What happens when an especially geeky Victorian literature professor meets game programmers, a designer, an artist, a writer and a sound designer?
When you open the app, a beautiful steampunk-ish design welcomes you and leads you to the first page of a “book”, that is, the adventure you’re about to embark in.
You are Silas Simple Shornsong, a poor boy from the countryside trying to make his luck as a poetry reciter in the harsh streets of London. Will you be the next Tennyson or just another hack in rags?
The app works in two ways: first you recite a famous Victorian poem in as flat a voice as you can manage (like a robot) and then the app will have you perform certain gestures that will modify your voice to give it emphasis and emotion. Depending on how well you do in both tasks, Silas will either be booed and shooed or applauded and paid. It’s up to you to turn our poor country boy into a successful poetry reciter. Will you bring him to the work house or open for him the doors to the rich and famous?
First, the design is absolutely delightful. It mixes steampunk aesthetics with a more elegant look associated with poetry. The slightly yellowed paper, the flourishing typeset and the weird movement robot are just the perfect mix of historical and anachronistic details.
The gameplay is so original that it deserves a review of its own. Taking advantage of two under-used features of the iPhone (voice and accelerometer) was a great idea. You need to do well on both levels–reading and moving–to get good scores on the game. And since you get the choice of three poems, you can always try a new one if you have trouble.
But the best thing about the game that most people won’t know (or care about) is that it’s based in actual academic research. Yes, you read right. Jason Camlot, the creator of the game (who was my professor at Concordia in my last year), is a Victorianist with an interest in the spoken word of the Victorian period (among many other things, including actually writing poetry and just being plain awesome). He based the movements in the game on research about actual Victorian poetry performers and elocution manuals. The result is a fun, unusual and shamelessly literary app that blew me away in the first few minutes.
Make sure to visit the Gallery (tutorial) section to know how to perform the gestures before you actually start the game. Otherwise you’ll do poorly, like me on my first try!
And best of all: it’s free!
We’re done with the digital humanities: let’s talk about humanities gaming!