In the gaming environment of New Word Order: Basra, the player is invited to read, explore, and destroy words taken from a Billy Collins' poem, sample lines of which read, "walk inside the poem's room/ and feel the walls for a light switch. They begin beating it with a hose/ to find out what it really means." If interpretation itself disfigures poetic language, then the player of New Word Order: Basra makes that violence literal by using an arsenal of weapons (including a crow bar) to disfigure and reconfigure the words of Collins' poem.


Author description: New Word Order: Basra [NWO] is a mod for the game Half-Life, consisting of a playable map and custom textures. Gaming is the largest demographic of new media usage, and Half-Life stands out for its combination of first-person shooter action and compelling story. It remains the most popular online multiplayer game. Every object in Half-Life is either shootable or background. What if the objects are words? How does language play into your interactions in the violent world of the game? The text in NWO is composed of phrases from "Introduction to Poetry," a short poem from former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins. The thematic violence in Collins' poem resonated through the creation of NWO in early 2003, during the second invasion of Iraq. When you enter the map you see words hanging in the air. You can jump and climb on them, you can run along the tops, you can keep playing and wandering in the space. You soon attack the words. You use the broken words as a reduced and processed writing. Break the words, destroy the letters. NWO, along with every game and every image, is about the re-circulation of bodies and interpretive agendas.

Instructions: Click the BEGIN button for game mod instructions and access to video documentation and essay.

Previous publication: The essay and video previously appeared in the Iowa Review Web.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.