Poetry is for everyone : A comparative analysis of the cut-up technique, Magnetic poetry and the casual word game Words of Oz

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för speldesign


Language is a system that fundamentally influences us as human beings. There are numerous schools of thought critiquing our use of language and celebrating attempts to break free of the control it has over our lives. In that perspective a transformative play with language can be seen as critical play, and a game design approach supporting this kind of play can be defined as critical. The cut-up technique is an aleatory literary technique invented by the Dadaists in the 1920s. It was the fundamental lack of belief in society and language that gave birth to the cut-up method. Mary Flanagan includes it in her book “Critical Play: Radical Game Design” as part of the critical game-design paradigm.

The singer-songwriter Dave Kapell invented Magnetic Poetry in the early 90s inspired by the cut-up technique and how artists such as William Burroughs and David Bowie used in their work.

I am a co-founder of Ozma Games – a game studio based in Malmö, Sweden. In Ozma we are working on a social word game called Words of Oz. Magnetic Poetry inspired us in the design of Words of Oz, as we wanted to make a casual game that could evoke players’ creativity.

The Dadaists clearly wanted to challenge the way we use language. In this essay I will compare the Dadaist cut-up method with its later adaptations Magnetic Poetry and Words of Oz. My question is whether the critical design approach is sustained in Magnetic Poetry and Words of Oz or if the change in technology and framing has limited the subversive potential from which they originated.

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