Rock, Star, North. is a poetic travelogue set in the Grand Theft Auto V universe, inspired by the wanderings of Wordsworth, Basho and Nan Shepherd – presented here in its *final form*, with accompanying machinima film shot entirely in-game.
The poem was first performed at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in May 2017; the film was produced in 2021 and premiered with a live performance at Push the Boat Out Festival in Edinburgh, November 2022.
It has since featured in the following exhibitions and festivals:
With the amazing Playing Poetry:
- Poetry Games (exhibition), National Poetry Library, London, October 2022 – January 2023
- A MAZE: 12th International Games and Playful Media Festival (screening with live performance), Berlin, May 2023
- Belfast Book Festival (exhibition), Belfast, June 2023
- Milan Machinima Festival: VRAL Series, January 2023 (follow the link for an interview describing some of my thoughts behind the work)
- Alpha Film Festival, online, March 2023
- Summer Animation Exhibition Heidelberg, August 2023
As an additional note, working on the initial project in 2016-2017 led me to theorising further about the poetic possibilities inherent in the videogame medium, which I later formulated (poorly) as ontographic metagaming. The text below dates from 2018 (I think) and provides a fuller account of the process behind the work within this context, if that sort of thing might interest you.
Although I didn’t realise it at the time, the project was my first (and still most fully realised) foray into ontographic metagaming; indeed it was playing with this project that led to my thinking and theorising of zomg.
The ontographic metagame can be described as follows:
Marked on the paper map that accompanies disc copies of Grant Theft Auto V are eight mountain peaks throughout the game-world. These markings are unlike the others insofar as a) they are conspicuously absent from the in-game map, and b) they signify no interactive content. In most cases, moreover, there is nothing to distinguish these locations in-game from the surrounding environment (having to be determined instead by a combination of cross-reference between the paper and in-game maps, and environmental observation/judgement). According to the game’s logic, then, they are non-places, featureless features. But they exist within the game according to their own logic – altitudinous, liminal – with their presence on the paper map an allusion to, or trace of, this alternative logic. Thus these become the co-ordinates of a poetic journey through the game-world; an ontographic metagame.
Beginning from the terminal building of Los Santos International Airport, I sketched a rough route, first heading northwest and proceeding, roughly, clockwise around the game-world – a narrow road to a deep north and an octuplet peaks: the return – arriving finally at the same terminal building where I began. Along the way, I committed to reaching each of the eight mountain peaks marked on the map. In so doing I furthermore committed myself to obeying the following rules:
- To enter no vehicle; to travel only and always on foot.
- To kill in self-defence only.
- To be, as Nan Shepherd writes, ‘the instrument of my own discovering’; to write my travels as I went, complementing my notes with photographs taken with the in-game camera.
Shortly after beginning my journey, I added a new rule: that upon reaching each of the eight mountain peaks, I would fire a pistol directly into the sun or moon, then wait one full game day (48 minutes real time), shoot the sun or moon again, then proceed on my way.
I conducted the journey over three or four gaming sessions, with a break of several months between the first two-thirds of the journey and the latter third. This break was regrettable – the result of a general intertia and malaise to which I am occasionally prone and had succumbed to during this period – but I do not consider it to have compromised the integrity of the journey in any significant way. I would add, moreover, that for the purposes of self-mythologisation, I would prefer the reader to imagine the whole journey took place over a day or two, perhaps even in one exhaustive and exhausting gaming/writing/being session.
In any case, by the end of the journey I had a Word document comprising ~12,000 words of notes, observations, reflections, haiku, lyrics, glib asides, and such like. I also had ~100 images taken with the in-game camera which I downloaded to my computer, mainly of summits, sunsets, sunrises etc., but also selfies of my chosen avatar Trevor, and occasional minutiae of the in-game world.
I would suggest that as an ontographic metagame, the project was complete as soon as I once again reached Los Santos Airport, the place from whence my journey began; in other words, the finished poem is a supplement to the ontographic metagame, and not to be confused with the game itself. Certainly, poem notwithstanding, the spiritual and ontological enhancements I gained from the experience were considerable. While the 100% completion trophy will today and forever elude me, for me the bounty of this journey remains the greater bounty, not simply by degree but by kind. As Eliot writes:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Such was my discovery of ontographic metagaming.
Probably around a year after I finished the journey, I began work on the poem that would become Rock, Star, North., building the poem from the notes I made on my journey, and complementing these with broader philosophical, psychological and poetic reflection, as well as a liberal sampling of the relevant canon. I remain very pleased with the poem, and indeed the project as a whole, not least because it has spurred my thinking towards ontographic metagaming.