Wayfinder is a power fantasy in which I’m good at poetry

Wayfinder is a power fantasy in which I’m good at poetry

a character in a red cape moving through a lush natural world
Image: Matt DesLauriers/National Film Board of Canada

‘Caught in a flowing mist, a shower of petals, beyond the lights’

Poets often feel like magicians, people who make magic from words, and create worlds from mere letters. I am a writer, yes — I do a lot with words, but not the work of poets. Wayfinder is described as an “art game” by creator Matt DesLauriers, an approachable browser game that makes poetry as easy as exploring a procedurally generated world.

It’s fitting then, that Wayfinder is a game starring a mysterious character, dressed like an otherworldly magician, working their art in a gorgeously illustrated world. Wayfinder is designed to be played for short sessions, no more than 30 minutes, I’d guess, as players freely wander and discover, picking up pieces of poetry as they go. An easy comparison is to Journey, the 2012 PlayStation adventure game by thatgamecompany; Wayfinder’s explorer has a similarly red, floating cape and relaxing vibe. But whereas Journey was about communication with no words, Wayfinder is defined by them.

As I explored Wayfinder’s world, I collected tokens that evoked pieces of the poem created for my playthrough. Three tokens will make a short poem — one that brings the nearby world back to life, flowers growing in my character’s footsteps.

On the National Film Board of Canada’s website, DesLauriers describes the ways art and technology are combined to create the unique experience. “Until the player loads the webpage, their particular journey does not yet exist,” he said. “It’s all created and rendered in real time. When it ends, it can never again be experienced in the exact same way.”

The poetry verses are pulled together using computer code, while the different world — drawn and animated by Tiffany Beucher and Guillaume Le Roux, respectively — is generated independently. It feels like such an obvious way to bring together these themes, despite how often technology and nature seem pitted against each other. (Sometimes for good reason.) The fleeting imagery of the world mimics how we experience art and nature. No two people ever really see the world in the same way.

You can play Wayfinder on any browser, whether that’s your PC or on your phone. (It works shockingly well on a phone browser.) If you’ve got any interest in computational poetry or short, soothing games, I’d recommend checking it out.