Tools for Teaching Digitally: Elegy for a Dead World (Review)

EDible News: Michael Gyssels, Staff Writer
Consecutive I/S: English & History

The modern, interconnected classroom presents a plethora of opportunity for modern teachers, though these opportunities are often masked as challenges—and vice versa. That is, the technological boom that has seen the rise of the Internet, the smartphone, the tablet, the laptop computer, and myriad social media applications over the past 15 years constitutes perhaps the most prominent talking point among established teachers and TCs alike. The question of “what to do about social media” has rapidly evolved and proliferated into a nefarious (and unjust) fear of technology in most schools and educational institutions that I have visited. Rather than harnessing the potential of the Internet, the knee-jerk response is to ban, avoid, ignore, and reprimand. This is unfortunate as there are tools like Elegy for a Dead World that capitalize on the power of technology—in this case helping students engage with one of the most maligned subjects in the Secondary and Elementary curricula: poetry.

Elegy for a Dead World is available on the computer platform STEAM, and asks players to explore three distant worlds—Byron’s World, Shelley’s World, and Keats’ World—based on the eponymous poets and their work. These worlds each contain the remnants of ancient civilizations; where teams of excavators and scientists could not reach the distant worlds, one person—a poet—has. Thus, your job as this poet is to eternalize these dead civilizations in verse and prose, and, in so doing, give them life.

Derridean ideas about absence-presence and archivization aside, your main task is to explore and write down what you see. And trust me, there are some beautiful landscapes to see. The game is small, taking up only 600MB of space on your computer, but the game is still brilliant and vibrant. The oversaturated colours combined with the minimalist art style offer overtly thrilling images that likewise ask the player to submit to his or her imagination and to project from within—to expand the world as much as their minds and words will let them.

We created Elegy so that everyone can write. As you explore, the game helps you create the narrative.”

That expansion is hypothetically infinite as each poem or short story created within the bounds of the game can be published and be made available globally to other players to read and “Commend” if they like what you have written. Thus the experience is simultaneously solipsistic and isolating, but wholly open and communal as tens of thousands of singular adventurers (i.e. students) explore the same game creating their own worlds, which are all unique.

As an educational tool, Elegy for a Dead World allows students to easily visit the worlds their classmates create through writing. While the landscapes and graphics are vivid and encapsulating, the transmission of each student’s experience happens through language, which is the most redeeming quality of the game. While the material produced is globally available, other authors cannot comment or criticize the work of others, which should hopefully staunch some of the wounds that e-education has endured in recent years. Likewise, students in the classroom can still print and share their stories (and their personal experiences both in the game and as players of the game) in the classroom environment.

Perhaps best of all, educators can request up to 25 activation keys for their schools absolutely free via this link as part of the Kickstarter stretch-goal rewards. After losing a few hours in the game myself I’m eager to test it in the classroom. If students are as quick as I was to forget that they’re actually reading and writing poetry and not just playing a game then perhaps we needn’t be so quick to consign verse to the Dead World of the English Curriculum.

Elegy for a Dead World is available on Mac, Windows, and Linux via STEAMTM.

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