A game by Richard O’Brien, The Shakespeare Institute, based on Romeo and Juliet: click here
‘I defy you, stars!’ was commissioned for PRINT / SCREEN, an exhibition of game-poems at the National Video Arcade in Nottingham, which ran 12th-18th November and had a second outing at the British Library. I was approached to write a text-based poetry game in response to Shakespeare, using the Twine software, by Abigail Parry, a friend who was poet-in-residence at the NVA. At first, the whole concept reduced me to abject terror: I knew, and still know, very little about games, and the thought of keeping track of all the branching trees of the story seemed like a cluster headache waiting to happen. On the other hand, I use to read a lot of Choose Your Own Adventure books, I love the proliferating paths that new creative responses to Shakespeare always take, and — although there’s a danger that such projects end up reinforcing the hierarchy they aim to subvert — I liked the transgressive thrill of talking back to the Bard. And what’s more, I thought I had an interesting idea to run with.
So much of Romeo & Juliet turns on predestination — from the spoiler-spilling prologue onwards, we know that what happens before us onstage is beyond any human control or intervention. But the script laid out for these two young lovers has, in its turn, underwritten so much of our culture’s understanding of romance. Though Juliet herself becomes a sparky co-participant, something about Romeo’s come-on at the Capulet party has always given me an icky feeling — he makes some dodgy references to skin colour, touches her, tells her not to move, and doesn’t seem particularly interested in taking no for an answer. It’s a situation familiar in bars and nightclubs all across the world, and just like the star-crossed fortunes of the play, it’s doomed to play itself out over and over.
‘What if it didn’t have to be like that?’ was the question with which my multiple-choice game began. Over the course of ‘I defy you, stars!’ you play Juliet, and you make choices that Shakespeare’s script never offers her. You can choose to play along with the familiar love-story, or you can flip the script. Up to a certain point, Romeo carries on with his entreaties regardless (men…), but there might be a better future out there for him, too. I had great fun (and only minor cluster headaches) making it, and I’d love to hear where you all end up.’
The views expressed in this post are the author’s own.