these games all obviously work better with later versions of the pokemon franchise where you have more move names and pokemon images to utilize, but other players may find that the limitations of older generations forces more creativity.
If anyone wants to share their poetry or interesting biography/dialectic battle outcomes, feel free to share them in the comments!